It’s Not Easy Seeing Green

The Dark Voice has been with me since childhood. My closest companion, my eternal shadow. It’s the part of me that hates me, that wants me to feel miserable. It tells me: You are worthless. It tells me: You are only hurting people. Above all, it tells me: You should have known better. This voice is the way I interpret and understand my depression.

I was talking with my spiritual director about the voice.

Whose voice is it?

I think it’s mine.

Think back. It isn’t a teacher, or a parent, or a pastor, or someone else?

I remembered something. I was on the front steps of my childhood church. I was eight years old, playing with my friend Steve. We were just messing around, probably laughing and making a lot of noise. Suddenly the door opened, and an older man we’ll call Lawrence stuck his head out. He glared at the two of us, and spat out, “I thought you were supposed to be the smart ones.” Then he slammed the door and went back inside. The two of us just laughed. What was that supposed to mean?

But now I wonder. I don’t have too many memories of eight years old. That one lingers, four decades later. Why does that memory linger? And what does it mean that his words were so close to “You should have known better?”

Where is that voice coming from?

The voice is in the back of my head. Inside my head, in the back, perhaps between my brain and skull. It sits there, looking as though over my shoulder, as though trying to watch everything around me, everything I do, looking for a mistake, for a moment, for an entry to whisper, whisper, whisper in a voice only I can hear. To remind me of what a fool I am, what a fool I’ve always been.

What does it look like? What’s its color?

It’s a dark green. Very dark. Disturbing and scary. It slithers around in my head, oozing and sliding into cracks and spaces. Looking for anywhere it can get in. It’s like a living, pulsating slime crawling around in my head, frightening and ugly. And I don’t know where it’s going to go next.

What about God? Where is God?

God is above. God is light shining from above. Rays of light, alighting upon me. I’m reminded of the baptism of Jesus, when the heavens were torn open, and the Spirit alighted upon Jesus like a dove. God appears to me in that form. Glowing. Flowing. Light and airy. Breathing and gently swirling. Light upon light.

What happens when the two meet?

They…don’t. They don’t actually meet. The light of God shines down and reveals the dark voice, and I can see that it’s not what I thought it was. In the light of God, I can see. The dark voice is not so dark after all. It’s a lighter green, a Kelly or emerald green. And it’s not slimy or oozing. It’s just there. It looks like paint, emerald green paint. It’s not a monster. It’s not a boogey-man. It was like the stranger in your darkened bedroom who, upon turning on the light, is just a jacket draped on a chair. It was just a sham. It was no villain. It was no match for God.

I have so often thought of these two voices, the Dark Voice and God’s voice, as equals vying for my attention, like the cartoon angel and devil shoulder-dwellers. But they’re not equals. They’re not even on the same plane. The Dark Voice is just a … thing. It’s just a thing. It scares me, it spooks me, it fills me with dread, but in the end it’s just a thing – a green thing. Green isn’t good or bad. It’s just there.

I am shaken by this vision. It seems so new, yet at the same time so old. It seems like something I’ve learned over and over again, yet can never seem to remember. I know that I’ve heard before that the Dark Voice is just a part of me that needs something, and that I can talk to it kindly and listen to it, and perhaps my relationship wouldn’t be the same. I’ve heard that before. I know that I’ve heard before that God is something far bigger than the Dark Voice ever could be, and that if I listen for the voice of God, I’ll always hear it. I’ve heard that before. So many times. None of this is new, even though it feels so new and so true.

And as I think about that, think about how many times I’ve learned these same lessons over and over again, only to never really learn, I hear that same voice whispering anew: You should have known better. I should have known this. It shouldn’t have taken me this long to realize it. I should have remembered.

But wait. There’s a big difference between learning something and experiencing it. There’s a big difference between head and heart, between knowledge and wisdom. And perhaps learning something in your head, multiple times, is actually a really good preparation for experiencing it in your heart. Perhaps theory is a good precursor to practice. Perhaps the very fact that I have learned these things is the reason that I could experience it so vividly and powerfully today.

And perhaps that’s the message written in green paint for me today. Perhaps what I am learning today is this: the message I’ve heard from what I call the Dark Voice could be different than what I think. Perhaps that feeling it sends me whenever I do something wrong isn’t necessarily cruel. Perhaps it has a purpose, and perhaps in the light of God I can see that message more clearly. Perhaps when I recognize my mistakes, there’s something I can learn. Something I can do other than attack myself and shut down.

Perhaps I’ve never quite heard the message right. Maybe it’s not You should have known better.

Maybe the real message is this: This will enable you to know better.

What a thought. That feeling inside that always felt so oozing and slithering could just be my brain telling me something, emblazoning a message in green paint for me to read. I just could never read it. Maybe that message has always been, “Learn from this.”  

Image by Kevin Phillips from Pixabay

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