"Rainer Maria Rilke had sage advice about how to be with the difficult periods of our lives. I have often privately called him the patron saint of darkness because he had a way of honoring the dark periods as the fertile ground from which life and creative impulse emerges. 'You darkness, that I come from' is the first line of one of his poems, ending with 'I have faith in nights.' We live in a culture that reverences the energy of spring and summer, the perpetual blossoming and fruitfulness that is impossible to sustain. If we tend to the rhythms of nature, we see that autumn and winter are essential to cycles of growth. Winter's darkness brings hidden gifts.

"Rainer trusted the difficulties of the emotional life as a process of slow revelation:

" 'You must not be frightened . . . when a sadness arises within you of such magnitude as you have never experienced, or when a restlessness overshadows all you do, like light and the shadow of clouds gliding over your hand. You must believe that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand. It shall not let you fall.' [Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet)

"I love this image of allowing our sadness to have room within us and the image of all of our deep shadow places and wounds as crying out for support and welcome. If we embrace this perspective then perhaps we can walk into those times of unknowing or self-doubt and see these experiences as offering us wisdom of another kind.

"In another letter he describes art as the result of walking mindfully through the experiences of life, welcoming in all that they bring and not denying anything that wants to move through us. Essentially he saw our call in life as simply this: to experience our own unique life with all of its shadows and brilliance as intimately as possible and not to shut out anything just because we deem it too difficult. This is where we discover our own special gift to the world, by allowing all of life to move through us, learning to trust in the process. In his mystical vision, everything belongs, to use a phrase from Richard Rohr. Art calls us to enter into the whole spectrum of life and discover there the inspiration to create.

"Rainer read texts about mysticism and mystical experience avidly as he himself tried to express this longing in verse. In another of his letters he writes, 'This world, seen no longer with the eyes of men, but in the angel, is perhaps my real task.'

"To see the world from another perspective can be viewed as one of the tasks of an Artist. To reveal to us the hidden dimension, the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins coined the word inscape to describe this inner landscape of objects. It honors the sacred dimension of all of life. In this way Rainer was thoroughly monastic as we remember that St. Benedict asks that we treat the kitchen utensils as sacred as the items on the altar.

"He also invites us to cooperate with the elemental forces of the world, 'to rise up rooted like trees.' Rather than bracing ourselves against the elements and what they might bring, he asks us to yield to the currents: 'May what I do flow from me like a river.' This organic quality of unfolding was essential to living as an Artist. He sees the rhythms of tides and moon phases as a mirror of our own inner rhythms. The less we resist, the more energy we have for our creative work.

"And perhaps as a final word from Rilke, for those of us afraid we have missed our opportunity to live a life of beauty and passion, of poetry and creativity:

" 'It is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.'

"Sometimes we may fear that the time has passed when we could live out our deepest creative dream, but Rainer assures us this is never so. The invitation continues to be extended if you would only say yes."