There is not only the so-called dark night of the soul but [also] the dark night of the world. What if, by chance, our time in evolution is a dark-night time—a time of crisis and transition that must be understood if it is to be part of learning a new vision and harmony for the human species and the planet? —Constance FitzGerald, “Impasse and Dark Night”
Catholic theologian and Carmelite Sister Constance FitzGerald uses “impasse” to describe facing an extended experience of crisis:
By impasse, I mean that there is no way out of, no way around, no rational escape from, what imprisons one, no possibilities in the situation. In a true impasse, every normal manner of acting is brought to a standstill…. The whole life situation suffers a depletion, has the word limits written upon it. Dorothée Soelle describes it as “unavoidable suffering”….  Any movement out, any next step, is canceled, and the most dangerous temptation is to give up, to quit, to surrender to cynicism and despair, in the face of the disappointment, disenchantment, hopelessness, and loss of meaning that encompass one.
Despite the potential for despair, FitzGerald finds the possibility of hope and transformation amid both personal and societal impasse:
Paradoxically, a situation of no potential is loaded with potential…. While nothing seems to be moving forward, one is, in fact, on a homeward exile—if one can yield in the right way, responding with full consciousness of one’s suffering in the impasse yet daring to believe that new possibilities, beyond immediate vision, can be given….
The psychologists and the theologians, the poets and the mystics, assure us that impasse can be the condition for creative growth and transformation … if the ego does not demand understanding in the name of control and predictability….
Our experience of God and our spirituality must emerge from our concrete historical situation and because our time and place in history bring us face to face with profound societal impasse. Here God makes demands for conversion, healing, justice, love, compassion, solidarity, and communion. Here the face of God appears, a God who dies in human beings and rises in human freedom and dignity.
We close off the breaking in of God into our lives if we cannot admit into consciousness the situations of profound impasse we face personally and societally…. The “no way out” trials of our personal lives are but a part of the far more frightening situations of national and international impasse that have been formed by the social, economic, and political forces in our time….
It is only in the process of bringing the impasse to prayer, to the perspective of the God who loves us, that our society will be freed, healed, changed, brought to paradoxical new visions, and freed for nonviolent, selfless, liberating action, freed, therefore, for community on this planet earth. Death is involved here, a dying in order to see how to be and to act on behalf of God in the world.
 Dorothee Soelle, Suffering, trans. Everett R. Kalin (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1975), 19.
Constance FitzGerald, “Impasse and Dark Night,” in Desire, Darkness, and Hope: Theology in a Time of Impasse, ed. Laurie Cassidy and M. Shawn Copeland (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press Academic, 2021), 78–79, 80, 81, 91–92, 94. Essay originally published in 1984.
Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Izzy Spitz, Untitled, watercolor. CAC Staff, Untitled, watercolor. Izzy Spitz, Field Study 2, oil pastel on canvas. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image .
When the world swirls around us we go to the sacred center.
Story from Our Community:
I have been in the middle of a family difficulty for many years. The process of order, disorder, and reorder has helped me put into context the underlying pain I feel every day. Most of the time I find a growing, meaningful, and personal faith to sustain me, but occasionally I hit a low of hopelessness and despair that restoration and healing will never occur. Yesterday was one of those days. I found myself asking: will this situation ever get better? The CAC daily meditations help bring me back to my most fundamental belief: I belong to God and he to me. Any crisis is an opportunity to deepen my faith and trust in the one who loves me without condition. —Jeanne O.