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Center for Action and Contemplation
Luminous Darkness, Deepening Love
Luminous Darkness, Deepening Love

Transformed by the Dark Night

Friday, May 13, 2022

If something does not give birth to humility, and love, and dying to self, and godly simplicity, and silence—what can it be?
—John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, book 2, chapter 29

Although the dark night of the soul is a deeply personal experience, it has far-reaching implications for how we show up in our lives and interact with others with whom we live, work and pray. In the CAC podcast Turning to the Mystics, James Finley speaks of John of the Cross as a model for how the union of our souls with God in the dark night transforms our humanity.

When we look at the Spiritual Canticle and the light that shines out of the darkness and being married to God, mystical marriage and so on, [John] was really known for a sensitivity to the poor, his sensitivity to the sick. He was also known for his compassion. One of the friars writes in their journal, “When we go off on our little Sunday groups and small groups for our walk, we always hope John of the Cross will join us because he always makes us laugh.” The deep love he had for Teresa [of Ávila], this deep mystical friendship bond that they had, he was fully alive. At his death, the monastery that he went to, he deliberately chose one of the superiors who didn’t like him. On his death bed, he called the superior, “So whatever I did to contribute to the conflict between us, I want to apologize.” That’s how he died and it [was] said the superior came out crying. It changed his life.

So that’s the evidence of this [dark night]. It radicalizes, which I think is Christ consciousness in the world. It’s beyond the darkness of this world in a way that paradoxically radicalizes our presence in it to the holiness of life on life’s terms. . . . Sometimes I say to myself a little prayer in my advancing years, “God, help me to be the kind of old person young people want old people to be. Help me not just to talk like this, but help me to walk around like this and answer the phone like this and talk to my grandchildren like this.” We’re all trying to do our best here to walk the walk. [1]

Finley speaks of the fruit of our fidelity to the experience of the dark night:

If we stay the course and go through this, we find our way deeper, deeper, deeper, and then we can see that at any given moment in these ways, through marital love, through parenting, through solitude, through oneness with the world, through silence, through service to community, through art, in any given moment, there can come flashing forth our unexpected proximity to this mystical dimension of union. [2]

[1] James Finley with Kirsten Oates, “Dialogue 1: The Ascent of Mount Carmel,” March 22, 2021, in Turning to the Mystics, season 3 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021), podcast, MP3 audio.

[2] James Finley, “St. John of the Cross: Session 1,” March 15, 2021, in Turning to the Mystics, season 3 (Albuquerque, NM; Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021), podcast, MP3 audio.  

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Untitled Window (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Dorothea Lange, Village Dwelling (detail), 1936, photograph, Library of Congress, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Untitled Window II (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: The house in the center image is shut against the harsh sun. It is closed and dark inside. Yet darkness can hold deep beauty and its own kind of light, creating conditions for healing and illumination. After our dark night we may be invited to gently lift the blinds.

Story from Our Community:

Dealing with a severe mental illness (OCD) and trying to make my way through the fog has been excruciating at times. However, the realization that Christ is in me, in my mess, and holding all things together has been healing. Knowing that I have always been held in the Trinity is a source of immeasurable comfort.
—Gary A.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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