The Dark Night of the Soul

Hope in the Darkness

The Dark Night of the Soul
Thursday, September 7, 2017

I came out of the seminary in 1970 thinking that my job was to have an answer for every question. What I’ve learned is that not-knowing and often not even needing to know is—surprise of surprises—a deeper way of knowing and a deeper falling into compassion. This is surely what the mystics mean by “death” and why they talk of it with so many metaphors. It is the essential transitioning. Maybe that is why Jesus praised faith even more than love; maybe that is why St. John of the Cross called faith “luminous darkness.” Yes, love is the final goal but ever deeper trust inside of darkness is the path for getting there.

My good friend Gerald May shed fresh light on the meaning of John of the Cross’ phrase “the dark night of the soul.” [1] He said that God has to work in the soul in secret and in darkness, because if we fully knew what was happening, and what Mystery/transformation/God/grace will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process. No one oversees his or her own demise willingly, even when it is the false self that is dying. God has to undo our illusions secretly, as it were, when we are not watching and not in perfect control, say the mystics. We move forward in ways that we do not even understand and through the quiet workings of time and grace, as “Deep calls unto deep” (Psalm 42:8). In other words, Spirit initiates deep resonance and intimacy with our spirit, as the Endless Divine Yes evokes an ever-deeper yes in us.

As James Finley, one of CAC’s core faculty members, says, “The mystic is not someone who says, ‘Look what I have done!’ The mystic is one who says, ‘Look what love has done to me. There’s nothing left but God’s intimate love giving itself to me as me.’ That’s the blessedness in poverty: when all in us that is not God dissolves, and we finally realize that we are already as beautiful as God is beautiful, because God gave the infinite beauty of God as who we are.”

Finley describes God as “the infinity of the unforeseeable; so we know that [the unforeseeable] is trustworthy, because in everything, God is trying to move us into Christ consciousness. If we are absolutely grounded in the absolute love of God that protects us from nothing even as it sustains us in all things, then we can face all things with courage and tenderness and touch the hurting places in others and in ourselves with love.” [2] Perhaps this explains the mysterious coexistence of deep suffering and intense joy in mystics, as we’ll explore further in a couple of weeks.

Gateway to Silence:
The night shines like the day.

References:
[1] See Gerald May, The Dark Night of the Soul: A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth (HarperOne: 2005).
[2] James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CDMP3 download.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2007), 39; and
Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 50-51, 117.

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