Grief — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Hope in the Darkness

Friday, September 8, 2017

My friend and fellow teacher Mirabai Starr has become intimate with darkness through studying and translating the work of St. John of the Cross, as well as her own journey through the tragic loss of her daughter. Here she describes the experience of spiritual darkness and shares insights on grief from author Tim Farrington:

The Dark Night of the Soul, as John conceived it, is actually an inner state that may or may not have anything to do with external circumstances. It is an experience of being stripped of all the spiritual feelings and concepts with which we are accustomed to propping up our inner lives. It is a plunge into the abyss of radical unknowingness. This spiritual crisis, John assures us, is a cause for celebration, because it is only when we get out of our own way that the Divine can take over and fill us with love. But it’s a grueling process to come to this level of surrender, and few of us go willingly. [Tim Farrington offers] a lucid glimpse into the ways in which an experience of profound loss and deep sorrow can act as a catalyst for an authentic Dark Night of the Soul. Tim muses:

Whether you are truly in a “dark night” or “just” grieving is a question I have come to believe is insoluble in the midst of the process. The two experiences can certainly intertwine; often the loss of a loved one exposes the superficiality of the spiritual notions we believed to be sustaining us and challenges us to let go of them and go deeper; and the dark night, teaching us to let go of protective ideologies, often allows us to open for the first time to the nakedness of our real suffering of the death of loved ones. God uses our helplessness where it arises, and few things bring our human helplessness home to us more sharply and unavoidably than grief. [1]

[The] Dark Night of the Soul is not only about being brought to our knees. It is about unconditional love. The kind of love that wakes us up and affirms our deepest humanity. The act of consciously yielding to the shattering of the heart is not high on the list of cultural [and, I would add, Christian] values. But it should be! As Tim observes:

. . . we are often encouraged to buck up, to get over it, and so to throw out the baby of the slow true process of grieving with the bathwater. Grief will never go away, if we’re really paying attention. It’s part of being awake: we love, and we lose those we love to the erosions of time, sickness, and death (until those we love lose us to the same). To lose a loved one is to be called to come to genuine terms with that loss, or risk losing touch with that in us which loved. [2]

What are the ways in which your losses have transfigured your soul?

Gateway to Silence:
The night shines like the day.

[1] Tim Farrington, A Hell of Mercy: A Meditation on Depression and the Dark Night of the Soul (Harper One: 2009), 47-48.
[2] Ibid., 47.

Mirabai Starr, “Dark Night of the Soul,” January 7, 2010, See also Mirabai’s memoir Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation (Sounds True: 2015) and her translation of St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul (Riverhead Books: 2003).

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