Dark night of the soul
Waiting for the veil to lift
And new lights to see
Along this mystic path we have looked at four stages: awakening, purification, illumination, and union. In this format it looks like a fairly straightforward process. It is anything but! In actuality it looks more like a spiral, however, even that image may be misleading. In talking about the spiritual life, our language by necessity must include metaphor.
A spiritual experience that many who travel this path have undergone was called by John of the Cross, the dark night of the soul. Stated simply, in this experience, God is helping us to grow in love. We are learning to love God for God’s sake and not simply for the God’s blessings.
The dark night affects us in various ways. We may feel a loss of the presence of God. We may have an acute sense of our own imperfections. We may experience a kind of spiritual lassitude. Even our will power may seem diminished.
In the book of Job, Satan asserts that Job only serves God because God has blessed him. Take away those blessings, and he will turn away, so says Satan. (An aside: I believe the Book of Job is more parable than literal. After all, have you ever known anyone who argued back and forth in poetry!) In the end, Job endured, though not without a monumental struggle. And the light returned.
One of my favorite passages in the Hebrew scriptures is Habakkuk 3:17-18: “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.”
endure. But endure it we must, if we are to grow in love for God.
One thought on “The Mystic Path: Dark Night of the Soul”
I appreciated so much these thoughts. I found May’s book, The Dark Night of the Soul, so good on this subject. I have found myself in this place sometimes, not being faithful to my practices. I am reminded that we are not promised consolations along this journey. And I am reminded of God faithfulness always.
You might like this story. At a silent retreat in Cullman one of the participants was a black man who is a chaplain in a large prison near Atlanta. At the closing of the retreat we were allowed to share. This man told of his work in the prison and shared that he sits in silent prayer for an hour before he leaves for work. He said that the practice has not brought consolations with it but that he continues the practice because he knows that he needs it.