It sounds like something Darth Vader should be introducing…(cue the mechanical heaving breathing)…”The Dark Night of the Soul!” Perfect for Halloween.
Many of us have heard something or other about this strange phenomenon made famous by St. John of the Cross. It’s the feeling of total abandonment by God experienced by a person in the higher stages of the spiritual life as they transition from the second to the third stage of the spiritual life – the Illuminative to the Unitive way.
God’s not really gone, but in this temporary transition you don’t feel his presence anymore…at all.
(If this is gobbledygook to you, no worries. I wrote a very easy to read
book which spends a couple chapters describing all of this. It’s called, “Prayer Works: Getting a Grip on Catholic Spirituality.”)
The spiritual writers make it clear the transition not easy. It’s a purgation that requires abandonment to our Lord. And sometimes John’s language of a “Dark Night” scares people to death (with good reason).
While some spiritual writers see spiritual growth as movement toward “light”, (which sounds much more pleasant), John of the Cross seems to echo St. Gregory of Nyssa. Both spiritual masters describe the soul’s move toward God as a progression from light to darkness.
What they mean is that we move from the world of natural sense perception into the supernatural world that is beyond our senses. It’s a hidden world that Gregory elsewhere calls the “luminous darkness” (Commentary on the Canticle of Canticles).
A “luminous darkness”? Isn’t that a contradiction?
Gregory’s point is that the darkness and light we encounter in spiritual growth is relative. What appears to be light when we first arrive becomes dark if we linger too long. This urges us on toward the perfect luminescence of God.
Similarly, “Dark Night” is what high brow spiritual theologians call an “antithetical term.” What may appear or feel like “darkness” is actually the “inaccessible light” of God. We are, in a sense, blinded into darkness by His super-abundant luminosity.
In other words, it’s not easy, but there’s no reason to be afraid of the dark.
God bless and keep growing!
P.S. Don’t forget to grab your FREE copy of my quick guide to deeper prayer 8 Ways To Jumpstart Your Prayer Life! It’s an easy step-by-step guide to help you rocket to God!