“Heart and Soul”
What is the ‘dark night’ of the soul? The phrase ‘noche oscura’ originated in a poem written by the 16th-century Spanish mystic, Carmelite friar and poet, St. John of the Cross. In it, he describes the journey of the soul to joyful communion with the Holy One. When John reflected on mystical theology, he followed in the tradition established by the sixth-century Syrian monk, Pseudo-Dionysius. I wonder if he had, perhaps secretively, also read John Calvin’s Institutes as well: “When we hear any mention of our mystical union with Christ we should remember that holiness is the channel to it.”
But the phrase ‘dark night of the soul’ has latterly been used to describe a spiritual crisis, an overwhelming sense of God’s absence, of betrayal or of deep doubt of the existence of the Divine. Often this state is rooted in a traumatic experience, illness, the death of a beloved or despair in the face of the world’s horrors. Sometimes it can be entangled in a complicated web that may include a stressed mental state, continuing engagement in unhealthy habits or sins, profoundly unhappy relationships or, simply, apathy.
It is angry and indignant. It is vulnerable and afraid. It is silent or it cries and weeps as the soul, indeed, is heart-broken. The psalmist speaks of it frequently, “Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? And why are you so disquieted within me?” Psalm 42:6
But I think that we usually know the answer, we just do not want to acknowledge it. Our souls will not be enlightened until we are ready to meet the darkness within.
Prayer: Gracious God, remember us when we are imprisoned in the darkness of sin and doubt. When we remain prideful, despairing or unaware of your presence, open our eyes, and give us contrite hearts, that we may glimpse the dawn of your forgiveness and the light of your love. Amen.