(Note: Today is the Feast of St. John of the Cross.)
I do not feel God; I have no clue what God is doing with my life to the point that I haven’t felt anything in years. If you’ve been following the ole’ blog since it was over at Livejournal, you might recall that I’ve been in a junior version of the Dark Night of the Soul for sometime, now. I’m still very much “in it” — perhaps, even more so than I was two years ago.
In our day, the term, “the dark night of the soul” describes any kind of a general-purpose angst. Most of us invoke the phrase whenever some horrifying external event crushes our lives under its terrifying weight. Trivial matters, too, are now included under the name, like some may say they’re in a Dark Night because their dating life isn’t going as it they think it should. Or, so I’ve heard people equate it to such. Basically, it is invoked whenever life doesn’t go the way we want it to.
However we use it, the understanding is that 1) it is terrible and 2) that you need to fix it. You’ll get no argument from me on the first point.
Spiritually saccharine, William Young’s The Shack (2007) is the poster-child for the modern understanding of the Dark Night. After the death of his daughter, Mac receives an invitation from God (“Pappa”) to join him at the cabin where his daughter was tortured and killed for a weekend of self-discovery and talks about his “faith journey”. Of course, after a weekend with the anthropomorphized Trinity, Mac emerges from “the great sadness” (Young’s term for the Dark Night) because “Pappa” swoops down a la sitcom. (I’d call it Deus ex Machina, but that would give The Shack the pretense of literary value). And, of course, everybody goes home happier once this happens, because “Pappa” fixed it.
The originator of phrase, St. John of the Cross, did not use it in such a way. The Dark Night was not caused by anything external, even though its arrival was usually a portent of such things to come. It is not quite psychological depression, either, as one of St. John’s three spirits of the Dark Night includes an increased libido. But, it may look like depression or even cause it. St. John goes out of his way to give an accurate description of it in The Dark Night of Soul with all the signs and symptoms. Regardless of how it looks or sounds, St. John agrees with us that it is terrible.
Yet, he disagrees quite vehemently that it needs to be fixed or gotten over. In the poem that creates the structure for The Dark Night of the Soul, the Saint writes,
In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned
in my heart.
This light guided me
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me– A place
where none appeared.
Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!
To St. John of the Cross, the Dark Night is not something to “get over”, but it is something to be embraced. The happy secret of the Dark Night is that it leads us to a new understanding of God, transforming us into God’s image, joining us to God in a way that happiness never can. Once one discovers this secret, the soul can say that the night is happy and lovelier than any dawn. We embrace the Dark Night, realizing that it is our pathway to salvation.
I ain’t there, yet. I ain’t nowhere close.
But, I think it is where I should be heading.
St. John of the Cross, pray for us!