First we defined what the dark night of the soul is and how it is often a part of our spiritual journeys. Then we looked at how many of the cliches we’ve come to spout fall short of being any kind of actual balm. Next we turn to what do we have to offer the person whose life has been blown to crap. For the answer to that, I am going to pillage without apology from an article written by a friend of mine, Rich Vincent, appropriately called “The Dark Night of the Soul.” There are two movements of the dark night. The first is called “The Dark Night of the Senses”. The Psalmist says it best “Darkness is my only friend.” This is a dangerous time because there’s nothing worse than being alone with your thoughts. Your mind becomes your worst enemy:

-you feel lost
-you feel abandoned by God
-you feel alone
-no one understands what you’re going through
-you try all of those familiar spiritual practices which had worked so well for you in the past, but now they only leave you exhausted. You’re prayer life seems impotent, you get no pleasure or answers.
-the harder you try, the worse it seems
-and because of this, you may feel like you’re backsliding

And it sucks. If we’re being honest, the only thing we can do is encourage one another to persevere, it whatever form that takes. A regular on my message board, in responding to why cliches don’t cut it, said that “In my experiences, cliches are sometimes dusted off and trotted to me in lieu of actually interacting with me or joining me on the journey, with the efficacy of a bandaid for a severe leg wound. I can’t use words, but I could use an ear, or support getting back on my feet again. God’s promises are one thing, but if you twist them into a cliche to fit a situation rather than actually trying to be useful or comforting, you’re missing the whole point.” In her book, Stumbling Toward Faith, Renee Alston expresses her frustration this way:

“In my journey toward God, one of the greatest things I have learned is that there is much I do not know. Sometimes that really ticks me off. Why is it that I don’t know what’s going on here? Why isn’t there some kind of answer for me? What kind of God lives in these “I don’t knows”? What kind of God keeps such secrets?

“If there’s anything I’ve learned about not knowing, it’s that it reveals the depth of my trust. Can I trust a God who will not explain himself? Can I trust a God who leaves me not knowing his purpose, his will? Can I trust something beyond the pat answers, the snatched promises, the ways we quiet ourselves when the questioning grows too strong?”

Basically, your life feels stripped of everything and even if it hasn’t been totally stripped, depression will do it. Depression is a natural and necessary expression of grief and we normally experience depression during these times. Depression isn’t lack of faith. Depression isn’t just “the devil trying to get to you.” However, this is not the time to get lost in your thoughts. I’m not saying that asking “why?” is bad, I’m just saying that it will only further exhaust you. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but ultimately a waste of time since there are no answers to be found.

We can ask them but too often we aren’t willing to live with questions. Questions leave us vulnerable, like there’s something missing in our walk. There are 288 question marks in the book of Job. Most of them are from Job and his friends. How does God deal with their questions? Questions were His answer – 78 of the 288 are His. The net result? His questions leave us humbled, awed, and speechless (though, to be perfectly honest, somewhat dissatisfied). St. John of the Cross puts it this way:

The way in which they are to conduct themselves in this night of sense is to devote themselves not at all to reasoning and meditation, since this is not the time for it, but to allow the soul to remain in peace and quietness, although it may seem clear to them that they are doing nothing and are wasting their time, and although it may appear to them that it is because of their weakness that they have no desire in that state to think of anything. The truth is that they will be doing quite sufficient if they have patience and persevere in prayer without making any effort. What they must do is merely to leave the soul free and disencumbered and at rest from all knowledge and thought, troubling not themselves, in that state, about what they shall think or meditate upon, but contenting themselves with merely a peaceful and loving attentiveness toward God, and in being without anxiety, without the ability and without desired to have experience of Him or to perceive Him.

In other words, be quiet and hold on. It’s hard to see any blessings going on during this phase. But during this time, hopefully a few things will be happening: you’ll be learning a greater fear of God and learning a deep spiritual humility. And your patience will be increased. None of this is an easy process and these are lessons rarely appreciated in the learning. Another way to put this is that you gain a new sense of perspective, the problem is that this perspective is usually from the ground since you’ve been knocked out.

Next comes “The Dark Night of the Spirit.” Here’s the true suck part: in a lot of ways, you are on your own. It is your soul being purified. However, God is at work, behind the scenes of your soul, knitting you back together without you even realizing it. The question becomes “why would God choose to purify the soul in a way so painful and frustrating?” It seems almost sadistic. Well, I don’t know. I’m serious, I have no idea. It is here that we often find the limits of our systematic theology and some would say, common sense. I would offer that unless we’ve left room for the mysteries of God as a part of our faith, times of crisis can become faith-shattering. We are slaves to answers, having to know “why” and when the answers are not there, out faith either crumbles or is re-evaluated. St. John of the Cross puts it this way.

Why is the Divine light (which as we say, illumines and purges the soul from its ignorances) here called by the soul a dark night? To this the answer is that for two reasons this Divine wisdom is not only night and darkness for the soul, but is likewise affliction and torment. The first is because of the height of Divine Wisdom, which transcends the talent of the soul, and in this way is darkness to it; the second, because of its vileness and impurity, in which respect it is painful and afflictive to it, and is also dark.

In other words, God’s light can prove so overwhelming that it leaves us blinded, in darkness. God works where we are and sometimes we have to be stripped of a few things to allow Him to work. You may learn the measure of your faith and what faith truly is. Yes, in this darkness feels like God has forsaken you. You become aware of your own failing and things
may seem so desperate, you feel that there’s no remedy.

[to be continued]