Go mbeannai Dia duit.

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Quaker by conviction, mother by default, Celticst through love, Christ follower because I once was lost but now am found...

Monday, September 27, 2010

"My soul to God, My body to the earth, and My material possessions to my nearest relations." ~ Michelangelo's will.

Mother Theresa knew it well.  Jesus experienced it on the cross.  St John of the cross named it the dark night of the soul.  At some point every Christian who is seeking after the Lord with everything they've got is going to hit this wall ~ & I do wish the happy~clappy lot would study the church fathers just a little bit rather than expecting everything to always be happiness & light.  Not only is that not what Christ himself taught, it deprives people of the resources of those who have passed this way before us & left signposts along the way.

The Dark Night of the Soul began life as a poem by Spanish poet, mystic & carmelite Yuan de Yepes  Alvarez ~St John of the Cross.  St John belonged to a Spanish converso family ~ Jewish converts to the Christian faith & was in his early 20's when he joined the Carmelite order.  Along with St Teresa of Avila he was responsible for reforming the Carmelite order ~ for which he was imprisoned by his fellow Carmelites, isolated & lashed before the community weekly.  Yet his poem speaks of love, of the desperate seeking after God, of the mystical union between the Lover of his soul & the beloved.

This poem has become a synonym for the spiritual experience characterized by spiritual dryness, aloneness, desolation.  It is, quite literally, like hitting a prayer wall!  Nothing gets through, neither your prayers to God, nor God to you.  It is a stripping away of everything that delights the soul as it seeks after God: the sense of His presence, the touch of the Holy Spirit, the imagination is bound & the will weakens.  Even strong & experienced Christians like Mother Theresa find themselves hanging on to their faith by their fingernails.  A massive cloud of depression descends like a pall ~ & that is a good metaphor.  This is a spiritual death of sorts.  It is a desert place.

Now in our walk with Christ there are all sorts of ups & downs.  There is the initial flush of first love when we first come to know our Lord ~ but the Lord desires for his babies to grow up & become mature so we find ourselves being set very firmly on our own feet & led to strengthen our faith with knowledge, prayer, good works etc ~ all the bulwarks of the committed Christian life.  There is a danger in this because we can grow complacent & our spiritual journeying grinds to a halt. This is not what God desires for His children  His desire is to bring us ever closer to the inner sanctuary of His heart but we cannot enter as we are & so He lovingly prepares us for the holy of holies.  As this is rarely a pleasant process we do everything we can to escape, seeking *spiritual highs*, new spiritual experiences,  more dynamic worship, ecstasies...actually anything at all that prevents us from facing our own essential solitude wherein the Lord God might deal with us & bring us more fully into His presence.

That is the essential purpose of the *dark night*.  It is not, despite how it seems, a punishment.  It is a sanctification, a cleansing of His vessel that it might be more fully His.  Many of us will experience this in a small way.  Some may experience it for longer & more painfully.  The biggest trap is not recognizing it for what it is & desperately seeking an escape.  It is not meant to be escaped.   It is meant to bring us into greater dependence as any & all spiritual props we may rely on, even unknowingly, are stripped away.  Indeed it is such a common experience that all faith traditions make mention of it.

George Macdonald, who was something of a mystic himself, made an analogy with a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.  The man watching it watched it struggle for hours to emerge from its cocoon.  At last it seemed to have exhausted itself, unable to force its way through the small opening.  Thinking to help it the man enlarged the hole & the butterfly promptly emerged ~ but oh! What a sad excuse for a butterfly!  Its wings were small & shrunken its body swollen.  In the struggle to free itself from the cocoon fluid was forced from the swollen body into the wings so that they could enlarge & support the butterfly in flight.  The easy emergence meant this butterfly never flew.  It spent its life crawling round with its swollen & obese body totally unable to fly.

There is something about our struggles with God that grows spiritual muscle.  There is something about having to strive that grows us up.  There is something about working for our relationship with God that makes us value it more.  Cheap grace is a shallow & unsatisying thing.  True grace is never easy but it eqips us for life, both in this world & the world to come.


Ruby said...

Hello old friend.
I googled the poem, Dark night, of which I had heard but not read. A mixture of Song of Solomon and the Mournful Psalms.
You are right of course, that unless we have these depths of searching we will stagnate, but one sometimes wishes it were not so....

joyfulmum said...

Yes Ganeida, I agree, I think I would call it "pruning" maybe??? Jesus said that pruning comes when we are bearing fruit in order for us to bear more fruit:)

Ember said...

Heh heh - you must have written this a couple of hours before the post I wrote today, which is almost its exact mirror image - the other side of the same coin. Good team!!

The concept of the Dark Night of the Soul has fascinated and intrigued me all my life, and in the end I conclude it is useful but its like thse vitamins/minerals that need to be taken with other nutrients to be assimilated.

The Dark Night of the Soul is something that happens, but I feel very wary of the intense asceticism and submission to other people's cruelty that can sometimes bring it on. Those bad Carmelits that locked up John of the Cross and beat him, they should have stopped. They should have listened to him and been kind to him. And Mother Teresa (of Calcutta) was, I think, depressed. Her darkness went on too long, she was over-stretched and exhausted.

So I think the Dark Night is a valid part of our spiritual journey when it happens just as a result of Life being Life and when we are eating properly, resting enough and being supported by loving community. But I think it's really important to keep our feet on the ground so we don't overlook when someone has become ill, exhausted or overwhelmed and we could help them, attributing simple human unhappiness to an aspect of spiritual pilgrimage.

All about Balance, innit.

Ganeida said...

Ruby: You are good, girl!

Rosemary: Not sure ~ but I imagine the end result is similar.

Ember: Mother Teresa asked to share Christ's suffering on the cross ~ & seems to have shared the, My God, my God, why have you abandoned me aspects ~ or so I read. And certainly one needs to seperate depression etc from spiritual angst.

Jo said...

Children who have been brought up from birth knowing the loving God is an excellent thing, however some children can take it all for granted and not understand the importances of the Word. This was my problem, and it wasn't until I became an adult and suffered some very tough times did I realize the wonderful and precious gift my parents had given me.

Amanda said...

Ganeida, dear friend and sister, you are in fine form lately!! I loved this and have often felt in this very place. I studied into it a bit a few years ago, and it made sense to my position at the time. For me, when I understand what is actually happening to me, I can relax into it and stop fighting it. This was one such understanding (dark night of the soul), that helped me push through, just like the butterfly. I suspect I am in another round now, and have been for a little while. It is to be embraced and not fought, as you said.

Loved this... well said, well done. Thank you Lord.

Ganeida said...

Jo: By the time I was a teen I was bored silly by religion. It is one thing to know about Christ; it is another thing entirely to know Christ. I think this is where most of us come a cropper, either as the parents or as the children. It requires the work of the Holy Spirit.

Amanda: I am easily bored & I have nothing to do ~ well, I do but cleaning out Star's room does not thrill me to my bootstraps. lol My mind tends to go all over the place. No wonder Star's ADD! ☺

Amanda said...

Ganeida, my usual laptop is out of action at the moment, so I am using our other one (the older one lol)... anyway, I had to type in the blogs url's that I read, as I don't have them saved in my favourite's on this one. I typed in yours and I knew I must have incorrectly entered it, as this blog came up with all these cute but funny looking birds in the header. As I read, I recognised your familiar writing style... and guess what?!! It was yours! I read the latest post and was about to comment when I noticed the date... it was Nov, a few years ago and you had a migraine or something. I thought you must have remodelled your current blog, but in fact, it was an old one of yours! What a treat it was to see!! I loved the woodwork your Dearest was working on... how did it turn out?

Ganeida said...

Wow, Amanda. I know it's still there but it sort of crashed ~ or was hacked into & was sending people to a horse stud in hungarian or something ~ amongst other things, not all of them very nice so I abandoned it & moved all my then buddies over here. lol I still use that header sometimes. MamaO's little one really likes it. ☺

seekingmyLord said...

Unbelievable, Ganeida! Well, you may believe it. I started a post yesterday that I yet to finish of these very feelings I have been experiencing in my own heart within the spiritual realm lately. Of coming to a fuller realization of what a wretched creature I really am and how it makes me suffer to see how unworthy, how far away I am to the Father.

It is a wondrous thing how as one becomes closer to the Lord, grows in spiritual maturity, surrenders, and is sanctified that one also feels farther way and more unworthy than before! It is if the deception of sin is stripped away and we realize our true state of transparency before the Lord. It is then that we really appreciate the moment-to-moment gift of grace.

I think, or perhaps I am beginning to have fuller understanding personally, how much the sanctified Christian suffers just knowing his own unworthiness. Only when we are truly closer to God do we see how much we are unlike Him. It is much easier to be farther away and point over saying that is my God over there because we are not really standing in the far too revealing radiance of His glory (Hebrews 1:3).

The question is not whether we should suffer, the question is whether we are willing to suffer and desire to do good works because of our desperate love for the Lord. Only in this self-sacrifice do we learn how to completely depend on God for Him to provide what we need as we need like the Israelites being given manna in a desert of no food around. I am currently reading a book call Manna: The Call to Daily Dependence on God by Kevin Stirrat that explores this.

Ganeida said...

Seeking I am over it. lol Now Ember & I are dancing in tandem as well. Too funny making but I want to have a word with Ruby & see if I can sort of snavel her latest post. Now I'm cribbing on top of everything else. ☺ How is your day?

seekingmyLord said...

It is a NEW day! I have my "morning mood." I think the Lord for the blessing of shedding yesterday and starting anew today with the hope of doing the same tomorrow!

Anyway, I posted something at Ruby's that is a twist in perspective, as I so like to do, but...I don't know how that will go over. (I can be seen as somewhat of a troublemaker when it comes to things like that.)

Jan Lyn said...

Very well said, Ganeida. I so agree with this post. We mustn't depend on mountain top experiences, rather live in the day to day with Christ and not on feelings only.
It seems for me, my most challenging and dark times are the ones that have been the most powerful to chisel away at me.
It is a life time process, but I do believe in dark nights of the soul. We may not understand them at the time, or while on this earth, completely, but trust they are for our good, ever deepening our relationship with God for eternity.
What a good read....I've missed stopping by!
Jan Lyn