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dark night

dark night


Starless night 

dark night


Starless night 

At some point, we also notice uncomfortably that God has withdrawn the awareness of His presence.  We feel abandoned to our sins and faults.  And Satan takes full advantage of our weakness and confusion by heaping on guilt, frustration, doubt, and hopelessness. 

John of Cross

A Carmelite monk known as John of the Cross (1542-1592) called this a “dark night of the soul.”  Through painful and frequent experience, however, he knew it to be a good and desirable experience in which “the divine touches the soul to renew it and to ripen it, in order to make it divine.”

Dark nights (and there are several of them) can be active or passive. 

On this leg of our journey, the dark night is active, as we labor to remove everything that stands between us and God.  Violently and desperately, we try to fight our way back up the mountain.  We’re like a man whose house is on fire, throwing aside flaming debris in an attempt to reach his wife.  We scrub off sinful behaviors like foul pollution, as we see for the first time the repulsiveness of our sins, or we perform a sober, determined, methodical excision of the “flesh” that does us harm. 

Be warned that in the absence of feeling God’s presence, we are in danger of becoming like the immature husband or wife who says, “I don’t love you anymore.  I no longer feel like I did when we were first married.”  Don’t be deceived.  The dark night is a chance to prove true love and an opportunity to close the gaps between lovers. 

Though we feel lost, we somehow sense that we are expected to put one foot in front of the other and stay on the path, even though the path has grown dark and rocky.  We are suppose to shower, dress, and how up for work, even if we feel sick at heart.  In short, we are expected to begin to grow and learn to walk by faith and obey out of love. 

Yet everything inside us wants to return to the mountain, to our happy place.  Our flesh screams, “I was created for the mountain!  I’ve been empty so long.  I felt love and comfort and power that I never imagined possible.  Don’t leave me here like this!” 

The active dark night differs from our salvation experience in that, while both brought an acute awareness of our sins and a desire to be delivered from their weight and abrasion, the dark night is a longer, deeper and more thorough cleansing, a step further along in the process.

If everything goes according to God’s will and we respond correctly to the Holy Spirit’s leading, a brilliant light eventually pierces our dark night, and we discover our felix cupula or “happy fault.”  This may sound like an oxymoron, but it refers to the joy of identifying our ensnaring sin.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1)




© 2005, 2012 Bill Atwood



(coming: Friends and enemies: the Deadly Sins)