"The Night of Sense … is a transitional phase … a no-man's land or a no-woman's land between our rational or our reflective and our spontaneous relationship with God (which is very good), to a new relationship (which is even better), that of communion, of being-to-being, face-to-face relationship and the knowledge of God in pure faith."
- Thomas Keating, today’s video
The healing process of the Night of Sense puts us into unfamiliar, uncomfortable territory. We experience dryness in prayer, a simultaneous feeling of distance from and longing for God, a loss of familiar spiritual consolations, and a lack of "juice" in aspects of life that had previously motivated us. The energy that had been dedicated to satisfying the demands for affection, security and control is freed up, along with the energy of the emerging psychological unconscious. All of this can be quite powerful and sometimes overwhelming, especially if we are not prepared for it.
The Night of Sense challenges our commitment to the spiritual journey. We may start to have second thoughts about the path we have chosen. Fr. Thomas suggests that we, like ordinary saints and mystics throughout time, can navigate the challenges of this new landscape by shoring up devotion and dedication in our lives, like the banks of a river.
Devotion to God - The first bank is created and maintained through our devotion to God and the discipline of our practices. We anchor ourselves in the practice of Centering Prayer and the Work of Inner Christianity, as well as other devotional practices such as Lectio Divina (prayerful reading of Scripture) and partaking in the Eucharist.
The interior silence — the resting in God — of our prayer expands outward into our lives and enables the Night of Sense to begin its healing work. In this stillness and silence, we begin to uncritically observe the emotional programs and cultural conditioning crystallized in early life, which formed our identity, our view of others and our relationship with God and creation.
The Work of Inner Christianity gives us the precious opportunity to engage with God in this transformational process. As we persevere in our commitment to the spiritual journey we are more willing to be vulnerable and let down our defenses further, which allows more unconscious material to arise into the light of consciousness. Instead of seeing it as "I," we self-observe. We non-identify.
"Every act of non-identification saves force. … You cannot non-identify without a certain degree of Self-remembering. … All Self-remembering has to do with the fact that you came down to this earth and life here does not correspond with what you came down from: and something in you knows it — that is, has not forgotten it: and that means remembers it."
- Commentaries, "Beauty and the Puer Aeternus," Vol. 4, May 19, 1951
Dedication to Our Lives - The second bank is continued dedication to the people and responsibilities of our ordinary lives — family, friends, work, and service — but with a new orientation. We increasingly regard the people and events of our lives not as objects to gratify our demands, but as teachers and manifestations of God.
"God is calling us in the Night of Sense to take responsibility for ourselves and for our personal response to Christ's invitation to follow him. This includes our response to the people we live with and, ultimately, to the whole human family."
-Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love
Through deepening and persevering within the two banks, we are engaging in the mysterious metamorphosis into higher levels of consciousness for which we were destined. We are in the womb — or chrysalis — of God, where our trust and faith can expand, though we know not where we are going or how we are getting "there." In this unknowing, Divine Love is shaking the ground on which we felt secure and opening us to new ways of seeing and experiencing reality.
"The sun, the clear morning, the quiet, the barely born butterfly from the cocoon under the bench. Solitude—when you get saturated with silence and landscape, then you need an interior work, psalms, Scripture, meditation. But first the saturation. How much of this is simply restoration of one's normal human balance? Like waking up, like convalescence after an illness … I have been coming here into solitude to find myself, and now I must also lose myself: not simply to rest in the calm, the peace, in the identity that is made up of my experienced relationship with nature in solitude. This is healthier than my 'identity' as a writer or a monk, but it is still a false identity, although it has a temporary meaning and validity. It is the cocoon that masks the transition stage between what crawls and what flies."
- Thomas Merton, A Year with Thomas Merton, Daily Meditations from His Journals
Video Reflections: View the video excerpt "The Night of Sense: The Biblical Desert, Part 2." This excerpt is about 16 minutes in length. You will find it and a transcript here.
Examen: Have you experienced the Night of Sense and didn't have the words or images to express what you were experiencing? Can you take comfort in knowing this is where God is leading us on this journey and that Christians throughout the ages have had similar experiences? How are the two banks of devotion and dedication manifesting in your life?
Resources for Further Study:
- Read more about the Night of Sense in Chapters 11 – 14 of Invitation to Love (20th anniversary edition), Chapters 10-13 in older editions.
- Read more about non-identification in the Commentaries, "Beauty and the Puer Aeternus," May 19, 1951, Vol. 4, p. 1477.
- An archive of previous emails may be found here.