Welcome back! Though our emails for this Spiritual Journey Program paused for July and August, we realize that for those who have said, "Yes," the journey never pauses. We hope your summer break was fruitful and restful and we thank you for your continued participation and for welcoming these messages back into your inbox and your consciousness.
Our study turns toward the Dark Night of the Soul, the great teaching of St. John of the Cross, influenced by his mentor and spiritual guide, St. Teresa of Avila. According to Gerald May in his book The Dark Night of the Soul, "when Teresa and John speak of the soul, they are not talking about something a person has, but who a person most deeply is: the essential nature of a human being." He goes on to say, "Centuries before Freud 'discovered' the unconscious, contemplatives … had a profound appreciation that there is an active life of the soul that goes on beneath our awareness. It is to this unconscious dimension of the spiritual life that Teresa and John refer when they use the term 'dark.'"
In this section of the Spiritual Journey Program, Fr. Thomas introduces us to two aspects of the Dark Night, the Night of Sense and the Night of Spirit. In today's video, he focuses on the Night of Sense, which brings about the dismantling of the emotional programs. The first sign that we are experiencing the Night of Sense is a generalized aridity in both prayer and daily life, an experience of God's absence rather than God's presence. We might feel as if something has gone wrong in our prayer life, which is the second sign we are in this night.
In today's video Fr. Thomas says, "… in the Night of Sense, when we experience dryness in our relationships with God, we also experience a lack of satisfaction in these former means by which we desperately sought for happiness or pleasure." This is the beginning of the dismantling of the emotional programs. Even as we experience a desperate grasping from these ancient programs — what Fr. Thomas calls "a kind of last stand" of the energy centers — we grow in our certainty that God alone can satisfy our boundless longing for happiness; thus the third sign, our desire to be alone with God even though God seems to be a million miles away.
As students of the Work of Inner Christianity, we learn simply to observe these "last stands" as they arise and demand a response. What are the thoughts and feelings? What are the sensations in the body? These thought/feeling/sensation responses were created long ago, when we were pre-rational or pre-verbal. Aware that they have played out repeatedly and are now patterned and mechanical, we practice Self-observation and eventually experience their manifestation with non-identification – "This is not-I" – and Self-remembering – "God is with me always."
As we learn about the Nights, instead of overanalyzing ("Am I in a Night? If so, which one?"), we may find it more useful to just relax into the process. We may be drawn to increasing our prayer time. Our trust in God's loving and profoundly personal healing increases. We find that perseverance and patience with the process grow in us.
Sometimes people use the term "dark night of the soul" to mean an experience of bad or hard times in life. Gerald May says, "The dark night is a profoundly good thing. It is an ongoing spiritual process in which we are liberated from attachments and compulsions and empowered to live and love more freely … The darkness of the night implies nothing sinister, only that the liberation takes place in hidden ways, beneath our knowledge and understanding … mysteriously, in secret, and beyond our conscious control … [and] always works to our benefit."
"God helps us to dis-identify from our preconceived ideas by enlightening us from within by the contemplative gifts of the Spirit. Through the infusion of … light and the assurance of … love, [God] lets us in on our weaknesses and deficiencies – not to overwhelm us with discouragement, but to encourage us to entrust ourselves completely to [God’s] infinite mercy."
- Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love
Video Reflections: View the video excerpt "The Night of Sense: The Biblical Desert – Part 1." This excerpt is about 19 minutes in length. You will find it and a transcript here.
Examen: Reflect on the teaching in today's video — this transformational journey God is leading us through. How is God helping you to dismantle — non-identify — with old programs? Can you trust the profound goodness in where God is taking you, even if painful?
Resources for Further Study:
- You may wish to read Chapter 11 – 14 in Invitation to Love (20th anniversary edition), Chapters 10 – 13 in older editions.
- An archive of previous emails may be found here.