I regret the day that a psychologist first got a hold of the term, Dark Night of the Soul, and ran with it. Because, as with all the other experiences that it touches, psychology makes the phenomenon of the dark night relative. Relative to what makes a person depressed. Relative to what makes a person not want to get out of bed. Relative to what makes a person feel unloved.
Relative to other human beings, that is. And only to other human beings.
And the fact of the matter is, the dark night of the soul is in no way relative to human maneuverings. We, as humans, may experience it, and other humans may serve as a trigger to it, but it is a term devised by a mystic and it refers to a mystical explosion in the soul.
An explosion that results in the extinguishing of the ability to perceive the light of God’s love.
All of our Earthly parts can, to a lesser or greater ability, tolerate the sense of isolation. To accept feeling abandoned. Our thoughts can accommodate the sensation, as can our emotions and actions. The only part of us that cannot tolerate the feeling of separation is our soul. Our soul is like a radio receiver: it is designed to pick up the signals sent from God, to translate them into human terms, and to respond to God’s messages of love.
When the soul’s ability to receive is incapacitated, panic ensues.
A healthy soul is content with its ability to function as the receptacle that holds the precious divine light; and an unhealthy soul is one that desires restoration, but is frustrated in finding its way to such a healing.
But when a soul experiences the extinguishing of the light of God, it causes the person to turn on himself and question everything about himself. And his relationship with God. And God, himself.
Mystics live with the impression that the path before us, lit by the love of God, is there for all time. We believe that we can depend on this experience throughout our lives. We become sheep, accustomed to the voice of our own shepherd; happy in being directed and protected. Essentially protected. Feeling that as long as there is a connection with God, all will be well in the soul.
As with our Earthly existence, our spiritual essence goes through growth portals. In our Earthly life, we are birthed, we become an adult, we age and wither and fail. Our spiritual development has as many portals as a soul needs to shed its fragility and instability. Whatever keeps us tied to our Earthly definitions of God, like the lines that tether a hot air balloon, is unbound. Process by process. Line by line. Each confusion, misunderstanding, unreleased emotion is opened, healed, and released.
Until the day when our understanding of the world and God is slammed up against the reality of God. For each of us, it is different. We all have our own bottom lines. The line that we believe we will not give up.
Mother Angelica found hers when her birth mother who had become a nun died, and at the same time Mother Angelica learned that a number of people were working to dislodge her from her position as the head of her television network and take it over. Her path had been clear to her. Now it was under literal attack.
This was not the way it should be.
For the first half of her life, Mother Teresa had found her life’s measure in warm and assuring visions of Jesus. The path before her was made evident. She followed it.
Then the visions stopped.
To her, it meant that God no longer loved her.
John of the Cross was locked up in a closet-sized room for nine months, and beaten on a weekly basis. His vision was to purify the monasteries and make them glorious instruments in the praise and work of God. For this vision, he was brutally punished.
The entrance to the dark night is the point where the relationship that was once between the mystic and God is disassembled. And a darkness ensues in the soul. This darkness creates the illusion that God is no longer there with the mystic. Or is antagonistic to the mystic, and so is refusing to light his soul.
And after a lifetime of dedication to God, this comes as a very heavy blow to the mystic’s sense of well-being.
The concept of separateness is introduced into the soul. A concept that is as antithetical to the soul’s sense of reality as one could be. To the soul, there is no such thing as separation. And yet here it is: the seemingly real experience of it.
And, painfully, there is nothing to indicate to the soul that this is just an illusion.
The soul has never had to “play” at being separated before. And now there is just no light.
There is no spiritual sight.
As mystics, we just stand there and watch as the path beneath our feet crumbles into nothingness. It feels as though there is no longer any real definition in us. No real definition to us. We become nothing ourselves.
And there is the mocking nature of a darkened soul, the innate assertion that This Is Who You Are.
After all these years of work. Of prayer. Of endurance.
And so we either do or we don’t find our feet. And find that there is a path still underneath them. It’s just that it is not a visible path. It’s a path that has to be sensed by our feet now. By our understanding of God. Our understanding. No longer is God’s light the beacon that lights the way.
Now we are completely dependent on our own spiritual senses. Senses, I think, that we weren’t even aware that we had. Like a suddenly blinded person, we have to learn to reform our relationship to that which is around us. Create new ways of navigation.
The hardest part is that we have to form a relationship with our own souls. We have to become the director, the shepherd, the protector. Because, in fact, this is who we are.
We have to become able on our own. Without the constant reminder from God about who we are and what we are to do.
When we enter the black cave in order to slay the dragon before us, we enter alone.
Armed with only the weapons that we happened to bring with us.
God won’t be there to direct the battle. It is our own to face and survive.
It is written that this whole experience is about faith.
Faith in ourselves. Faith that we have retained enough understanding of God to know how to direct our life in God.
We are taking our own steps for the first time.
And like an infant, it hurts.
And is frustrating.
Except unlike an infant, there is no parent nearby to pick us up and dry our tears.
The dark night is as long as the resistance is in us to making it out on our own.
What seems like the carnival of God has to be endured, accomplished, completed.
It is the steps of fear and uncertainty that we have to learn to take.