The Dark Night

As I have said, I am a mystic. I have spent years as a spiritual director. But students and faculty alike have not been fond of my direction. At some point they ask me to teach them how to contemplate. Contemplation as different from meditation. Usually their request is connected with some understanding of the Dark Night. They are disappointed when I tell them that I can help them learn to meditate (the Dark Night of the Senses) but I cannot teach them to contemplate (the Dark Night of the Soul).

John of the Cross is the doctor of the church that brought the term “dark night” into the history of theology. Here is what he says about the Dark Night of the Soul at the very beginning of his commentary.

“It was a sheer grace to be placed by God in this night that occasioned so much good. The soul would not have succeeded in entering it, because souls are unable alone to empty themselves of all their appetites in order to reach God.” The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez. Washington, DC : ICS Publications, 1991, p. 119.

Meditation that leads to the Dark Night of the Senses is to find a “something” in creation to focus one’s attention on. In that focusing you may find the work of God. In it’s highest form one focuses entirely on a single word, either the word “God” or “Jesus” or some other attribute of God such as “love” or “holy” or “grace”…

For me I like to meditate on the ocean that signifies the grandeur of God for me. Sometimes I draw my thoughts to the “tiny blue dot” that reminds me how very small I am in the cosmos. So small that it astounds me that God should care. (The photo of the pale blue dot was taken in February 1990 by Voyager 1 when Voyager 1 was a mere 3.7 billion miles away. Voyager 1 is now 11.7 billion miles from earth!)

We are drawn by God’s grace to the Dark Night of contemplation. Contemplation is the utter emptying (kenosis in Greek) of our selves by God. We can do nothing to obtain or achieve contemplation according to John of the Cross. It is “sheer grace.”

Attributed to John of the Cross: “The endurance of darkness is the preparation for great light.”

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