By Jonathan Dunnemann
The Dark Nights
The spiritual journey is a process that parallelsthe process of life. If you have to let go of lower formsor ideas of perceiving realitythat are proper to infants and childrenin order to get to mature views of reality,then why be surprised if you have to do the samein the spiritual plane?That’s really what the dark nights are about.They’re a passive infusion of divine lovethat assists us to do what we are too weak to do,or haven’t got quite the guts to do under our ownhuman initiative, which is to facethe things in ourselves that are obstacles to growthand to allow them to die byletting go of them.
What was good is preserved or integrated into a higher viewof Christ, or of God. All that’s let go of is the childishnessor the undue identification with human propsthat are no longer useful tools in the spiritual journey.These served us at one level of our journey,but now have to be laid aside.We have to pick up a new set of tools proportionateto the new wisdom or realitythat we’re dealing with.
You also have to deal with things that you’re goingto be embarrassed aboutwhen you reach the fullness of light.When your own interior light turns on,you see as clearly as the hand in front of your eyeseverything you did that was against love,or against love of neighbor, or God,or that involved pride or putting oneself first.So you’re inclined to get rid of these things now,and that means you submit to the purification processand to the treatments, one of which is called,since John of the Cross’ time,“the Night of Sense,”and the other “the Night of Spirit,”which is more profound.Night is a translation of the Spanish word obscura noche,which really means a fairly dark night,that is to say, it’s obscure.It’s dark, but it’s not total darkness.So there are stars in this night.It’s like a Spanish night full of stars.It has its beauty, as well as its limitations.
And so, the dark night is an infusion,according to John of the Cross,of the pure love of Godthat is confronting everything in us that is selfish,self-centered, or unrealistic in that it puts other partial goodsahead of the relationship that we have with God,which could become more and more permanent.
The Night of Sense refers to your basic motivation.The Night of Spirit goes to the root of the false self.What characterizes the Night of Sense mostis not a rational conclusion,but the intuition that nothing created can satisfyus and that only God can satisfyour virtually infinite longing for happiness.This conviction then undermines the whole basisof the false self.
Fr. Thomas Keating
1 Bandura, A., (2001). SOCIAL COGNITIVE THEORY: An Agentic Perspective. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 2001.52:1-26.