Reflections on the Dark Night ~ Part Two

 

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El Greco painting of the Carmelite Monastery in Toledo, where St. John of the Cross was kept prisoner (It has been proposed that the Dark Night of the Soul was composed while John was imprisoned in Toledo, between 1577 and 1579).

 

A Pure Heart Create in Me, O God (Ps. 51:12)

The purified heart has been finally and fully claimed by God can, paradoxically, become progressively purer and more fulfilled in him right till the moment of death. This is because God himself expands its capacity with his inpouring love, fills the enlarged space with more love, which expands it further—and so the process goes on. But never without our full consent. A helpful prayer is “My God, penetrate and possess me to the uttermost—and don’t take notice when I squeal in pain.”

It is fear of suffering that holds back so many from the unqualified gift of themselves to God, so that he can do whatever he likes with them. But has he not promised he will match every trial with enough grace to bear it? Of course this may well mean that part of the trial will be the experience of desperately needing more, and more, and more grace.

However, this in itself provokes a constant plea for what we know we cannot endure without. It engenders intimate knowledge of our own helplessness—“Without Christ I can do nothing” (cf. John 15:5)—coupled with a reckless confidence—“With God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.”

The truth is that grace can be flooding into us while we remain unaware of it and experience no comfort. This happens because we are only too prone to think, as soon as we realize we are over-coming, “Aha! I’m getting somewhere! I’ve conquered! How brave and strong I am! How far I’ve advanced in virtue! I hope everyone else is noticing this!”

Such self-congratulations and the tendency to various forms of self-exaltation arise from those buried roots that only the passive purgations can eradicate. So God’s work progresses in direct relation to our humble receptivity to grace, and humility, as is well known by the humble, comes above all through dire humilations. What appears to be the curse of being refused the grace we need is really the blessing of being given it in abundance, but minus the extra grace of the awareness to enjoy it. Being what we are, this last grace would engender pride. Only those with great humility dare say, “He who is mighty has done great things to me” (Luke 1:49).

 

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Art by Vesna Delevska

 


Candle and Pinecone Sequence

This flame’s shape is like a spear—
or else a dagger—leaving wounds concealed
behind the bulwark of the living flames of love,
which do not burn.

Lights illuminate our darknesses
and flames give warmth—though the uncircumspect
receive what could be stigmata, exposed
or else concealed in heart, or brain, or bloodless hands.

This flame’s symmetry is like a spear’s keen blade
or else a dagger, small but dangerous,
shaped to deal out penetrating wounds
mysteriously secret, all of them
deep buried in the heart’s blind fastnesses
spousal gifts from those living flames of love.

 

~ A reflection and poem by  Barbara Dent, O.C.D.S.

 

 

 

Reflections on the Dark Night

st-john-of-the-cross-in-the-dark-night-of-the-soul-290-william-hart-mcnichols

St. John of the Cross in the Dark Night, art by William Hart McNichols 

 

The purpose of the dark night, according to St. John of the cross, is to lead us into the full day of perfect loving union with the Trinity. This means that we merge with Christ in all his resurrection glory and joy, though in this life these attributes will manifest themselves only intermittently and mutedly, for we are still confined by the limitations of our physical existence. Faith in the reality of this full union, hope that Jesus will lead us into it if only we follow him trustingly all the way to the tomb, and the unconditional love of our as yet imperfect hearts—these are the attributes that through the dark night “join Beloved with lover, lover transformed in the Beloved,” as John puts it in his poem, “In one dark night.”

During these necessarily passive nights, grace penetrates all levels of our inner being to eliminate every trace of sin. It invades—as long as we stay receptive—those deeply rooted, perverted tendencies for which we are not personally responsible, but which do influence our behavior and attitudes in numerous unloving and even evil ways (At this stage of the spiritual journey there is no deliberate evil action, but indeliberate blindness to others’ serious needs can well operate because of some hidden complex of insecurity, anxiety, or the like).

Pulling Up Roots

In the so-called “active nights,” we purposefully do what we can, with the help of grace, to accomplish the cleansing, and in fact we must persevere in such activity till death. In the passive nights, divine help and activity penetrate where we cannot to reach those stubbornly embedded roots of sin so that they are either wrenched out or dissolved away.

To use a gardening analogy—we can easily deal with bedding plants, whether flowers or vegetables, using handforks and trowels or larger forks and spades. If we labor hard enough, we can even dig up some of the bigger shrubs and small tress with perhaps a heavier shovel and fork and a grubbing tool.

But what do we do about an oak or pine tree? True, it can be cut down and the stump burned out, using more advanced power tools and a number of skilled helpers. But say for some good reason we want to have the whole tree taken out by the roots. In that case, outside help and implements like tractors, mechanical diggers, and maybe explosives, together with experts to use them, have to be employed. We can only stand back and let it happen, though it is true we ourselves have initiated the procedure. For whatever reason, we want it done.

Similarly, in the deeper passive nights, we have to invite God in to do the work for us, because our own tools and strength are inadequate. This invitation may itself be more passive than active, in that we may not clearly realize in the intellect what our heart is saying to God, but its motive is always love and only love.

This means we do not want to be cleansed just so we can self-righteously admire our own virtues and, satisfied with what we see, set about planning our exact place in heaven (near the throne, of course), much as we would choose prime site for our palatial new home with all modern conveniences. Nor does it mean our chief motive is an urgent desire to escape the pains of hell.

Rather, the love motive wants the ultimate cleansing for quite different ends. It longs to be used by God to give him honor and glory and to share in Christ’s redemptive work for others, to become perfectly adaptable tool for Jesus to use in his ongoing work in the world. It wants to be a channel cleared of all debris and pollution so that, through it, divine love can pour living waters into the world for healing of humanity’s wounds. It longs for every obstruction to this in-and-out flowing to be removed, if need be by divine force and through its own agony.

It wants to be made a kind of compelling advertisement for the power of divine grace over human weakness. In its humility and self-awareness of its own inadequacy and unworthiness, it wants others to see it as it is and exclaim. “If God can do that for her—and we all know what she’s like—then there is hope for me!” It wants these others to catch its own insatiable thirst for grace and so become reckless in their longing for God and their readiness to suffer all and even die in order to be purged and so reach full love-union with him.

~ A Reflection by Barbara Dent, O.C.D.S.

 


The soul cannot come to this union without great purity, and this purity is not gained without great detachment from every created thing and sharp mortification. This is signified by the stripping of the Bride of her mantle and by her being wounded by night as she sought and went after her Spouse; for the new mantle which belonged to the betrothal could not be put on until the old mantle was stripped off. Wherefore, he that refuses to go forth in the night aforementioned to seek the Beloved, and to be stripped of his own will and to be mortified, but seeks him upon his bed and at his own convenience, as did the Bride, will not succeed in finding him. For this soul says of itself that it found him by going forth in the dark and with yearnings of love.
(Dark Night 2:24:4). 


 

 

The Source

 

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The Only Rest ❤ Sacred Heart of Jesus, antique 19th lace holy card – France

 

I have a shrine within me.
Tapers burn there day and night
flowers gather round the candles—
colors and living flames
mingle in extravagance of bloom,
celebrating love and chastity.

I meet you here in stillness.
My head against your tranquil heart
bends in homage, rests in peace;
my own heart dares to merge
with that unquenchable furnace from which
we both derive our reckless gift of self.

This is the living flame of love,
this is the source of primal energy,
of every urge to impetuous offering
of myself. Here, with bowed head
and face against your breast
I drink the strength I need, and give my all.

 

~ A poem by Barbara Dent, O.C.D.S.

The Most Important Thing in Life

 

Sparrow art by jake weidman

Art by Jake Weidmann

 

When I was haltingly beginning to acknowledge both God and Christianity, I asked myself in the midst of my travail: “What is the most important thing in life?” The answer came without hesitation: “The kingdom of heaven within.” I was startled. I should never have expected a reply like that. But when I look back over my life, I see that this is precisely true. The times when I felt most alive, most real, most complete, were those when I experienced that state of being I had called “the kingdom of heaven within.” At these moments peace established itself in me.

Without being able to define anything. I had known I was one with God and through him one with all people. Without being able to understand the why and how of the chaos of the world or the chaos in my own heart, I had yet been sure that all things were ordered well and held safely in the hollow of God’s hand. Without being able to explain how, I had been filled with a tranquil joy.

Without any doctrinal background, I knew the truth—that God was love, that I lived and moved and had my being in him, that in some obscure fashion he was working out his will in me, and I might trust him and be at peace.

Yes, this was the kingdom of heaven within, and this was the most important thing in life for me. The times when I had entered into this state of soul had been the times when something enormous had happened to me. On my faith in this reality I could build the whole structure of my existence.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, and the rest shall be added unto you.”

This realization was one of the crucial happenings of my life. Now I had a focal point. I had a purpose for living—full of meaning for me because it was based on the reality of my own experience. I knew exactly what I wanted from life—I wanted to enter more and more frequently, more and more completely, into this state of being called the kingdom of heaven within. From a bewildering disorder, life became astonishingly simple.

I thought back carefully over the circumstances I was in when I attained this state. These were what I would seek to recapture and cultivate. Many of the items of everyday living were found useless for my purpose, and I put other things in their place. I still did not know why, how, when, or where. I simply relied blindly on an experiential truth to be the light in my darkness.

What I really did was entrust myself to God, and looking back, I can see now the unerring way long which he led me to my true destination once I put my hand in his. Now that he had brought me to the Church, everything was clear. This state called the kingdom of heaven within was the very presence of God in the soul who loved him. It was the Christ-life within. To enter into God in this way was to enter into something of the state that the blessed enjoy in heaven, to become submerged in Christ, to taste here and now the bliss of eternity.

This was the life of identification with Christ to which all Christians are called, and which the Church extols as its goal. As members of his mystical body, they were incorporated into him, sharing his divine life, and fed by his sanctifying grace. The more fully they merged themselves with him, the more completely they were the instruments of God’s will, the nearer they approached the state of the saints. Self still existed, but only as Christ’s vehicle for loving, working, and suffering, only as a husk inhabited by the fertile seed of the Holy Spirit.

At last I understood the life principle of my soul, the source of all my restless yearnings and mysterious, luminous peace over the years. Now it was clear—God had been calling me, as he calls each soul he sends into the world, to a share in his divine life, to identification with his Son, to sanctity.


How for his praise
to order my new ways?
I would be no more myself, but he
using my breath and blood and song
to his own end, my life long.

So do I say—Master, your way
in mystery and wonder has evolved
my safety, and my curse resolved.
Glory and honor and homage are your due.
After the refining fire I bow to you. 

 

~ A reflection and poem by Barbara Dent, O.C.D.S.

 

 

A Brown Habit

 

Carmelite Brown habit

Photo source unknown

 

That long brown habit
hanging on the door recalls me
a solid human body, tall and straight,
reliable and steady as Gibraltar, the guard
of that ancient sea and all its craft.

I touch it with my reverent hands
I rest my cheek against it. I feel at home
and safe at last, within our mutual
Beloved’s arms; He holds me lest I fall.
He has my head against his heart.
His left hand clasps it close, his right hand
“doth embrace me.” Such indestructible
enclosure makes me laugh at threats
and turns my tears to precious stones
he links into a chaplet and puts upon my head.

The brown habit was your robe
when you said Mass for us within my home—
a blessing and a treasure past all reckoning
and it was you who brought it to me
across the heaving oceans and cold, autumn skies, and then
presented it as gift and grace
adornment for my poverty, crowning for my solitude,
proof of the Christed love between us.

~ A poem by Barbara Dent, O.C.D.S.

The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Carmelite Scapular2

 

~ What is the Brown Scapular?
http://www.meditationsfromcarmel.com/content/what-brown-scapular

~ The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel by Fr. Camilo Maccise OCD, Prior General.
http://www.meditationsfromcarmel.com/content/brown-scapular-our-lady-mount-carmel

~ Brown Scapular Catechesis: 
http://www.meditationsfromcarmel.com/content/scapular-catechesis

~ Brown Scapular: A “Silent Devotion” By Father Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD
http://www.meditationsfromcarmel.com/content/brown-scapular-silent-devotion

 

Investiture of the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Saturday, June 16th, 2012 Feast of The Immaculate Heart of Mary ~ A visit to the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of St. Joseph with our OCDS communities. Holy Mass presided by Father Dominic, my Admission to Formation to the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites and Receiving the Brown Scapular of the Order… A very special and blessed day… Eternally grateful!

 

 

Prayer to Our Lady of Mount Carmel