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). 


 

 

Saint Teresa of Ávila: A Mystical Poem

Saint Teresa vision

The Vision of Saint Teresa, art by Bartolomeo Guidobono (late 17th century)

 

Loving Colloquy

If all the love you have for me,
my God, is like my love for you,
say, what detains me, that I do?
Or what is it delaying thee?

— Soul, what of me are your desires?
— My God, no more than you to see.
— And what most in you fear inspires?
— What I fear most is losing thee,

A soul within its God now hidden,
whatever else should it desire,
but to e’er greater love aspire,
and in that love remain all hidden,
returned anew into love’s fire?

One love that owns me I request,
my God, my soul within you centered,
for making me the sweetest nest
where union can the best be entered.

~ By Saint Teresa of Ávila, O.C.D.

Saint teresa of Avila art by Corrado Yaquinto

Santa Teresa de Ávila , arte de Corrado Yaquinto

 

Coloquio Amoroso

Si el amor que me tenéis,
Dios mío, es como el que os tengo,
Decidme: ¿en qué me detengo?
O Vos, ¿en qué os detenéis?
— Alma, ¿qué quieres de mí?
— Dios mío, no más que verte.
— Y ¿qué temes más de ti?
— Lo que más temo es perderte.
Un alma en Dios escondida
¿qué tiene que desear,
sino amar y más amar,
y en amor toda escondida
tornarte de nuevo a amar?
Un amor que ocupe os pido,
Dios mío, mi alma os tenga,
para hacer un dulce nido
adonde más la convenga.

~ Poema místico de Santa Teresa de Ávila, Carmelita Descalza

 

Wishing you all a happy and blessed Feast day of Saint Teresa of Ávila!

Deseandoles a todos un feliz y bendecido dia de Santa Teresa de Ávila!

 

 

The Mystic

mystic heart by deborah nell

Mystic Heart, art by Deborah Nell

 

The mystical state is one of loving. Only love can build a bridge. Graces given and received are the materials that go into making this immense, indestructible bridge between earth and heaven. The graces used call for more grace, and the bridge grows, and eyes that are quiet behold God everywhere.

But seeing is not enough. It is seeing and arising and giving all of oneself to him, in all his creatures, that builds the bridge in spans immense. A mystic is a lover, a bridge-builder, a heart made ready for the burning fire that is the Lord. A mystic is rest amid turmoil. A mystic is a broken vase that had been filled with perfumed oils and now lies in pieces, wet with tears. A mystic sees God’s love in every face; and the Father sees another, full of grace.

A mystic is a miracle of love who, at one and the same time, hangs crucified upon the hill of skulls, and rises up in Christ’s ascension, and rests upon the heart of God. The mystic alone can stand the burning coal upon his lips, the burning coal of love and fire that cleanses and makes it possible for men to hear the voice of God again, spoken as men speaks. A mystic is a vessel of peace, while he himself is nothing but a flame of pain.

A mystic is a humble soul to whom belongs the earth as well as heaven. A mystic is silence enclosed in speech. He serves all men, and is served by angels. A mystic bears the seal of God, yet doesn’t know he is a mystic, except to catch an echo here and a glimpse there, of things unseen, unheard by other men. Such are mystics, builders of bridges and houses of love.

~ A Meditation by Catherine Doherty, ‘Madonna House Apostolate’

In a Cloud of Angels

Angel art by Nadia Strelkina

Angel, art by Nadia Strelkina

I walk in a cloud of angels.
God has a throne in the secret of my soul.
I move, encircled by light,
blinded by glowing faces,
lost and bewildered in the motion of wings,
stricken by music too sublime to bear.
Splendor is everywhere.
God is always enthroned on the cherubim,
circled by seraphim.
Holy, holy, holy,
wave upon wave  of endless adoration.
I walk in a cloud of angels that worship Him.
I walk in a cloud of angels…

~ By Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit (Jessica Powers) O.C.D. (1905-1988)

 

 

Mysticism: Intoxication with God

The Gift, art by Ruth Tietjen Councell

The Gift, art by Ruth Tietjen Councell

Whenever a human being belongs to God so completely that God can do what he wants in and through him or her, such a person is called a mystic. A mystic is someone who no longer lives his or her own life. God has “taken over” and lives his/her life. Saint Paul has given us an unsurpassed definition of mysticism: “…it is no longer I who live…it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

The mystics teach us that Christian life is much richer than we imagine. “Don’t be content with so little,” they tell us, “don’t live a maimed life; you are greater than you suppose.”

We need these close friends of God to shake us up…we who so often reduce the Christian life to some commandments and obligations. They have a message for us.

“Poor you,” they say, “why do you stand there freezing? Place yourself under the sun, enjoy the warmth. Why are you so thirsty? Place yourself under the waterfall and drink. There is plentiful water. Your life doesn’t have to be so impoverished.
You think God is far away, yet you don’t even have to search for him. He is inside of you. You carry a treasure. Is it not time for you to wake up?”

Without the mystics we risk seeing Christianity as a cold and dead skeleton of dogmatic statements and moral admonitions. The mystics show us that the skeleton in reality is a living organism, a living body. Christianity is full of life, a life that makes us happy. The mystics teach us through  their own example that God can make a person “drunk” with love and joy.     

~ A meditation by Wilfrid Stinissen, Carmelite friar