“When the soul enters the dark night, it brings these kinds of love [love of God and love of sensuality] under control. It strengthens and purifies the one—namely that which is according to God—and the other it removes and brings to an end.”
—St John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul
The refining fire of suffering, the dark night of the soul, brings each of us afflicted to the precipice of ghastly experience. At such a place where times are dire, and we are anxious and fearful beyond where we have been before, we desperately clamber into the arms of God.
Pleasantries of gallant and mischievous fellowship are no longer any help to us. We implicitly know the old way is ineffective. What no longer serves any good is therefore despatched. Change now becomes us.
The dark night experience has hastened us to truth; it has quickened us to salvation.
The Glorious Reality of Rock Bottom
None of us really wants to experience the rock bottom depths of the abyss—a slinking of obliteration into a graceless pit of disbelieving and stark realism.
But it isn’t until we arrive in such a place that we instinctively run to God.
God is seen to raise us, but only once we have died. It is impossible to raise the living. There must be death to self, first.
It is a wonderful reality, then, if those who reach their rock bottom, their dark night of the soul, surrender to such powerful overtures of suffering. In such vagrant incapacity and lack of spiritual agency we might be tempted to end our lives or run to God—sometimes choices are that dreadfully polar. Further options present in many levels of spiritual numbing.
Rock bottoms are never pleasant at the time, but from later aspects they are marvellous because they push us into spaces of spiritual conformity. That evening of the dark night the Spirit is felt summoning our will to join the divine will. We feel cornered and unable to go any other way. But later, we are credited for having the faith at the weakest of times to make the right choice and go that way.
Two One-Way Streets
The fact is that two loves mentioned above—love of God and love of sensuality—are totally incompatible loves running opposite ways on their own one-way streets.
We can’t go both ways at the same time. We can’t drive up a one-way street the wrong way for long before we have a crash.
In consideration of such incompatible roads we make an early choice.
Love of God or love of sensuality?
We cannot go both ways.
The dark night of the soul brings a fortuitous crossroad; one etched in pain. It strengthens and purifies our love for God. It renders void the darker, sensual way. God hones our characters no better than through the agency of loss. So often, only when we become fully enamoured to grief will we fall headlong into the arms of God.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.