03
Feb
13

Dark Night of the Soul: Lenten Observance, Day 3, 2013

Chapter I “Sets down the first line and begins to treat of the imperfections of beginners.”
I can’t say that I see where the first line of the poem is really treated here. That line starts: “On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings – oh, happy chance!” And this opening line (maybe the first three lines, the way it is written) does get treated for a few stanzas later, so far as I can tell.
What we do get in this opening chapter is a brief statement on what is meant by “night.” The beginners need to realize that they are beginners, and so they must first be shaken up somewhat so they can learn to grow. This is compared to what a mother does in weaning her child from the breast by putting bitter aloe on it. It seems like the person who is engaged in meditation and prayer and fasting can get all caught up in that – it can give the worshipper a sense of union. Is that like the milk from mother’s breast? And then the doubt which comes would be like the weaning? I seem to recall when I did yoga, and some meditation, that the exercise gets us feeling quite good, but that we can get lost in the practice of that exercise, and see all in that, and lose focus on that beyond.
I notice that there is a strong emphasis on dealing with the three enemies: world, devil and flesh. I’m not sure I can fully go along with this. There is a danger in seeing the world as the enemy (that idea expressed in Genesis where man is put in charge of the world which he is to tame – that road seems to lead to pride and a prideful disdain of the blessings of the world). And the denial of the flesh also hits me wrong – though I can see a problem with gluttony, or the thoughtless indulgence in the senses – that seems a pure animal indulgence to me, but I think that sensual Puritanism is its own trap. We get the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde dichotomous way of looking at things – things of the mind or soul are Jekyll, and Hyde is the body, but Jekyll and Hyde are not different people, but parts of the same person, and the willful disregard of the one aspect gives that dark side quite a bit of power and destructive power at that.
I know that St. John was a reformer (along with Teresa of Avila) of the Carmelite order, and that the two founded a wing of the Carmelite order, the Discalced Carmelites, who were to return the order to its focus on simplicity and a curbing of sensual gratification (the Carmelites had gotten too fat). And though I can applaud his drive to reform, I wonder if that zeal doesn’t come at a great price. Isn’t that potentially going to lead you down the path of pride (it does have a my way or the highway feel to it)?

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