Dark Night of the Soul, Lenten Observance, Day 9, 2013

Ch VII: Of imperfections with respect to spiritual envy and sloth.
At this point, we’re about a quarter of the way through the commentary, and we have not got past the very first line “In a dark night…” Wow. Well, I was recently reading something about Bernard of Clairvaux, a member of the Cistercian order, who composed several dozen sermons on the Song of Songs. And he was able to do that by focusing at length on a single line or two of the work per sermon. Clearly we have the same sort of effort here with St. John. And it is understandable that the work was left unfinished, as it could have gone on for twice the length at least. But enough of my whining… No doubt that’s some beginner’s imperfection. And I do find the pace of the work to be quite slow. And slow may be tougher for someone in the 21st c. than it would have been for someone living in the 16th c.
Spiritual envy – wow, that’s a biggie and one impossible to avoid totally. You can see it in any award ceremony – all the nominees are hoping they’ll be awarded the acclaim, and barely holding their smile together when someone else is called to the stage. When we give into envy, we give a tremendous amount of power to others – for envy can hit us only because we want others to like us, and when they seem to like someone else more, then we feel cheated, and hurt. In talking about envy as a barrier to development, though, St. John speaks of that feeling where we hate that others are happy or successful in their spiritual efforts, their recognition by others, and in their seeming closeness to God.
On sloth, St. John doesn’t seem to be talking about sloth as I understand it – a laziness, and failure to do things, but rather a fixation on the pleasures of the exercises and the self-satisfaction, and an avoidance of the hard work involved in deep spiritual efforts – the Dark Night is not fun, and so we want to avoid it, keeping to our everyday practices which give us comfort. St. John takes those suffering from this imperfection more to task than some of the others, as he sees it as a case where we put our own comforts and our own will against God. That’s powerful stuff.

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