Dark Night of the Soul, Lenten Observance, Day 10, 2013

Ch. VIII: Wherein is expounded the first line of the first stanza, and a beginning is made of the explanation of this dark night.

Here we get the line of attack – an attempt will be made to describe the two dark nights: the first of the senses, which is common and a requirement for the second, and then the second, of the spirit. St. John says of the first that it “is bitter and terrible to sense,” and of the second that it “is horrible and awful to the spirit.”
In entering on the first, which, from the sound of it, many people who are engaged in some spiritual practice experience, the props on which we were depending are taken away. So if we have a fondness for meditation, or for spiritual journaling, or some more physical practice (flagellation or the wearing of mohair shirts), a time will come when they won’t do what they used to do. There will be reduced effect, and those practices themselves will become bitter to us. St. John compares this to weaning a child.
When that happens, we will be like a child who is set apart so that s/he can learn to walk on his/her own. At first that seems impossible, and very strange, but development requires that. I was thinking of this metaphor and the following occurs to me: from what I’ve seen with babies and toddlers is that they are driven to find a way to crawl and then to walk. They don’t need much in the way of encouragement. It is something in their nature. And yet, the thing that I think St. John is saying that this Dark Night will lead to is a realization of complete dependence on God, or at least a realization that there are things where we cannot go it alone. So is this metaphor fully appropriate? For we don’t just drop a toddler off and tell the kid that s/he is alone. When parents do that (as a regular practice), the kid grows up scarred. And that doesn’t seem to be what a loving parent would do. I do find the idea that we each have to find our way (and that such a way, in a sense, cannot be mapped by someone else) compelling on one level — my path cannot be your path, and I cannot follow your path and make it mine — at some point, each of us has to travel the road less traveled. But based on what St. John says elsewhere, isn’t that belief likely a crutch itself, a boost to one’s ego? Well, it’s too early to say at this point, and I’d be foolish, as I am a beginner, to think I’ve mastered anything. It is something I wonder about, though.
I do think that we do have to figure out our way, that we have to learn to “walk” rather than simply be upheld. Here we have a key feature of Catholic practice – the idea of discipline. Just as you have to train to run a marathon, you have to train in spiritual practice (which many of us, including myself, don’t do much with).

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