Dark Night of the Soul, Lenten Observance, Day 11, 2013

Ch. IX: Of the signs by which it will be known that the spiritual person is walking along the way of this night and purgation of sense.

This was a relatively long and somewhat difficult chapter. Here St. John points out that the real dark night is different from other feelings of aridity we might feel. Some of that feeling may come from our own weakness or sin. He mentions three principal signs:
1. There is no pleasure or consolation in the things of God. “He allows it not to find attraction or sweetness in anything whatsoever.” If a person does take some pleasure or consolation in things other than God, then the aridity or discomfort comes from one’s own weakness or sins.
2. If the person as the aridity and pain come remains centered on God and is saddened that s/he is not satisfying God, this is likely the right path and not due to some lukewarm attitude on the part of the person. St. John compares the souls being led by God through the dark night to the Israelites in the desert, complaining and kvetching at the loss of those things which gave them pleasure, rather than following God’s word or focusing on God. There is also a quote from the Song of Songs, where the Spouse says to the Bride: “Withdraw thine eyes from me, for they make me to soar aloft.” One’s faculties, with their base in the senses, will not aid you in coming into contact with God.
3. Thirdly, the person can no longer meditate or reflect in any imaginative way as s/he had done. If that is the case, the spirit is experiencing true aridity. And if this lasts only a short time, it may just be the person’s limitations rather than the real dark night – for that seems to go on and on.
St. John notes that “God sets them in this night only to prove them and to humble them, and to reform their desires.”
I understand the matter of discipline, but I wonder if this can be taken too far – there is a hint of it earlier when the very practice of meditation and the like becomes the focus, and not God. But the level of devastation that I see here seems to me to be possibly the sign of extreme depression, and that does not seem healthy. And how can one tell when one is not just in some interminable funk? And what about saints like Thomas More who seemed largely cheerful and even-tempered? I’m not quite getting this. It also seems to me perhaps like someone who uses sensory deprivation on another person to get them to a point where they are totally dependent on the other, and that isn’t healthy.
I know that St. John is not some sadistic guy, but he seems to be describing a particular path that I’m not sure is the only path – I wonder if a person can get to God through gratitude and appreciation for the things of the senses. In any event, this is not a path that I imagine many people doing today.

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