Dark Night of the Soul, Lenten Observance, Day 12, 2013

Ch. X: Of the way in which these souls are to conduct themselves in this dark night.

We are still on the first phrase, getting ready to move into the second phrase, kindled in love with yearnings. I have to say that I’m finding this slow pace through the poem at times trying. I think I’ve already said that, and I’m sure I’ll say it again. I remember reading that Bernard of Clairvaux, who did dozens of sermons on the Song of Songs, spoke of reading scripture with the book of one’s own experience, and St. John is certainly doing this, trying to describe his own process in such a way that others (only a select few, he seems to think) might benefit.
I do wonder about something – I remember reading that Mother Teresa went through terrible soul searching for most of her life (perhaps her entire life as a nun), and I wonder – to what extent is that doubt and pain a result of following an inauthentic path. Not that the path of a Christian is wrong, or the path of a nun, but I wonder if some of that pain comes from denying the evidence of one’s senses and holding to some set of beliefs that are not one’s own. In a dogmatic system, one has to make some peace with the dogma of the church to which one belongs, but what if there are problems, roadblocks in that dogma? What if you can’t believe, or cannot mold your belief in some way to accommodate the dogma? Was that the sort of struggle that Mother Theresa was going through? I’ve read that some of her letters and journal entries on her struggle seem to suggest she viewed her troubles as having to do with the devil. When those writings came to light on her death, as she was being put on the fast track to sainthood by John Paul II, there was a lot of hubbub in the news over her doubts and her conviction that the devil was somehow plaguing her, or that she was somehow under the devil’s influence. But could that all not be her own doubts on the path she had chosen? I imagine that everyone who embarks on a life of troubles, rather than a life of ease, has moments of great, even crippling, doubt, and some see it through, but when such doubts consume one for most of one’s life, I can’t help thinking that one is trying to hard to make one’s life and beliefs fit some other pattern, and it is not a good fit – rather like trying to wear shoes that are the wrong size.
I once knew a woman who had been a nun for twenty or more years. When she fell ill, her order took the approach that she needed to suffer through the illness, to be tough. At one point, following that incident, she decided that she had to leave the order, because its approach was harming her physically. I went to her wedding (she was in her 40s at the time) and she seemed quite happy in that moment. I have a tough time accepting that she made the wrong decision here. And St. John of the Cross was convinced that his order, the Carmelites, were on the wrong path and had strayed from their original principles. For his troubles, he was imprisoned (he wrote the poem Dark Night, in prison). But wasn’t he bucking the system? He was not complying with the commands and directives of the majority of his brethren, and with the orders of his superiors (at least not all of them). In his own way, he was doing what that nun who got married did. How can we tell we are on the right path? It seems to me that if one can’t see past one’s troubles, that might be an indication of being on the wrong path. And Mother Teresa, for most of her life, seemed to be unable to see past those troubles, though I’ve heard that she did come through at the end of her life. That would make me guess (and I cannot know for I’m not she) that she may have been on an inauthentic path. Her seeing past it at the end may be true, or it may be a final triumph of conformity.
Wow, I’m beginning to veer off like Bernard and John. I think Hemingway would have hated these guys! “More matter with less art!”
The chief virtue of one going through the Dark Night is patience. Coming from the same root as passion, patience is a cardinal virtue. A lot of it is slaying the ego, or at least subduing the ego, which is all me, me, me. In talking about this patience, St. John uses the metaphor of the painter and his subject. If the subject moves, that ruins, or mars, the painter’s efforts. But who is the painter here? The Dark Night is all about God preparing the way for a human’s meeting or seeing God, for union. If God is the painter, surely nothing the subject (we) does is going to ruin or mar his work. I get the idea that if one is flitting from one thing or another, to get comfortable, one will not attain the goal. But the painter metaphor, though vivid, seems somehow flawed.

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