20
Feb
13

Dark Night of the Soul, Lenten Observance, Day 20, 2013

Bk. II, Ch. VI: Of other kinds of pain that the soul suffers in this night.
Wow. Because the Divine is working on the soul, it feels pain. Look at this passage: “The Divine assails the soul in order to renew it, and thus to make it Divine; and, stripping it of the habitual affections and attachments of the old man, to which it is very closely united, knit together and conformed, destroys and consumes its spiritual substance, and absorbs it in deep and profound darkness.” I’m not sure I like the sound of that. One’s “habitual affections and attachments” are a lot of what make you you. And to have those stripped away, what is left? Can you remain you without those? It seems St. John believes so, but I’m almost getting the feeling of something like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where the humanity of the people, their emotions and emotional connections are removed. To the alien entity, that purging is necessary, but it seems rather horrific.
But the main pain comes from a sense that one is abandoned by God, cast aside as unworthy and that feels like Hell (well, Hell was always described to me as the perpetual absence of God, and that that would feel worse than the fires – I of course figured I could go without seeing God if I could escape the fire portion). But how does this work? In one sense, I get the sense of going through withdrawal. When you have an addiction and that substance is taken away, it hurts like hell, and if people are helping you through it, they do all they can to withhold that substance from you. But where I get the idea of the pain, I don’t see how a believer could feel that s/he was abandoned by God. That’s the part I’m not getting.
Later St. John says that God does this because “the soul must needs be in all its parts reduced to a state of emptiness, poverty and abandonment and must be left dry and empty and in darkness.” I’ve heard that to get past some trouble (e.g. alcoholism or substance abuse), the addict must first hit bottom before crawling back. That may be so, but I don’t get why this has to be so. This would imply that everyone would go through something like this, and I don’t see that. Of course, I don’t know people’s inner workings, and may be missing it, but it still sounds wrong.
And the image that St. John gives is of a smith working metal. The metal is made molten and the imperfections can be separated out before the metal is reshaped and hammered. That again seems painful, and perhaps unnecessary. And the idea is that these imperfections have affected the soul and they must be burned out, or scrubbed out. I’m not quite sure I’m on board with the image here. The idea seems to be that of a Purgatory (which is like Hell, but temporary) on Earth, and St. John says that would be better. I’m not sure how harsh he was with his fellow Carmelites, but I can see where they might not have wanted to follow his path.

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