22
Feb
13

Dark Night of the Soul, Lenten Observance, Day 22, 2013

Bk. II, Ch. VIII: Of other pains which afflict the soul in this state.
First, St. John notes that the practitioner here will lose any sense that his prayers can get through to God, and will feel that somehow there is a barrier, set up by God, between him and God. And the prayers of the practitioner will also lose some of their strength and power – the practitioner will, in effect, be despairing of any hope that God may hear him/her. And St. John says this is as it should be, that at this point, the practitioner should be working on enduring this trouble with patience. He does note that God is working passively in the soul at this point, so that the practitioner is not abandoned, even if it feels so.
And the Darkness also affects memory. And this is good, as the soul can then become totally focused on the darkness and be more aware during the dark contemplation. He also notes again that the brighter the light, the greater the darkness, so that the darkness will, at first, seem quite dark and forbidding, as God’s light is so great, and we not ready for it.
St. John makes the analogy of a beam of sunlight coming into a room. We are aware of the light when it has specks of dust within which reflect that light, but otherwise, we should not be so aware of it, the light being invisible. I cannot imagine light without some dust particles picking up the light. Even so, I’m not sure how it would be invisible, and somehow make things darker. I do get this idea when I see someone walk in from a light place to a darker – anyone inside seeing the person will have a tough time making out the features of the person coming in from the light, but the figure will seem to be in shadow. And, for the person coming in from the light, the lesser brightness of the room will seem, at first, to be quite dark.
And that somehow, the soul, giving up the particular desires and affections it has (being purged of them), itself becomes a more receptive vessel for the divine light and union with God. He quotes the Vulgate translation of Paul, 2nd Corinthians in noting: nihil habentes, et omnia possidentes (“having nothing, and possessing everything”). First you must give up the possessions of your senses, to be ready for the big prize.
The imagery here is quite worthy of note – how can something bright be dark? It can seem so to someone who is not ready (just as our eyes must adjust to a bright light, or in going from the bright sunlight to the inner lighting of a room, it takes awhile for our eyes to adjust. Plato, in the “Myth of the Cave” from the Republic says the same sort of thing. That story says that we are all like guys in a cave; behind us is a fire, which causes shadows to appear on the wall. We assume that those shadows are real, and we don’t know that, as we are chained to our places in the cave. But one guy gets free and he leaves the cave and goes out into the sunlight. At first, it is painful, and the cave dweller is blind for a while. Gradually, he comes to acclimate himself to the bright light, and he realizes that this is the true reality, whereas his cave existence was false. When he goes back to the cave to tell people there, he can’t convince anyone — everyone thinks he’s crazy. This view of St. John seems quite similar.

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