06
Mar
13

Dark Night of the Soul, Lenten Observance, Day 34, 2013

Bk II, Ch XXI: Which explains the word “disguised,” and describes the colours of the disguise of the soul in this night.
When one is aiming at a goal, one might very well take on the appearance of one who is likely to attain the desired goal, and one is also likely to take on another guise as a means of confounding those who might get in one’s way to achieving the goal. The three foes are the devil, the world, and the flesh.
And so, to attain to God’s love, the soul goes forth in a garment of white, green and purple. The white is faith, and that dazzling white tunic of faith will confound the devil, who cannot see it, nor harm it. And this garment of faith will give it strength to remain constant through the various trials. But isn’t faith a true part of the seeker? How is it part of a disguise? If one is faithful, and that faith is deep seated, then the “devil,” in the form of doubt or desires, won’t have much of an effect on the seeker.
On top of this is a green vestment, which represents hope. Hope is protection against the world, for, if one keeps one’s hopes and eyes pinned on the eternal reward, then there is nothing in the world that will tempt the soul. The things of this world are “dry and faded and dead and nothing worth.” I’m not sure that I fully go along with this. I think that the materialism one sees so much of in the US is false and will lead one down a path of pain, but I think there is a lot in the world that should cause one to rejoice. For the world is not just some inanimate object, to be acted upon by humankind, but also the repository of the divine. The world is God’s world, and that is not to be sneezed at. So I can’t fully buy St. John’s dichotomy, separating the divine from the world, and even viewing the world as a temptation against the promise of the divine beyond.
Finally, the outer cloak is that of bright purple, that of charity, which inspires love in the Beloved. This serves as protection against the flesh. Going hand in hand with love directed to God is a denial of self and of those things connected with self (one’s physical appetites). The problem of the flesh is a long-standing problem within Christianity and especially within Catholicism. Fleshly desires are seen to be sins (gluttony and lust, especially), and that one has to work past those hungers to something deeper. Again, I’m not sure I fully buy this. And the distortion of sexuality in this Manichaean world of binary opposition has done much harm.
And these are a fit preparation for union with God, through the three faculties, those of understanding, memory and will. The white of faith blinds understanding (here I’m thinking St. John sees “understanding” as a belief in the powers of reason as sufficient – this would then be an offshoot of pride, a belief that one can know the world and that one’s conclusions are the “truth”), while hope voids memory of creature comforts, and charity voids and annihilates the desires and affections of the will. Here we have again some idea of getting around the rational mind and our appetites. The truth comes from some other route, though when we think of ourselves we may pride ourselves on what we have (success) and on our rationality.
Only in such a disguise will the soul come to union with God.

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