Are we living through a collective ‘dark night of the soul?’ Is this a season in which we, as the human family in the current cultural climate, are profoundly lonely and abundantly anxious?
I just finished listening to an episode of Dr. Allison Cook’s podcast, The Best of You, in which Dr. Cook suggests a big “Yes” to that question.
And Dr. Cook quotes from the book, The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross, which prompted me to buy the book. And there, in the opening chapter, is St. John’s poem…
The Dark Night Of The Soul (Poem)
By Saint John of the Cross
Songs of the soul rejoicing at having achieved the high state of perfection, the Union with God, by way of spiritual negation.
Once in a dark of night,
Inflamed with love and wanting, I arose
(O coming of delight!)
And went, as no one knows,
When all my house lay long in deep repose
All in the dark went right,
Down secret steps, disguised in other clothes,
(O coming of delight!)
In dark when no one knows,
When all my house lay long in deep repose.
And in the luck of night
In secret places where no other spied
I went without my sight
Without a light to guide
Except the heart that lit me from inside.
It guided me and shone
Surer than noonday sunlight over me,
And lead me to the one
Whom only I could see
Deep in a place where only we could be.
O guiding dark of night!
O dark of night more darling than the dawn!
O night that can unite
A lover and loved one,
A lover and loved one moved in unison.
And on my flowering breast
Which I had kept for him and him alone
He slept as I caressed
And loved him for my own,
Breathing an air from redolent cedars blown.
And from the castle wall
The wind came down to winnow through his hair
Bidding his fingers fall,
Searing my throat with air
And all my senses were suspended there.
I stayed there to forget.
There on my lover, face to face, I lay.
All ended, and I let
My cares all fall away
Forgotten in the lilies on that day.
And St. John’s poem brought me to the realization that, for me, the presence of God in the dark is something that carries me through the very darkest of seasons of loneliness and anxiety.
When I survey the scriptures, I’m amazed at how many times various biblical characters are confronted by such moments, and how many of those characters are struck by the power of the presence of God, even in the dark.
Jacob, wrestling with God alone at Beth-el.
David, hiding in the cave at Adullam.
Paul, for three years in the Arabian desert.
John, on the isle of Patmos penning the Revelation.
These stories, plus all of those from the history of the church, persuade me to keep hanging onto my faith and hope, even in the seasons of deepest darkness.
I still don’t fully understand why we experience the world in such brokenness, or why we can’t get it together as humanity, or why God always feels just slightly out of my reach and understanding. But I continue to trust that he is here.
I trust that he is here when I cannot feel him, prove him, or touch, taste, or handle him.
I trust that his grace is sufficient, even in the midst of terrible suffering.
I know, from experience, that when I stop trusting and lose faith, my life begins to unravel. It is my faith that ultimately holds me together.
I also know that it is during these dark nights of the soul that I have experienced the most profound growth in my life – deep, personal growth. It is in the moments of trying to trust in the darkness that I have taken one more step, in faith, and found God to be faithful.
Recently, I’ve felt a profound burden to come alongside leaders who are experiencing burnout and help them to discover breakthrough. If that’s you, I put together a free Burnout Checklist containing 20 different feelings I’ve felt in the middle of the darkest nights of my own soul. Feel free to download it or to reach out to me about coaching.
I don’t have all the answers. What I do have is hope. I have hope that, in spite of the feelings of darkness and loneliness, God is present. And that’s a hope I will hang onto. And I hope that you do, too.
Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash.