There comes to many seekers, at some time or a few times in their lives, a “dark night,” a period of seeming distance from God, from the ways in which we’ve experienced and understood God. The previous comforts have fallen away and we can no longer conceptualize God.
John of the Cross gave a map of sorts through these dark nights. He distinguished between the dark night of sense (in which all perceptions of God vanish) and the dark night of the spirit (in which we no longer grasp ideas about God). The goal of these times is to draw the self beyond ego into full transfiguration and union in God. John went through such a dark period during a time when he was imprisoned, tortured, and starved. He felt as if his Beloved had abandoned him.
After John miraculously escaped from prison, he composed his mystical poem “The Dark Night of the Soul.” Almost a year later he wrote the commentary to the poem, which is also titled The Dark Night of the Soul. In her translation, Mirabai Starr writes:
“In the dark night, says John, the secret essence of the soul knows the truth, and is calling out to God: Beloved, you pray, please remind me again and again that I am nothing. Strip me of the consolations of my complacent spirituality. Plunge me into the darkness where I cannot rely on any of my old tricks for maintaining my separation. Let me give up on trying to convince myself that my own spiritual deeds are bound to be pleasing to you. Take all my juicy spiritual feelings, Beloved, and dry them up, and then please light them on fire. Take my lofty spiritual concepts and plunge them into darkness, and then burn them. Let me love you, Beloved. Let me quietly and with unutterable simplicity just love you.”
Gateway to Silence:
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover. John of the Cross