Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Dark Night of God's Embrace (Reflections on the Feast of Saint John of the Cross)

One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings

- ah, the sheer grace! -
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
- ah, the sheer grace! -
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
- him I knew so well -
there in a place where no one appeared.

O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved.

When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

Many years ago, as a young seminarian—not much younger than yourselves—I lost my faith: first in the church, having experienced and seen with my own eyes the scandals which to this day seem to continue to rock her; I lost faith in those who were forming me. Once during a spiritual direction session, I remember going into a rage and telling my spiritual director: “I hate you priests”. I lost faith in those I lived with; and finally, I lost my faith in God himself. And all I wanted to do was run away—flee as far away as I can. Where? I just didn’t know. All I knew was I didn’t want to have anything to do with anything anymore.

Several persons saved me. I think I’ve shared this with you before: my spiritual director—and three others: Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Saint John of the Cross. And his poem I just read to you—I’m sure some of you are familiar with it, became a constant source of encouragement, strength, and source of meaning as I went through my own “Dark Night of the Soul”.

My spiritual director (who happened to be a philosopher), made me read Heidegger’s Being and Time, Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and John of the Cross’ The Dark Night. From Heidegger I learned that the Living God—the one “before whom one can dance”—will not be contained, from Nietzsche I learned that the true God transcends and breaks away from all our attempts to turn him into a thing; and from John I learned that even the darkest of nights can be the profoundest expression of God’s embrace.

When nothing makes sense, when prayer becomes arid and barren like the desert, when the fire of faith and vocation feels extinguished, and when trust is almost impossible to find: God is there—even more so—walking with us in the darkness; inviting us to follow Him and trust Him even more, because he will never lead us to harm.

The “dark night of the soul”, I learned, comes to anyone—even if he has done everything right; because it is God’s way, not of making him feel abandoned, but of showing him the deepest and most profound kind of presence there can be—the presence that makes one realize that he can fall and take the greatest leap of his life—and God will be there to catch him.

O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved.

When trouble knocks on your door, when doubts begin to assail you, when your faith and vocation falter, and few things seem to be true, when God doesn’t seem present, when even prayer feels like a wasteland—know that God is inviting you to an even deeper relationship with Him. Cast away your fear; let him lead you, even if he seems to lead you into the Night—because it is into his very Self that he guides you. Close your eyes, take the leap, and trust. The net will be there to catch you.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)