PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

 

Repost: Signs and symptoms of the dark night




Have you ever wondered whether you could be suffering from the "dark night" (John of the Cross)? It could be that you're not being possessed, it could be that you're being tested or purified for a certain reason.

If anything, you're in good company. So many towering figures of faith down the ages have been through it, sometimes for years, often without knowing: John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, St Anthony the Great, Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton, Henry Nouwen... I assume the dark night is not visited upon just 'holy' persons, because quite a number of people -- ironically those active in the spiritual renewal -- can be 'afflicted' with this phenomenon too, and they are often unfortunately misconstrued. Here are the usual 'signs and symptoms,' according to a nun-spiritual directress (via Malou):

1. You know God is there, but you can't feel him.
2. A feeling of heaviness remains even though you know God is there.
3. You remain beset with problems even though you believe there is hope.
4. You keep on praying yet nothing happens.
5. You feel you're in the heart of darkness: deep sadness, heaviness, confusion, seemingly endless pain and hardship.
6. No matter how you make an effort at keeping spiritually close to God (prayer, sacraments, etc.), He remains ever distant. There is a feeling of desolation.

(I know -- these diagnostics are all rough synonyms of each other.)

What to do? It is suggested that you consult with a spiritually mature guide who know you well, or is willing to get to know you deep down. Avoid sharing your experience with immature and surly characters or you risk being misjudged rashly, your private pain dismissed as self-centered, egotistic, and obsessed or fanatic, or a punishment for a grave sin you committed.

Now how do you know it's not clinical depression? A consultation with a competent professional will hopefully help clear the air. The critical difference (as per my consultant, M.) is that the depressed will turn his back altogether to anything spiritual; the one under the dark night is consistent in his routine because he or she remains to have hope. The only existing hope of rescue from the dark night is the grace of God, which you will patiently wait for in prayer, not psychotherapy.

**

Here's how Henri Nouwen describes spiritual dryness:

"Sometimes we experience a terrible dryness in our spiritual life. We feel no desire to pray, don't experience God's presence, get bored with worship services, and even think that everything we ever believed about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is little more than a childhood fairy tale.

"Then it is important to realise that most of these feelings and thoughts are just feelings and thoughts, and that the Spirit of God dwells beyond our feelings and thoughts. It is a great grace to be able to experience God's presence in our feelings and thoughts, but when we don't, it does not mean that God is absent. It often means that God is calling us to a greater faithfulness. It is precisely in times of spiritual dryness that we must hold on to our spiritual discipline so that we can grow into new intimacy with God."

- from Henri J.M. Nouwen's Bread for the Journey

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