Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Light and Dark (05/21/09)
By Beth Muehlhausen
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A sense of agony akin to despair settled in to stay, extinguishing hope’s final flame with a breath of chilling discouragement. Meanwhile, interior life grew ever darker and more constricted, defined by impossibilities. The guarded heart-closet bulged with something akin to putrid-smelling mothballs, a vain attempt at self-preservation.
The Light of Life remained unresponsive to heart cries and pleas for circumstances to change.
Threatening darkness bled like a massive spill of permanent black India ink, dripping into the heart’s core and then flowing throughout every possible capillary. The Beloved’s Light seemed so far away; this awful blackness defied consolation. Spiritual disciplines meant nothing.
Devotion grew brittle and cracked apart into tiny shards; prayers dried up on the tongue before they could be spoken. Scripture became like crisp autumn leaves blowing in the wind, tumbling end-over-end en route to nowhere. Sadness stepped in authoritatively, and artificial props like sophistication and conceit fell away to expose raw nakedness of soul.
The utter darkness could not be outrun, and distractions were not enough to offset it. The only human option seemed to sit with the pain and sadness, zero in on it eye-to-eye, own and then surrender it to the eternal realities: God and His love. The darkness was not something to fear, resist, or even fight, but rather accept, since it might be encouraging inner transformation.
Anticipation became the goal – sitting quietly, relishing heart-throbs amidst otherwise dark stillness, paying attention, feeling the empty loneliness, and submitting to this “dark night of the soul.” There was no point in clawing and kicking against the locked closet door, for there would be no escape.
Over time, while enveloped by desolate bleakness, the transforming work of the darkness emerged as God’s gift – an avenue to greater relinquishment and union with Him. The “dark night” became a tutor, teaching what it meant to rest in Him in the midst of pain rather than turn to self-control, the most desperate act of all. Oddly, the self’s “dark night” became a place of illumination, an opportunity to experience God and recognize Him more clearly than on any ordinary bright, sunny day.
I speak this testimony from personal experience, having known the despair of the “dark night” as well as its supernatural potential: the light of relational breakthrough with God.
This kind of divine encounter is not for the curious spiritual weekend backpacker who craves visions of mountaintop ecstasies or lush shepherd-valley-type comforts. Rather, it comes, often uninvited, to desperate seekers on fire for more of God: those willing to draw near and relearn what it means to love Him; to acknowledge His ways as best and His timing as perfect. This gutsy selling-out involves diving deep, and ever deeper and deeper, into the Unknown and the Unknowable: letting go, in the most applied sense, of all expectation and self-consolation, and embracing His mysteries.
Once thoroughly overwhelmed by loss and darkness, and submerged into that abyss of the Unknown and Unknowable, the “dark night” becomes the perfect bed for seeds of faith to once again root, sprout, bud, flower, and abundantly flourish in the presence of transcendent light: God Himself. For in the darkest hour and in the midst of the most excruciatingly lonely despair, HE COMES. He fills the darkness and emptiness with Himself, empowering shriveled hearts - quickening, cleansing and purifying - and resurrecting fear IN THE MIDST of the awful pit-darkness.
With that said, the “dark night” is the best place - the most illumined place - a person could possibly be.
Deep in the Unknown and Unknowable, the sensory and even spiritual appetites and yearnings that typically rule human life have a chance to fall asleep. Typical avenues to numbness or escape from pain become useless, or simply cease to exist.
In the midst of “the dark night,” a dense cloud-cover afflicts the soul, but also simultaneously frees it. Appetites and gratifications fight for survival and must be put to death. In the same breath, intimacy with God and true freedom become automatic when these affections are deadened.
There is security in the “dark night of the soul” – the place where God and those created in His image stand together, immersed in His light of truth and love.
“I remained, lost in oblivion;
my face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.”
- from Songs of the Soul by St. John of the Cross
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