The significance—cultural, spiritual, national—of Dark Night of the Soul cannot be overstated. The very phrase, “dark night”, although horribly misused, has become common parlance. We owe this to a tortured Spanish mystic from the sixteenth century.
On a dark night,
Inflamed by love-longing—
O exquisite risk!—
Undetected I slipped away.
My house, at last, grown still. (23)
Thus begins the short eight stanza poem St. John of the Cross wrote while imprisoned and tortured by a group of friars for his work in St. Teresa of Avila’s Carmelite reforms. He escaped his imprisonment and wrote a commentary on his poem. This commentary consists of two parts—the Night of Sense and the Night of Spirit. I chose the 39 chapters that make up this commentary for my Lenten devotions this year.
I have to conclude that I’m too rational to be a mystic—at least in the way St. John of the Cross describes. His vision of God is profound and deep, but his intense introspection and romantic relationship with God don’t connect with me.
That’s not to say that I learned nothing from St. John. His passion is consuming! His desire to leave everything behind (including himself) in the pursuit of his God is a severe challenge to the selfishness of our age.
St. John will challenge you to leave your pet notions of God (which are inevitably wrapped up in your own self-image) behind in the pursuit of the one who (paradoxically) is already pursuing us.
—St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, Mirabai Starr, trans. (New York, NY: Riverhead, 2002).