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When Night Turns to Day: Personal Transformation through the Dark Night of the Soul

When hardship strikes us down, and we have nothing left to lose, it is a call from the Almighty to reevaluate ourselves, rethink our lives, and rekindle our faith.

In every life, some rain will fall. Most of the time, adversity serves as a reminder to turn within and reconnect with our own divinity. But when hardship strikes us down, and we have nothing left to lose, it is a call from the Almighty to reevaluate ourselves, rethink our lives, and rekindle our faith.


As the 16th century Carmelite, St. John of the Cross, described in his timeless treatise, “The Dark Night of the Soul,” it is a time in which everything we know is purposefully stripped away so that we are left with nothing but our consciousness to consider.

"In this happy night of contemplation, God leads the soul by a manner of contemplation so solitary and secret, so remote and far distant from sense, that naught pertaining to it, nor any touch of created things, succeeds in approaching the soul in such a way as to disturb it and detain it on the road of the union of love.” (p. 211)


The concept of the dark night of the soul has been romanticized as an event reserved for the enlightened elite. The truth is, everyone is subject to an existential crisis when the spirit within cannot continue to evolve in current conditions. So, we enter into the dark night as a fundamental rite of passage in our soul’s evolution, our ultimate journey into union with the Perfect Love.


It Was a Dark and Stormy Night


The dark night of the soul is often referred to as “spiritual depression” marked by prolonged periods of intense loneliness, hopelessness, failure, and deep despair. The suffering may seem more than we can bear – and we try to avoid it, because it forces us to confront our ego-driven beliefs and behaviors, and challenge our status quo.


“God’s love is not content to leave us in our weakness, and for this reason, He takes us into a dark night. He weans us from all of the pleasures by giving us dry times, and inward darkness…No soul will ever grow deep in the spiritual life unless God works passively in that soul by means of the dark night.” ~ John Ortberg, Soul Keeping:Caring For the Most Important Part of You


However, as tempestuous and trying as the dark night may be, there is nothing more painful or daunting for our spirit than to be trapped in a mistaken identity and feel separate from our Source. Thus, St. John enthusiastically encouraged us to embrace this journey so that we may purge our misconceptions and draw closer to the purest love we will ever know.


Typically, the trials faced in a spiritual crisis stem from the false ideas, desires, and attachments of six common character imperfections:


1. Pride– Pride is the false idea of being superior to others, in whatever context that may mean as an individual. It is the desire for praise and esteem from others, and attachment to such identity. A spiritual person full of pride may condemn those who do not display the type of devotion he or she desperately wants yet lacks in themselves.


2. Jealousy – Admiration can turn to envy if we think we are denied the blessing of another. When we let desire spin out of control, we bind all our energy to the pursuit of our obsession. A spiritual person may feel envious of another’s virtue and trivialize their good nature.


3. Entitlement – We feel entitled when we believe we are owed something for nothing. In the desire to receive without giving, surrendering, or serving (living outside universal laws of circulation and reciprocity), our souls become spoiled by a childish need to be special. A spiritually immature person will misconstrue divine inheritance with privilege.


4. Excess– A common misperception about the law of attraction has led many people to conflate excess with abundance; they think the more stuff they manifest, the higher their consciousness. Yet overindulgence often develops when poor esteem or deep-seated pain drives our desire for “more” as a consolation to the emptiness we feel inside. The incessant need for relief or pleasure can escalate into addictions and extreme behavior. A spiritual junkie will surround themselves excessively with sacred tokens and books, and engage in radical practices (meditation marathons, fanatical fasting, nonstop workshops, etc.) to compensate for the gaping hole in their heart.


5. Anger– Anger arises from the false ideas we hold towards ourselves and others, particularly what we believe to be transgressions, as well as our experience of loss. Anger is the impatience we show when others do not live up to our standards. And it is the irritation and hostility we express when who or what we value is gone. With unresolved anger, a spiritual person may seek punishment or retribution in the name of justice.


6. Apathy - We grow weary by the things that bear no sweetness. When our desire for and attachment to pleasure is unmet, we respond with apathy, laziness, boredom, and procrastination. We can even grow indifferent towards God. Lapses in daily prayer and meditation are signs of apathy in a spiritual person.


All of these traits lead us away from the very essence of our true nature, apart from the Beloved. Thankfully, our souls are always trained on divine unity, no matter how far afield we stray.


“…how many blessings the dark night…brings with it, since it cleanses the soul and purifies it from all…imperfections.” (p. 27)


Night Turns to Day - How to Transform


“Although this happy night brings darkness to the spirit, it does so only to give it light in everything; although it humbles it and makes it miserable, it does so only to exalt it and raise it up; and, although it impoverishes it and empties it of all natural affection and attachment, it does so only that it may enable it to stretch forward, divinely, to have fruition and experience of all things, both above and below…” (p. 127)


There is an alchemical property to the dark night of the soul, a melding of raw material into gold. Alone and unseen, we are free to unearth our choices and consequences, our deepest loves and most paralyzing fears, without the prying eyes and expectations of the outer world. Then, like a sorcerer’s stone, we can use certain qualities of our intrinsic worth to transform our lives into the gold of God’s love:


· Humility transforms pride. This is a starting point for many in the dark night of the soul. If the focus has been on material gain, achievement, or recognition, the dark night is often a catalyst to change course from a prideful pursuit towards a genuine, spirit-driven life. An unpretentious outlook helps to re-establish an appropriate sense of self-worth and remember our sacred nature as one with the Almighty One.


· Gratitude transforms jealousy. With so many of us desperate to be seen and heard, it is difficult not to compete with others. Thanksgiving dims the glare of the outside world and resets our sights on our own blessings, from jealousy to joy. As St. Paul advises, rejoice in the goodness!


· Generosity transforms entitlement. Yes, we are amazing creatures, the delight of the Delight. As is every other being on the planet. When we believe we are made in the likeness of the same Infinite Creator, the Source of all that is, we, too, can easily afford to be generous without demanding special rights, permission, or privilege for ourselves above others.


· Mindfulness transforms excess. 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NASB) says, “Whether, then, you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Focusing our awareness on the present moment (while acknowledging and accepting our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensation) dispels any distractions from the good that is ours right now.


· Compassion transforms anger. Anger may surface over layers of pain, frustration, and fear. A peek behind the curtain may reveal the real cause of the emotional inflammation and temper our reaction instantly. We cannot stew in self-righteousness and be sympathetic, or be blistering mad and benevolent at the same time. As we learn more about the underlying grief or beef, we naturally care more - for ourselves, those around us, and the Beloved by any name.


· Resilience transforms apathy. Just when we think we can’t take it anymore, feeling on the verge of death by doldrums or darkness, it is time to dig deep and find that combination of strength, fortitude, and adaptability we need to shoulder our way through. “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV


A dark night is not a sign that we are forsaken, but an invitation to find our way home.

Most of us experience many dark nights, each a valuable stop along the journey of awakening. There is always more to learn, more ways to grow. By trusting in God’s motivation of love in the movement and activity of our lives, in darkness as well as light, we can rekindle our faith.


“There is no coming to consciousness without pain.

People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own soul.

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” ~ Carl Jung


Together with the forces of the universe, our consciousness and soul conspire to help us find the life we were designed to live and draw nearer to the one we long for most – God. Step by step, we wind our way through the mysterious darkness guided only by our love for the Beloved. Once we discover that a dark night is not a sign we are forsaken, but an invitation to find our way home, we can transform ourselves, our lives, and our faith into our most brilliant light.


Reference

Cross, J. of the. (2017). Dark night of the soul: when you realize God is all that you have. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House.

 

© Nancy Noack and Mighty Oak Ministries International, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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