Saint John's Dark Night of the Soul = Spiritual Detox

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Wandered into the coffee shop one morning this weekend. While searching for a place to plop down and wake up, I noticed a book sitting askew on one of the occupied tables. (I'm always curious to see what others are reading.)

St. John of the Cross

The title jumped out at me » Dark Night of the Soul .. written by a 16th century mystic named St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz).

Having recent experiences of my own that could be characterized as "dark nightish," I struck up a conversation with this monkish fellow, before asking to join him (.. since there was no place else to sit this busy morning).

He said he'd learned of the book from classmates in college, roomies who had majored in Philosophy. They recommended it after he started to experience "growing pains" a few years into his marriage.

I apologized for chuckling when he told me it was (basically) a woman who drove him into his dark night. But I couldn't help it.

I pressed with questions, seeking a Cliffs Notes style rendering of his book. He said the 'dark night' is actually "a good thing" (another idea which made me chuckle).

During the 'dark night experience' (the theory goes), God removes everything we used to rely on (depend on, trust in) .. "until only He Himself is left." Elements of this explanation rang true with some of my recent experiences.

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Can't say I'm very religious. But I try to do the right thing .. even when others don't reciprocate. Being human, of course, I'm not always successful. (But I do try.)

Removing the extraneous from our lives yields a wonderfully clarifying effect. Living in our consumer-oriented society, we tend to accumulate 'stuff' .. which clutters our lives with distractions that can make it difficult to recognize what's really important. As inessentials are pruned away, we're able to see more clearly what is (and isn't) important. (Which is one reason why backpacking can be so regenerative.)

A blazingly-fast 15K-rpm SCSI hard drive, for example, may be very cool. But it's not very important .. at least not in the larger scheme of things we call 'life,' where knowing what is (and isn't) important is not always readily apparent. (Bet you never thought you'd hear me say a SCSI drive wasn't important.)

Here in Southern California, for example, where the housing market has collapsed (a popular topic of conversation at the local coffee houses) and where, for many years, people were able to use their homes as a credit card, many have been forced to re-prioritize what is really important. These are activities people tend to avoid, and do only when forced .. by circumstances beyond their control.

Unpleasant as it might be, I think it's ultimately healthy .. like a cleansing fast. So the Dark Night of the Soul can be thought of as a spiritual detox.

Regarding these 'dark nights,' I feel about them similar to the way I feel about my nuclear days » glad for having had the experience, but not something I'd ever want to re-live, nor anything I would recommend to a friend. Speaking of which, friends are one of the things that are truly important.

For more along these lines, here's a Google search preconfigured for the query » dark night of the soul. Here's another preconfigured for » Saint John of the Cross

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This page contains a single entry by Rad published on December 15, 2008 8:08 AM.

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