Monday, August 13, 2012

My dark night experience

On Wikipedia, the explanation for "Dark Night of the Soul" begins with ...
"The term "dark night (of the soul)" is used in Christianity for a spiritual crisis in a journey towards union with God, like that described by Saint John of the Cross. In effect, it is the withdrawal of God from the believer. Typically for a believer in the dark night of the soul, spiritual disciplines (such as prayer and consistent devotion to God) suddenly seem to lose all their experiential value; traditional prayer is extremely difficult and unrewarding for an extended period of time during this "dark night."
 I began moving through a dark night-like experience slightly more than a month ago, and found the lack of an "experiential value" to be disorienting. I was unable to find any perception of value in attending mass, prayer, and all other forms of Catholic spiritual practice.  I spoke with my spiritual director about this at length and we came to believe that it was just a period through which I was passing. That maybe, instead of walking along side of me, God had gone ahead down the road just a bit to clear the path in front of me.

Then something happened that I am not sure I can adequately explain to you. And I am sure that if you are reading this you will find it less dramatic or spectacular than I did. But both of these experiences shot through me like a bolt of lightening.

After leaving the office of my spiritual director I walked to the church to sit in reflection and prayer prior to attending Mass.  A few moments passed, then the side door opened and in walked a disheveled man carrying an enormous backpack and wearing what appeared to be a bike helmet. He was dirty and scruffy looking and, in what amounted to just a few moments, I had filled in a back story of a homeless person coming in to the church to escape the heat. He passed me without comment and I returned to my reflection.

A few more moments passed and I sensed someone standing next to me. As I turned to look, I noticed it was the man who had been carrying the backpack, and my mind immediately went to my wallet and thoughts of whether I had any cash - sure that he was about to ask me for some money.  But, instead of asking for a handout, he leaned over and said very quietly, almost whispering, "If you are waiting for Mass, it is in the chapel today", and then he moved on - leaving me the smallest bit stung by how severely I had misjudged the experience, while at the same time smiling and feeling that somehow God has spoken to me through that man.

The Gospel reading that day was from Matthew 14 (22-36), and it was the story of Jesus and the disciples which has Peter walk on water. In the story, Peter "becomes frightened" after he leaves the boat and starts to walk towards shore, at which point he begins to sink.  He cries out "Lord, help me." Jesus stretches out his hand and lifts Peter to safety, saying "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

It was a powerful story for me at that moment in my life.

"Why did you doubt?" Could that be re-written as "Why did I doubt?" or "Why do I doubt?"

The darkness begins to abate. Just slightly. But as witness to those two events, the man in the church and the reading that followed just a few minutes later, my perspective had changed.

The Wiki entree continues ...
It is important to note however that the presence of doubt is not tantamount to abandonment ....

May God walk with - or ahead of - each us today.

No comments: