Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dark Night of the Spirit

by Chris Mcals

How I know that God is More Desirable than Life.

If you read "Why I know" by now you are probably wondering, just what did God do for me that was so powerful to compel me to write this blog? In a nutshell, God made His Presence known and felt in such marvelous, extraordinary ways that I absolutely fell head over heels in love with Him. That means I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, my thoughts, my mind, my very soul were full of His Presence, and His Presence was Love. 

The love I'm referring to is also known as "Agape," an ancient Greek word meaning love which is "of" and "from" God. God does not merely love. He is Love, John 1-4:8, and that needs to be the recurring theme in each one of my posts in this blog because if it were possible, I wouldn't hesitate to shout it from the mountain tops. 

God is infinitely lovable, He is absolutely desirable. There are no better adjectives or superlatives that I can find to place next to those attributes. I know this because I have experienced it in the center of my being, and this awareness, this knowledge will stay with me forever and it's the only reason why I write at all. I need to let others know, if it's the last thing I do in this world.

Yes, you can love God with that kind of passion. A passion that springs from the depths of the soul, and not from human emotion. A passion that I didn't know I had in me. He was my first thought in the morning, and my last thought at night, usually after having tried hard to stay awake as long as I could, just to retain the consciousness of His Presence. Why would anyone do that if they had no incentive, no motivation? Believe me, nothing compares with the awareness of being in the Presence of God. 

Even my dreams were filled with God's Presence, often in the form of vivid dreams and very clear voices that spoke to me and taught me eternal truths. Both my conscious and my subconscious were saturated with the awareness of the Divine Presence.

My honeymoon with God lasted for two years, more or less, during which my third child was born. Afterwards it came and went and it also became interspersed with some very undesirable experiences of soul purification. 

The Dark Night of the Spirit
Finally, after twelve years it became clear that my beloved Father had hidden Himself from me and would no longer return in the same ways, and I was inconsolable. I was in constant tears, wondering what could I have possibly done to deserve such a terrible punishment. I loved Him so much, I longed for Him with an all-consuming love, and yet no tears, no entreaties moved my beloved Father to return to me. 

That's why I said earlier, in Why I Know, that you can't make God do what He doesn't want to do. My relationship with God had been so intimate, so loving and long lasting that I had become like a spoiled child who cried a lot because she wanted to be picked up by her Mom, or at least be with her. God had to "wean" me from my dependency, and it hurt more than I can say. 

I didn't understand, back then, that in our relationship with God sometimes the "me" gets in the way. As long as the self experiences some degree of "personal involvement," or dependency, it means that it isn't dead. Jesus said that unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it won't yield any fruit, and St. John of the Cross said that regardless of whether a bird is held back by a chain or a hair, it won't be able to soar. 

In Exodus 20:5 we read "for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God." This is not to be understood in the sense of  being possessive to a fault, as in the case of some emotionally challenged people. God is Love, and Love wants the whole person, body, mind, heart and spirit, although He doesn't force Himself on us. Once He has conquered the first three, He will go on to conquer our spirit, and in order for Him to conquer our spirit, we have to first be tamed, and then get out of the way so that He can do His work in us without our interference.

I knew very well that, left to my own resources, I was going to lose everything that I had gained while God was revealing Himself to me, and this awareness alone nearly tore me apart inside. I experienced the agony of spiritual death, although it wasn't really a spiritual death in the sense commonly understood. To me the experience of the absence of God and the distractions caused by the necessity to pay attention to my mounting daily duties felt like the end of the world. It was a catastrophe from which I felt I would never recover.

Not only did I feel alone and abandoned by the true Love of my life but, just as I expected, the darkness of ignorance gradually descended upon me like a black fog. Here I'm reminded of Mother Teresa of Calcutta's own experience 
in which she said: "... as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear." (To the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, Sept. 1979). 

For years I became convinced of having become lost in desert, waterless lands, because I no longer had the healing dew of Divine Wisdom to nourish me, and to make me whole. All I had left was the light of Faith, Hope and Love to guide me on the now dark and desolate path of my Spiritual Journey. St, John of the Cross calls this stage of the Journey, the Dark Night of the Spirit.

A New Dawn
Things are constantly changing in life. Nothing is forever, either good or bad. And so it is with the Dark Night of the Spirit, because after more than twenty years of darkness I'm now beginning to see the prelude of the light of dawn as God is once again making me aware of His Presence in ways that are unmistakably a sign of the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.

When I first realized that God was still alive and well in me I couldn't have been more surprised. By now I was sure that God had forgotten me, if God could ever forget anyone. For many years I felt ashamed and embarrassed for having somehow let Him down, thus causing Him to withdraw from me. But now I recognized the Presence of the Holy Spirit in my soul, and this time I gave Him a joyful, but calm welcome back. It was as if my beloved Holy Spirit wanted me to know, "see, I never left you."

It started with little things. For example, often the Lord leads me into reading, meditating or praying a passage from Holy Scriptures that will be the Official Reading of the next Sunday Mass, without any prior knowledge or awareness on my part. 

This has always amazed me. It's why I know that I am in union with the Church, and it's also why I know that God cares about His Church, as opposed to what some people think when they say that they can dispense with religion, as long as they perceive themselves to be spiritual.

We need both religion and spirituality in our lives. We need religion, because we have a physical body, and we need spirituality, because we are also spiritual beings.

Another example is that recently I have been experiencing a lasting glow in my soul that holds me still and deeply absorbed in the Presence of God. It comes on its own, without my doing or thinking anything in particular. I may be watching TV and even be very engaged in what I'm watching, and then I begin to feel a sweet bearing upon my soul, which is very much like a glow that has the power to induce stillness of body and mind, and to draw my attention away from what I'm doing, and redirect it to God, ever so gently. 

This is something that I remember experiencing very often in the late eighties, but now I'm experiencing it again. It's God's way of reminding me that He hasn't forgotten or abandoned me. He is still with me, as close as ever.

Love Pains
Could God ever forget or abandon anyone? Not a chance, but when you know that your love is reciprocated, and then stop hearing from your beloved for months or years, without an explanation, it's natural to feel it's all over. You feel forgotten, abandoned and rejected, even if that person is God. 

You keep searching, looking for some fault, some reason that might have caused your beloved to leave you. And when you can't find the reason, the horrible realization that your sinfulness is making you blind to your faults prostrates you to the ground. 

How can I explain the dimension and the depth of the love pains one experiences when God seems absent? Is St. Teresa of Avila's words, "With tears and the strongest desire to die, it (the soul) begs God to take it from its exile."

In this way one learns to depend on God's mercy, since now one has become aware of one's blindness. It is precisely for that reason that I don't know how I stand before God. Am I good? Am I bad? I honestly don't know, so all I can do is cling to Christ for my salvation, hoping in His Mercy.

The Gift of Tears
There is one more gift that God has renewed in me, and that’s the gift of tears.

What triggers the tears? Usually it's the sudden realization that God has been listening to what I was saying to Him earlier, and is now giving me His response. The nature of His response is usually an opening of the mind to some situation that I previously didn't understand. 

I suddenly become keenly aware of God's goodness, of His love and care for all His creatures. My heart swells with loving gratitude and my eyes start filling with tears, because of the overabundance of the joy I feel. The tears are in response to God's communication, and they are always tears of joy and purification. 

Often they come on their own accord, for no apparent reason, except that they always have something to do with what God is secretly working in my soul. They are pure gift.

Why does God do what He does? Nobody can answer that question. All I know, is that no one can be touched by the hand of God and not fall in love with Him. It's impossible!

God Wants to Be Loved
Does all this mean that God wants to be loved? YES! Why not? Don't we humans also want to be loved? We are created in His Image, and love is the common denominator. Love always seeks to merge with love. 

God loves us because Love is His nature and the expression of His Being, and we are the undeserving recipients upon whom He lavishes His Love. 

The effect of the Dark Night of the Spirit is twofold: the first is purification; the second is to make us realize that just as we suffer from the absence of God (we wouldn't suffer if we didn't love Him), so does God earnestly desires our love, and infinitely more so than we are capable of desiring His Love. He wants us to understand that!

Now you see why I know that God exists, why I know that He is more desirable than life, why I know that He seeks to be loved, and why I know that He deserves to be loved with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. 

If you want to know how God made me fall in love with Him, read some of my other posts in this blog, like My Soul Yearns for the Living GodAn Intuition of the Absolute, and Baptism by Fire, for example, then you will see why I said that no one can be touched by the hand of God and not fall in love with Him. He did all that for me and much, much more.

This is why I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that God is Love, that we are His creatures, that we belong to Him, and that we owe Him more than just a passing thought. We owe Him our love, our trust, our respect and our adoration, for in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). 

You are Mine by David Haas

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