Saturday, March 22, 2008

POEM: Dark Night of the Soul

On Nov.22, 2007 a reader posted this question on my blog dated Oct. 12, 2007 in which I discussed the dark nights of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He wrote: “I’m surprised at the apparently gloomy path through multiple dark nights one must traverse to reach spirituality. Why so difficult? How many nights? Night of Sense, Night of Spirit, is there a Night of the Soul? others?”

The question as to “Why so difficult? is an extremely complex one and is best answered by the mystical theologians of the Catholic Church. Interestingly enough, St. John of the Cross, Spanish mystic and Doctor of Mystical Theology, wrote of the Dark Night of the Soul which, originally, was the second part of his famous work, The Ascent of Mount Carmel. In it, he divides the Dark Night of the Soul into two parts: the Dark Night of Sense and the Dark Night of Spirit, which I briefly discussed in my Oct. 12, 2007 blog entry.

There seems to me to be a tendency in pious writings to stress the gloom and suffering which the great Saints underwent. This can have a very negative effect on people who are considering entering upon the spiritual journey or who are already consciously pursuing the spiritual life. That is one reason why I prefer reading the author’s original writings rather than commentaries and interpretations by others. For example, how many of us, when we think of the Dark Nights, ever think of the beautiful, mystical poem written by St. John of the Cross, which forms the very foundation for his treatise, The Ascent of Mount Carmel? Printed below is the eight verse poem as translated by E. Allison Peers. This mystical, nuptial poem is far from gloomy!

“Wherein the soul sings of the happy chance which it had in passing through the dark night of faith, in detachment and purgation of itself, to union with the Beloved.

“On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings
–Oh, happy chance!–
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.

“In darkness and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised
–Oh, happy chance–
In darkness and concealment,
My house being now at rest.

“In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide,
Save that which burned in my heart.

“This light guided me,
More surely than the light of noonday,
To the place where he (well I knew who!)
Was awaiting me–
A place where none appeared.

“Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn.
Oh, night that joined
Beloved with lover.
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

“Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping,
And I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

“The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand
He wounded my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

“I remained, lost in oblivion:
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares
Forgotten among the lilies.”