Today is the Feast Day of one of the Teachers of The Faith. December 14th each year is is the commemoration of St. John of the Cross. He died on this day 1591. John of the Cross gave us the notion of the Dark Night of Soul which comes from his poem of the same name. Read what Wikipedia has to say about the Dark night of the Soul:
[The term and metaphysicality of the phrase "dark night of the soul" are taken from the writings of the Spanish poet and Roman Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross, a Carmelite priest in the 16th century. Dark Night of the Soul is the name of both a poem, and a commentary on that poem, and are among the Carmelite priest’s most famous writings. They tell of his mystic development and the stages he went through on his quest for holiness.
The "dark night" could generally be described as a letting go of our ego’s hold on the psyche, making room for change that can bring about a complete transformation of a person’s way of defining his/her self and their relationship to God. The interim period can be frightening, hence the perceived "darkness". In the Christian tradition, during the "dark night" one who has developed a strong prayer life and consistent devotion to God suddenly finds traditional prayer extremely difficult and unrewarding for an extended period of time. The individual may feel as though God has suddenly abandoned them, or that their prayer life has collapsed.
Rather than being a negative event, the dark night is believed by mystics and others to be a blessing in disguise where the individual is trained to grow from vocal and mental prayer, to a deeper contemplative prayer of the soul. Particularly in Christianity, it is seen as a severe test of one’s faith. The Dark Night comes in two phases: a first "Night of the Senses," and a second "Night of the Spirit.]
St. John of the Cross was a contemporary of St. Teresa of Avila and they are both credited with reforming the Carmelite order. His theology of the Dark Night resonates with so many of us. When I first read about the Dark Night and about John of the Cross I was in my won spiritual wilderness and struggling with some large issues of faith. It is a blessing indeed that we can travel to that place where answers are not easy and prayer is a difficult task. That may sound somewhat unusual to some. But the reality of the spiritual life is that it is not always easy.
There are those who teach a juvenile faith system that assumes that faith begins as a small seed and over the course of ones life that seed grows into a tall and mighty oak. That is a novel idea. I just don’t believe it to be a healthy or realistic approach to a faith journey. People like John of the cross lived a honest faith with the integrity to name the times that having faith meant living in a strained relationship with God. We know that light would mean nothing without having a knowledge of darkness. So it is with our spiritual journey. It is not an upwardly mobile reality but a personal relationship in the truest sense. We all know that relationships are sometimes hard work. We know that being in relationship means that we have times of incredible intimacy. It also means that there are times of conflict and of feeling distant. God desires of us an honest relationship that can weather the hard moments. God is present with us even when we live the Dark Night of the Soul.
You know many people live that Dark Night at this time of year. Christmas time is not easy for a lot of people. Many who are grieving or who simply have too much to deal with are really struggling as everyone else seems to sing of good cheer. Perhaps this Day of Commemoration of John of The Cross we can take comfort is we happen to be in that space. If not we can offer a prayer in the Name of John of The Cross for those who are on struggling with faith.
A Collect for St. John of the Cross:
O God, by whose grace your servant John of the Cross, kindled With the flame of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.