Saturday, October 11, 2014

Autumn Grace #11: Dark Night of the Soul

Chicken by candlelight,
though not by choice

Hello friends!

For the first time, I am writing a blog post on my iPod!

It's been a dark night. Our power went out several hours ago. I couldn't cook, so I went to Sam's Club and bought rotisserie chicken and some spinach dip to go with the loaves of French bread I bought earlier in the day.  We ate by candlelight and flashlight. The house was so dark and so hot (this is Florida!) that I called one of my daughters to ask if we could come watch a movie at her apartment. Of course, right after we got here, I got a text from the power company that our electricity is back on. We're still watching the movie.

I brought my old and ailing laptop over to start organizing files to transfer to my new one. However, just a few minutes after I turned it on, it suddenly snapped off without warning. I plugged it in and turned it on again, and now all it will say on the darkened screen is "Attempting repairs." It's been doing that for a half hour.

Yesterday I predicted an impending crash, didn't I? I was just hoping to get my recent files off first! I haven't backed up since June. Yikes!


Ah, here we are at home again and I'm working on the new computer.

After several tries, and a few ominous messages like "Automatic Repair couldn't repair your PC,"  I did manage to get the old laptop on long enough to e-mail my recent documents to myself and upload at least one crucial folder of pictures to Google Photos. So if I can't get it on again, at least I've got the basic stuff!


All this reminds me of a spiritual concept I was already thinking about before the lights went out. Have you ever heard of the phrase "dark night of the soul"?  This originally comes from the poem and treatise by 16th century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross.  I'm told he meant something different than how most people currently use it, but here is the more modern concept. "Dark night of the soul" is now used to refer to seasons of spiritual dryness when God seems distant and detached, even when someone is seeking him and desiring his presence.  It's like prayers are hitting "skies of brass" and not getting through to heaven. It's like the "attempting repairs" notice that just sits there indefinitely while the w-a-i-t-i-n-g circle spins on the dark screen. Is it going to connect or is it going to crash? I do seem to find the symbolism in everything, don't I?

When some people go through this dark night experience, they freak out and think something is terribly wrong, like maybe they committed some great sin and God has abandoned them, so they're going to crash their faith. Sometimes it can even seem like God is a figment of the imagination. It's important to realize that so many others have gone through this, too, and that includes a lot of very devout believers and Christian leaders. This is not the same thing as depression, though the two can certainly coincide. And it's not necessarily the result of personal sin, though that could be a factor in some cases. Some feel that it is a time of testing and walking by faith, learning to trust and keep walking forward even when we don't see or feel.

As I was pondering this today, I opened up my blog reader and spotted a post about Lilias Trotter, a missionary to Algeria from 1888 to 1928.  Check it out here: Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen. Author Miriam Rockness shares the "dark hour" story of not only Miss Trotter, but also the very recent period of spiritual despondency experienced by Dr. Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College. Please take the time to read it. She even links to the audio of Dr. Ryken's chapel presentation.

I've certainly had my seasons of feeling far away from God even when I'd rather be close. I have also had my periods of disillusionment and doubt, which I understand is also a common experience for believers.  I've certainly faced numerous dark circumstances in life when I haven't known what I could expect next and it's been hard to hope for the best. I don't think what I've experienced has been quite as intense as what others have described, though. I often remember my poem "Shimmer and Shadow" and repeat to myself the line, "I am still here and so is He." You might also like to read my poem "It Became to Me a Dark Thing" though that's referring to something a bit different. 

That's all I have to say for now. I've got another poem coming up that is tangentially connected to this concept. I only have the title and the bare idea so far, so it may be a little while yet. (Note on October 13 - the poem is here: The Harp in the Willow.)

If you are going through your own "dark night" please reach out and talk to someone. Don't hide in embarrassment. Let others pray for you and minister to you. 

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

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