Friday, July 25, 2008

Dark Night of the Soul -- one comment

This is the Song "Dark Side of the Soul" adapted for music by Loreena McKennitt from the poem "Dark Night of the Soul" by John of the Cross.

Upon a darkened night
The flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright
I fled my house while all in quiet rest

Shrouded by the night
And by the secret stair I quickly fled
The veil concealed my eyes
While all within lay quiet as the dead.


O, night thou was my guide!
O, night more loving than the rising sun!
O, night that joined the Lover to the beloved one!
Transforming each of them into the other.

Upon that misty night
In secrecy beyond such mortal sight
Without a guide or light
Than that which burned as deeply in my heart.

That fire 'twas led me on
And shone more bright than of the midday sun
To where He waited still
It was a place where no one else could come.


Within my pounding heart
Which kept itself entirely for Him
He fell into His sleep
beneath the cedars all my love I gave.

From o'er the fortress walls
The wind would brush His hair against His brow
And with its smoother hand
caressed my every sense it would allow.


I lost my self to Him
And laid my face upon my Lover's breast
And care and grief grew dim
As in the morning's mist became the light.
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair.
*Arranged and adapted by Loreena McKennitt, 1993

The poem by John of the Cross was written in the mid 1500's. It describes the journey of the soul returning to God. It talks about the difficulties of the journey to separate from this world to focus on union with the Creator. The main idea is that life, and the spiritual life, is a journey with hardships along the way, but that we grow and gain maturity and insight from our times of struggle and despair as well as the times of success and joy. The poem's author later wrote a book/commentary of the same name detailing the interpretation of the poem verse by verse.

My understanding of the term "Dark night of the soul" is that is the the time of darkness when we, or our souls, feel cut off from God, in our spiritual life. It is when we feel fartherest away from God or disconnected. Irony is that this is a part of the journey, painful though it be. Often this stage or experience can be understand or is described as depression. Spiritual depression, I think, is different from clinical depression. (Many people often neglect the idea of spiritual injury. But it is real.) Native peoples, also called First Nations, understand the spiritual world and hence understand there is a connection between physical and spiritual injury. When I was visiting with an Aboriginal woman a few years ago, she explained to me the belief that there are often spiritual symptoms of an illness. It was no surprise to me to be having that conversation, as there have been numerous studies discussing the mind/body connection. It was a refreshing to be having the conversation with a spiritual perspective. Initiated by someone else!!

I have often struggled with what I will call depression. It is not clinical depression, but more of a "down mood, or feeling down". It is brought on by different aspects of life; bad day, stress, various elements collide. It usually doesn't last, but it does affect my interaction with other people, and obviously my work. (as that is a large part of my job, to interact with other people. To meet them in the time and place where they are, not the other way around. Sometimes, to bring them into my world may not be a healthy thing for either of us...)

I have often been aware of the connection between spiritual life/journey, and my mood. It is interesting to note, but at times difficult to get through. Perhaps the depressions have to do with expectations about how "things should be". This afternoon, one of my colleagues commented on a newspaper article about a woman who started a business as a result of a family problem. Her daughter was an Olympic swimmer who had a hard time finding a suit to fit. After the Olympics were over, the mother and daughter formed a company that is now globally known. The comment was that "people have a messed idea of what being successful is. You don't need to be making millions to be successful." Our conversation then was a discussion of what success means. When one's goals are unattained, this frustrates us and causes stress. But the question is "is our goal realistic, or is our methodology faulty?" Maybe this is where the Dark Night of the Soul comes in. Maybe we have an unrealistic idea of what life is supposed to look like, what our life is supposed to be with God. Often when people suffer, they ask "why? Why God? Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Am I being punished?" and this often drives people away from God because they might not have a strong foundation or faith/understanding of God's plan/motivation for us. Perhaps we have an unrealistic expectation or picture of what life with God is supposed to look like. This might cause a Dark Night. Things aren't going the way that we think, and we get frustrated and depressed. Hopefully the darkness does not stay too long, hopefully we are strong enough to continue the journey. Not to abandon the spiritual path to a deeper understanding of God. Still thinking on this subject.

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