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Darker Nights

JOHN OF THE CROSS - "Born to an impoverished noble family near Avila in Spain in 1542, Juan de Yepes was brought up by his widowed mother and went to a charity school.

He worked as a nurse and received further education from the Jesuits before entering the Carmelite order when he was twenty-one. Having distinguished himself at Salamanca university, he was ordained in 1567 and met Teresa of Avila soon afterwards.

Small of stature, he made a great impression on her and she persuaded him to help with her reform of the Carmelite order. His labours brought him into conflict with the religious authorities, and he was even imprisoned for a period, yet these experiences prompted some of his finest poetry and mystical writing. In particular, he described the 'dark night' of the soul as it is purified in its approach towards God.

After ten years as superior to several different houses, he again fell out of favour and was banished to Andalusia in southern Spain, where he died after a severe illness on this day, 14th December, 1591." (Exciting Holiness)

Many years ago a dear "Soul Friend" of mine challenged the two of us to read John of the Cross's work "The Dark Night of The Soul". The plan was that we would meet with a view to sharing our reflections as a result of such holy reading.

When we next met, we admitted to each other that we had found it hard-going, this standard work admired by so many Spiritual Directors.

Having said that, taken carefully and slowly, it is a work of insight, that has been an inspiration for the last five centuries to many.

Here are some quotes:

"Never give up on prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty,

persevere in it for this very reason.

God often desires to see what love your soul has,

and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.”

“Our greatest need is to be silent before this great God

with the appetite and with the tongue,

for the only language he hears is the silent language of love.”

" Despite all the mysteries and wonders which have been discovered by holy doctors and understood by holy souls in this state in life, there still remains more for them to say and to understand.

There are depths to be fathomed in Christ. He is like a rich mine with many recesses containing treasures, and no matter how we try to fathom them the end is never reached. Rather, in each recess, we keep on finding, here and there, new veins of new riches.

Would that humanity would at last understand that it is impossible to attain to the thicket of manifold riches of the wisdom of God without entering into the thicket of manifold suffering, making that its consolation and desire!

For this reason, Saint Paul encouraged the Ephesians not to lose hear in tribulations, but to be strengthened and rooted in love, that they might have power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, the height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that they might be filled with all the fullness of God.

For the gate whereby one may enter into these riches of his wisdom is the narrow gate of the Cross. Many long for the delights to which that gate leads, but few they are indeed who are prepared to pass through it."

O God, the Judge of all, who gave your servant John of the Cross a warmth of nature, a strength of purpose, and a mystical faith that sustained him even in the darkness: shed your light on all who love you and grant them union of body and soul in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

In 1976 a young idealistic female doctor went to work amongst the poor in Chile.

She treated a young man with a bullet wound in the leg

and found herself arrested by the secret police.

Her name was Sheila Cassidy.

The account of her subsequent interrogation, torture and imprisonment

was written as an early autobiography called Audacity to Believe,

and tells the story of her struggle to find a faith adequate to her experience.

"Sharing the Darkness" tells her story of continuing to live with the consequences

of her experience in a Chilean prison under Pinochet's regime;

the "Dark Night" of her soul.....

"When one is very low - or at any rate when I am very low,

I search desperately for someone to pull me out.

I talk about it to those who support me

and I long for some anti-depressant pill

which will work a miracle

and restore me to good spirits and high energy.

The really hard thing for me to accept

is that while other people can support me

and hold my hand in the darkness,

it is I who must make the effort to struggle towards the mouth of the cave.

What is the meaning, the deeper spiritual meaning of this kind of experience?

Does it have meaning at all?

I think I can draw two major truths from my own experience

of depression, exhaustion, burnout, whatever it should be called.

Humility - I have to learn and relearn

that I do not have the strength to do all the things I want to do.

I am only human.

I have very human needs.

I need time to myself.

I need to pray, play, read, to be with friends, to have fun.

I have learnt to be very wary of the famous prayer of St Ignatius -

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous,

to give, and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to work and not to seek for rest,

save in the knowledge that we do your most holy will....

Is it really the will of God that we should work ourselves into the ground?

I suspect not!

Anoint the wounds of my spirit

with the balm of forgiveness.

Pour the oil of your calm

upon the waters of my heart.

Take the squeal of frustration

from the wheels of my passion

that the power of your tenderness m

ay smooth the way I love.

That the tedium of giving in the risk of surrender

and the reaching out naked to a world that must wound

may be kindled fresh daily

in a blaze of compassion –

that the grain may fall gladly

to burst in the ground –

and the harvest abound.

Father Ralph Wright, The Benedictine Abbey of St Mary and St Louis

My footfall unsure Walking through shadow I see the light no more Words written in stone Erode, no longer known Deep within I moan, in the Dark night of the soul

Desperation looms large Swallowing me whole Death is left to my charge "Today is a good day to die!" Resounds my battle cry And I abide, by and by, in the Dark night of the soul

Illumination from beyond Reflecting an awareness From shadow I abscond No longer in death, torn But in innocence reborn Rising to a blissful morn, from the Dark night of the soul

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