This is a book for those in transition, those who are not sure of the path forward and are perhaps even less sure of the path from which they have come. It’s for those spiritually suffocated ones who must endure what St. John of the Cross called the dark night of the soul. This condition, explained the 16th-century priest, is characterized by a feeling of abandonment by God, as well as dryness, emptiness, and a distressing awareness of one’s own unfulfilled spiritual hunger. Its a time of doubt, and stumbling around in gloomy clouds of unknowing.
All of a sudden this book became personal. I realized that St John was describing me! Here is what I learned.
The evolution of faith is scary but good.
- We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life’s morning — for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie. — C.G. Yung.
- We must break down our old spiritual structures, cast out false selves. The dark night forces us to stand in the chaos…without such upheaval we would likely go on as always, never deepening, never growing, never being stretched.
- Conversion is a continuous and lifelong process.
- God’s truth often turns up in ways we don’t expect… We’ve built up a callus over (our faith) with our cynicism and the religious certainties that render us incapable of being surprised.
- I have to enter the darkness of my own doubts and come through to a faith that is true to where I am now…previous ways of thinking about and relating to God no longer suffice. Old religious acts no longer bring the consolation they once did. Former patterns and selves feel like outgrown sweaters.
- (The Dark Night) is a time to unravel the story’s and illusion’s that we’ve created about ourselves and God.
- We are being drawn beyond where we are into an entirely new way of relating to God. One that’s beyond anything we’ve ever imagined.
- We are both appalled by the darkness and outraged that old answers no longer work.
- Most people prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty. — Virginia Satir
The one great unalterable, the unshakable pillar of one’s life is his faith convictions, right? You start tinkering with those, and everything falls apart. Indeed, it’s a scary place to be, most notably if you happen to be a spiritual leader by profession. Sadly as doubt’s and uncertainties have crept into my life, I’ve let fear and despair lead the way. Kidd uses the illustration of caterpillar to butterfly to create a hope-filled picture of what is actually happening when it comes to spiritual evolution. Unfortunately, there is such a natural tendency to settle into belief; to sign off on a doctrinal statement and then stop thinking, stop searching, stop being surprised by God. When we do this, we go into a spiritual regression characterized by sharp defences of party lines and legalism. The end of which is death.
Wait, be still, and listen.
- Waiting patiently in expectations is the foundation of the Spiritual life — Simone Weil
- The fullness of one’s soul evolves slowly…waiting is the missing link of spiritual evolution.
- How did we ever get the idea that God would supply us on demand with quick fixes, that God is merely a rescuer and not a midwife?
- We achieve our deepest progress standing still
- We must be emptied of the need to achieve — Meister Eckhart
- Not all who loiter are lost. — Anthony de Mello
- Hope lies in braving the chaos and waiting calmly.
- But we need to allow this disorientation. It’s okay to doubt and to feel the remoteness of God sometimes. We all do it if we’re honest. And if we do nothing else in our waiting, we should be honest with ourselves. The white-outs pass more quickly and stay gone for longer periods in the face of honesty, and we come to a truer faith.
In my dark night, I’ve done the opposite, and it hasn’t helped. I’ve worked harder, prayed harder, read more, and sought to find better answers. These efforts just added fatigue to my discouragement. I’ve stopped trying so hard, my prayer times are more about listening than talking. Sitting quietly on a park bench stilled from all distraction, waiting patiently for God has come to characterize my devotion times more than the consumption of vast amounts of Scripture and the verbalizing of names on endless prayer lists.
In the struggle don’t lose wonder and humour.
- The strenuous process of soul-making does not require the abandonment of Joy. Enjoy “God’s little Jokes”…hold on to the celebration of becoming.
- Our eyes become so faceted on goals that we forget to wonder in the presence of a rose — Sam Keen.
Living well in the tension of paradox and unanswerable’s is spiritual maturity.
- What has happened to our ability to dwell in unknowing, to live inside a question and co-exist with the tensions of uncertainty?
- Creativity flourishes not in certainty but in questions…questions of faith act as agents inviting us to a deeper spiritual experience.
- We must learn to dwell creatively with the unresolved inside of us.
- I beg you…to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves…live the questions now. — Rainer Maria Rilke.
- Living with questions can be a miserable experience we like things fixed, figured out, and nailed down. People who want life nailed down into tight legalistic certainties seem to me to be the people most insecure inside…the most frightening people of all are the ones that are dead certain about everything
- Souls are activated whenever they experience the pain of contradiction or the sustained state of questioning. The actual groping and searching is the way our deeper self evolves and is released.
I don’t have to know. I don’t have to understand fully. Truthfully, on the big questions of life certainty is impossible anyway. Sometimes I wonder if good people like Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell and other apologists have unintentionally turned the journey of faith into a factoid search. I hope not, because that is precisely what kills it.
The trouble is people want answers. If I just pose questions and live comfortably in the tension of mystery how will the church I started ever grow? The question is my problem. Who cares about church growth! I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t. It’s the soul that must grow. Soul growth doesn’t happen through pat answers and attendance records. What is a healthy, soul growing church? It’s a few people on a long journey together asking lots of hard questions! As I reflected on this, it occurred to me to let the tension of unanswerable questions and paradox serve me like my morning stretch routine. Tension is necessary for both physical and spiritual health.