On April 9th, I began a series of blog posts about a journey of listening prayerfully. These posts will include contents of a devotional talk I made to my travel group during our amazing educational pilgrimage as well as additional insights learned during the time I was in Spain.
Continuing from last time…
When I embarked seriously on accomplishing a single-sentence goal: “I want to learn to be a better pray-er,” I didn’t realize I was embarking on a lifelong adventure.
THE JOURNEY OF LISTENING PRAYER IS AN ADVENTURE—AN ADVENTURE INTO THE UNKNOWN!
Some three years after I determined I wanted to learn to be a better pray-er, I began encountering obstacles. One morning, I was reminded of an uncomfortable truth. As I drove to work, I read the recently-changed reader board at Davis Donuts, a local corner business and hometown gathering place for neighbors who enjoy the camaraderie of swigging morning coffee and munching donuts together. The sign declared:
“A Journey without obstacles will never be an adventure.”
I read that sign during a time when it felt like I was encountering one obstacle after another. I was discouraged. During that season, I was introduced to St. John of the Cross and his writings concerning the dark night of the soul.
My husband didn’t like it when I talked about my dark night of the soul. He thought it was too negative. But, on some deep level, I knew that even though it wasn’t a pleasant time in my journey of faith, it was a necessary time.
Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, I realize now that sometimes the deepest and most important work is accomplished in the winter season when outwardly, everything appears lifeless, like this tree waiting for springtime.
While in Spain I learned much more about St. John of the Cross. Much of the teaching occurred during a bus trip we took over back roads between Toledo and Avila. The forest through which we traveled reminded me of a fantastical candy land. Trees, with rounded tops looked like lime-flavored lollipops. Pink-flowered trees evoked memories of savoring sweet, sticky cotton candy as a child at the county fair.
Visions of lollipops and cotton candy are a stark contrast to John’s “dark night” experience, which is like nothing I’ve experienced and like nothing I want to experience.
John was arrested by the traditional church during the Spanish Inquisition. For nine months he was imprisoned in a 6’ by 10’ airless room. During his incarceration, he was flogged repeatedly and fed a diet of bread and water.
Confined in that cell, the friar’s imagination expanded. He found solace by composing poetry in his mind, and during this bleak, dark season, John learned how to give all his problems to God.
While in Spain, I saw the high window of the castle located by the Tahoe River through which John escaped on a hot night in August. John, who realized he would undoubtedly die in that cell, chose life! His escape was miraculous. The emaciated friar found refuge with the nuns at Teresa of Avila’s convent. Secretly, he was nursed back to health at the convent hospital.
So, what, I ask, can I, a woman living in the USA during the 21st Century, learn from St. John of the Cross, a Spanish friar living more than 500 years ago?
Starla, a young professional woman in our group, has studied St. John and the ‘dark night,’ and provided insights that helped answer my question:
- Dark nights of the soul call us into a deeper relationship with God.
- During dark nights, we learn patience for whatever work God is accomplishing in our lives.
- Tendencies toward greed and self-indulgence become simplicity and moderation in all areas of life.
- God’s work done in the “dark night” is a passive work of the spirit that prepares and strengthens us for future work God has designed us to accomplish.
My next post will look at times when we arrive at junctures in our journeys and must decide which road we’ll take. I call these two roads at a juncture:
The road of “Yes, BUT…” and
The road of “Yes, WHAT…”
What about you?
- Can you identify a “dark night of the soul” in your spiritual journey?
- What learning occurred during that time?
- How did your “dark night” draw you ‘deeper?’
I would love to receive your feedback!
Looking forward to next time…
- Friar – a man who is a member of one of the mendicant religious orders founded in the Middle Ages, as the Carmelites, Franciscans, or Dominicans. [1250–1300; Middle English frier, frere brother < Old French frere < Latin frāter brother] fri′ar•ly, adj. monk, friar – A monk stays in a monastery; a friar does not.