Spanish Carmelite friar and priest, St. John of the Cross (b: 1542, d: 1591) speaks of interior darkness, which must not be confused with depression or grief. Interior darkness, according to John, occurs in two forms in those who want to experience all of God.
First, there is “the night of the senses.” During such times, we feel cut off emotionally from God because we mistakenly perceive God’s light and love as darkness, emptiness and psychic pain. That happens because we are spiritually out of tune, we are used to relying on our senses. God is freeing us from sensory satisfactions, so we are no longer living by feelings. God is drawing us into contemplative prayer even as we continue doing what God has called us to do.
Second, John speaks of the “night of the spirit” during which we are purged from the deepest roots of imperfection. During those times, we feel abandoned by God. Our prayers feel like they are ricocheting off the ceiling. Mother Teresa lived for much of her life in this state. If you love God, these times are agonizing. God allows them to free us from all created things, all worldly attachments, so that He can make us fit instruments who live in lofty union with Christ.
What are we to do during these times?
- Focus on our core identity: We are fundamentally loved by God. That is who we are.
- Reiterate our unconditional surrender to Christ (something we can’t really do unless we are convinced at the core of our beings that God is perfect love and loves us unconditionally).
- Say your prayers. Here is the advantage of written prayers, such as those in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the prayers in the Psalms, or the Lord’s Prayer – during dark nights of the soul, we can’t think of what to say in prayer, but we can still say our prayers.
- Read your Bible every day.
- Keep doing what God has called you to do, whatever that is – visiting the sick, visiting the incarcerated, taking food to the homeless, preaching, sitting with the dying, visiting nursing homes …
Be assured, God is working a deep and lasting work within you.