Near the beginning of our study of the painful night of the spirit, a friend emailed me and said:
“I just can’t comprehend why God would allow someone to experience that.”
We had, at that point in the series, talked about Mother Teresa and her 40 years spent suffering in the dark. We had also discussed that the night of the spirit is darker than the night of sense.
Why? she wondered. Why would God do all this?
In the place of such a challenging concept as the dark night of the soul, and especially the night of the spirit, I find two thoughts very helpful.
The first is that our souls were meant for union with God.
Such intimacy was the intent of creation, and the fall of humanity has made the human journey one that continually seeks re-union. Some mystics throughout history have used the image of a spiral to picture this journey of the soul back toward God througout a lifetime. The labyrinth is another representation of this journey, with the soul advancing ever nearer the center, even as there are turns in the journey that seem to take us away from that point of center.
John of the Cross uses the image of a ladder — similar to Jacob’s — in which we are continually ascending and descending the rungs but ultimately climbing ever higher toward the perfection of union.
Even though the journey is complex and the experience sometimes one of consolation and sometimes one of desolation, all of it is meant for the intent of union.
Such union is our soul’s intended home.
The second thought I find helpful in the face of such a difficult concept is that the soul increasingly desires such union and is willing to endure whatever pain may be required to land upon it.
John of the Cross says that at this point in the soul’s journey, when the night of the spirit comes, the soul is “so in love with God that she would give a thousand lives for him.” She would willingly die a thousand deaths.
She is, plainly, heartsick for God.
“When this love shows up in the soul,” he says, “it finds her ready to be wounded and united with love itself.”
The night of the spirit is one of the most agonizing experiences a soul can endure on earth. But it’s a road the soul, prepared for this journey, is willing to take when it comes.