One of the elements of St. John of the Cross’ story that I find immensely helpful has to do with how he came to write about “the dark night of the soul” in the first place.
As I mentioned in the introductory post to this new series, St. John of the Cross was a Carmelite friar. In fact, he was hand-picked by St. Teresa of Ávila early in his life as a monk to work with her to reform the Carmelite order. Eventually, they founded a separate order called the Discalced (or “shoeless”) Carmelites.
Upon the founding of their new order, a great deal of St. John’s work became serving as a confessor and spiritual director to the nuns who lived in St. Teresa’s convent. His writings on the dark night of the soul emerged from having, over time, served as confessor and spiritual director to literally hundreds of people and having seen common themes and turns emerge in the spiritual journey.
What St. John of the Cross wrote about the dark night of the soul, in other words, came from his authoritative witness of hundreds of souls growing in union with God.
I can just imagine it, can’t you?
St. John in his friar’s cell, visited day after day, night after night, by person after person coming to share their soul’s journey with him. Him, over time, noticing patterns, getting a sense of the lay of the land, if you will, of how the soul journeys toward God. Seeing the dips and rises. Seeing the emergence of greater and greater love. Writing a poem about it, then writing extended commentary.
I find all this immensely encouraging.
It tells me that when we find ourselves in the midst of a darkened journey with God, we are not alone. We are surrounded by a historical communion of saints who have also experienced it too.
What’s more, there is purpose here. This is part of what happens in the soul’s journey toward God. This darkened process is meant for our formation.
Through this series, we’ll learn together how and why that is.