Into This Dark Night: Introducing the Night of the Senses

Dangle brushes.

St. John of the Cross identified two major stages in the dark night of the soul:  

  • The night of the senses
  • The night of the spirit

The night of the senses is the first to occur, and also the most commonly experienced by those on the spiritual journey. 

So let’s begin with a word picture that might help you identify with it.

Do you remember the beginning of your spiritual journey — the time you were first awakened to God?

You were excited, most likely. There was so much to learn and so many new experiences to be had. You were encountering prayer and Scripture and worship and fellowship for the first time. You were swept into a whole new community, learning a whole new language and inhabiting a whole new world. You were seeing reality through freshened eyes. 

Your senses were overwhelmed with all there was to do and see and learn and experience. You were filled with love and enthusiasm for God and the things of God. You felt fully connected and committed to this new life.

How long did this first fervor last for you? A month? Several months? A year? Several years? 

Do you recall when the fervor dried up? 

It might have felt like dryness. You noticed prayer wasn’t quite that interesting anymore. The Scriptures seemed bland to read. You sat through worship and felt nothing. You said the creeds and sang the songs as though by rote. 

Would it be presumptuous for me to guess that you believed something was wrong with you? Would it be a bit forward for me to imagine that you tried everything you could to make those feelings come back — that you tried a bit harder at every possible thing you knew to try in the book? 

Would I be wrong to suggest you were disappointed when trying harder didn’t work? 

And that, perhaps, you blamed yourself? 

It wasn’t your fault. 

It’s not always true what they say: “If you can’t feel God, guess who moved?”

Sometimes nobody moved. You and God are right there, facing each other, like you always were. It’s just that you’ve entered a new leg of the journey into deeper union with God.

It’s called the dark night of the senses. And tomorrow, you’ll learn what that is.

Can you relate to the word picture described above?