Into This Dark Night: What's Also Happening Here

The trees are monsters.

In a previous post in this series, we talked about what’s happening in the night of the senses: God is growing us at the level of the spirit in our connection to him.

But there’s something else happening here too: 

We are growing in virtue and love.

Early in his description of the night of the senses, John of the Cross names seven “imperfections” that plague a beginner’s soul without her knowledge of them being imperfections. These include spiritual pride, spirtual greed, spiritual lust, spiritual anger, spiritual gluttony, and spiritual envy and laziness. 

And he says of the beginner’s journey:

“Remember when she used to seek God through those feeble, limited, and ineffectual manipulations? At every step she stumbled into a thousand ignorances and imperfections! Once the night quenches all and darkens the discursive mind, it liberates her, bestowing innumerable blessings. The soul grows vastly in virtue.” 

Before the night descends, we are inclined to think the things we do and the consolation we experience in our spiritual lives has something to do with us. We love God, yes. But we also love ourselves. And we tend to love ourselves more than we love God or our neighbors. 

The night of the senses is meant to purify us — to make our love more pure and our actions more full of true virtue. 

And so we lose sight of ourselves. And we lose sight of God.

We come face to face with our cravings for good feelings and experiences. We notice how much we want distraction. We see how much we based our self-concept and sense of okay-ness in how we were feeling and how our experiences and activities compared to those of others. 

In short, in the night of senses, stripped of all those other fetters, we begin gaining accurate self-knowledge. We start to see the truth about ourselves. 

And it’s humbling.

This affects the way we begin to relate to God.

We become more humble and respectful. Less demanding and presumptuous. Less familiar and more awe-filled. 

We begin to love God more for who he is and less for ourselves. 

And through it all, as we remain faithful to God and receptive to the truths of ourselves being revealed, we also grow in virtue. John of the Cross says that we grow in patience toward God and ourselves. We become more generous toward others, no longer looking to them as a point of comparison but as people from whom we might learn something. We become more enduring and strong as we cope with the hardships of being surrounded by darkened senses but keep persevering. 

The night of the senses accomplishes many good things, even though it doesn’t feel good — and even though we can’t perceive these good things are happening when they are.

How do you respond to this?