Into This Dark Night: When the Night of the Senses Ends

He has my heart.

We’ve spent several weeks venturing into the terrain of the night of the senses, which is the first portion of the dark night of the soul.

What happens when it ends? 

John of the Cross teaches us that a time of consolation and strength sets in. We learned on Friday that, eventually, love is enkindled within us and we become more and more consumed by that love, without really knowing how it got there or how it continues to grow.

God has done it, and we begin living into it.

Once we emerge from this portion of the dark night, John of the Cross also says this: 

“In this phase, the soul is like someone who has escaped from prison. She goes about the things of God with freedom and satisfaction. Now that the faculties are no longer attached to the discursive mind or troubled by the spiritual anxiety that used to bind the soul, her interior delight flows more abundantly than it ever did before she entered that first dark night. Without the labor of the intellect, she now finds within her the most serene and loving contemplation and spiritual sweetness.” 

Freedom. Interior delight. Serenity. Spiritual sweetness. 

I just love that. Don’t you?

The saint also tells us that the soul, upon emerging from this night of sense, begins to cultivate mastery of the spiritual life:

“What joy! The soul has emerged victorious from the tribulations of the night of sensory purification. She has risen above the state of the beginner and entered the state of the adept. God may not immediately move her into the night of the spirit, now. Instead, the soul may spend years cultivating mastery before she is ready to face the impenetrable darkness that leads to union.”

I can just see the soul going along with increasing strength and ease on this other side, firmly and continuously practicing the disciplines of the spiritual life from a new place than she did before — not based on what she does or how she feels, but from a rootedness in her belonging to God and the love and connection to God she received in new doses while enduring the night of sense.

Before we discuss the second phase of the dark night of the soul — the night of the spirit — I want to say a few things to wrap up our learnings about the night of the senses: 

  • The night of the senses can last a long or a short time. 
  • It can also repeat itself.
  • God may choose to apply a light or heavy hand of the darkened senses to a soul enduring such a season. 
  • The strength or lightness of the experience is based upon what God deems most fitting and endurable for each individual soul.

In other words, there is no formula. 

But as we have seen through our exploration these past few weeks, it is a worthy trial. God has deemed the soul ready for such a journey. And while it is confusing and painful and sometimes disillusioning, it is meant to be so. 

God is doing good work in the soul, and it is work we cannot do for ourselves. 

It is wholly grace.