Into This Dark Night: The Night of the Spirit Is Darker

A little delicacy.

I mentioned yesterday that the night of the spirit is a difficult reality to write about. Whereas we spent about four weeks exploring the night of the senses (you can find the archive of those posts here), I suspect we’ll spend just a few days on the night of the spirit.

It’s just that profound.

Additionally, John of the Cross tells us that the night of the spirit is much less common than the night of the senses. Most individuals in the life of faith, he says, experience the night of the senses to some degree or another, and often several different times.

The night of the spirit is rare.

And it is incredibly potent and pain-filled for the one enduring it. 

St. John of the Cross uses the word “misery” quite a lot to describe this experience. 

For instance, here’s one way he describes what it’s like:

“In the face of her own misery, the soul feels herself coming undone and melting away in a cruel spiritual death.

   It is as if the soul were being swallowed by a beast and disintegrating in the darkness of its belly, like Jonah when he was trapped inside the whale. She must abide in this tomb of dark death until the spiritual resurrection she is hoping for.”

An interior death is taking place in the night of the spirit. 

In the night of the senses, a kind of death happened, too, but it was more a death of externals. The soulwas learning to depend less on action and feeling. Its interior life was strengthening and growing in love for God. 

Here, rather than dying to externals and what the soul can perceive, the soul is dying to what is left to be purified inside of her. It is, as John of the Cross puts it, “descending into the underworld alive.” 


Tomorrow we’ll look at the why and the how of this happening.