When God shuts the door to the senses in the first portion of the dark night, he’s leading you into a purer union with himself — one not dependent upon what you do or how you feel, but spirit to spirit.
He’s seeking to give you pure encounter with himself.
John of the Cross identifies two levels of the soul: sense and spirit.
The senses are those faculties that help us understand and experience the world. They’re tied to feelings, to experiences, to understanding, to imagination, and to analysis. The saint calls it “the discursive mind.” At the level of the senses, we take in information — felt or cognitive — and make sense of it all.
But this is a lower plane of connection to God than that of the spirit. The spirit exists beyond the senses. It is beyond “discursive thought” and even imagination. In the spirit, there are no words or images to translate for us. The spirit simply is, pure being, with God.
We don’t know how to live in pure spirit before God, and so God must take us there. This is why the night of the senses happens: so we grow at the level of the spirit in our connection to God.
Here’s how John of the Cross describes what’s happening in the night of the senses:
“God has transferred goodness and power from the senses to the spirit. Unable to make use of these precious gifts, the senses are left fallow, dessicated, void. While the spirit is feasting, the sensory part of the soul is starving; it grows too weak to act. But the spirit thrives on this banquet, growing stronger and more alert.”
Something important is happening here, and it’s something our conscious mind cannot understand and our felt experience cannot access.
And that is as it should be.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about how to live inside this place — what response helps this process along, and what response hinders its progress.