Posted by: James Atticus Bowden | September 30, 2013

The Dark Night of the Soul – 20 Years After

The dark night is far more gloomy than this pic

The dark night is far more gloomy than this pic

The Dark Night of the Soul is a poem and treatise written by Saint John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish poet and mystic.  “La noche oscura del alma” is about the difficult moments of doubt which may torment doubt a Christian believer.  Increasingly popular, it’s less about spiritual crisis and more about personal agony. The expression, Dark Night of the Soul, captures the agony and crisis I had once – 20 years ago.

September 1993.  My Army career had crashed.  Even though I’d been given a powerful message about what I was supposed to do, I grieved for what I loved doing.  Life after Army was boring, unfulfilling, and tedious.  I’d been reading the Bible daily for ten years.  As I tried to do what was right as a Christian husband and father, all the family was mad at me, except the dog and my youngest child – still a precious, little girl.   And I struggled with my sins.

The sin of pride stood out.  Not the outward arrogance of the haughty look and upturned nose – so noted with disgust in the Bible.  It was the inner pride of knowing what I could do and wanting the Lord God to provide supporting fires for my plan of attack – instead of submitting everything – EVERY THING in my life – to God.

There was more, but I need not paint every inch of canvas to make the picture plain.  My parents were already dead – and for years at that.  Etc.  The Dark Night of the Soul was when despair and pain promised nothing but more of the same.  No light of hope.  Nothing.  The more I tried to trust and obey – and live righteously – the worse everything seemed to get.  At work, at home, and with self.  The answers to my most important prayer list were “No, no, no, and wait.”

After one Jerry Springeresque evening, I decide to drive to my cousin’s wedding alone in the middle of night.  There was no point in not sleeping just to wait for the sun.  It’s September 1993.  The days are gorgeously hot with bright blue skies.  The evenings are cooling, but still warm.  I’m driving through rural Virginia with the sun roof open, windows down and the smells of harvest time flowing through.  I’m almost 43 years old and I’m screaming at God.

Screaming in anger and hurt.  “What do You want?”  “What am I supposed to do?”  “Why?”  “I’m following You and look what’s happening!”  Etc.   Crying in self-pity.

Then, thoughts came into my mind.  No voice.  But, words came clearly and I wasn’t thinking them.  I pulled the car over.  I wrote them down.

His Grace is Sufficient.

You can not see your way through, so that you will be broken and – obey and trust. 

You can not see your way through, so that you can feel it and write it for others.

You must hate sin to not sin.  Yearn to not disappoint and hurt God through sin.  Seek a right relationship. 

That was my Dark Night of the Soul.  It may not seem like much to many folks, but for me it was the low point of a long descent into desperation.  It was when I felt the anguish of David’s Psalms in my bones.

You are not alone.  His Grace is Sufficient.

There will be a light in the morning.  God makes all things new – every day.

There is hope.  Hope is life.  Life is hope.

Even if you are martyred in the next moment, succumb to the disease, lose the loved one, question your faith, or find yourself in the deepest, darkest night of despair – you will be okay.  Better than okay.  If you get a right relationship with one, only, true, living God – in Lord Jesus Christ, you’ll be great.  No matter what.  I promise.

Survive your dark night and live in the light.

God is good.  All the time.  No matter what.  No MATTER WHAT.

Thank you, St John of the Cross.  Good night to the darkest night.

Thank you, St John of the Cross. Good night to the darkest night.

Since then, there are been many challenges.  Much tougher, even awful things happened, but these worse times didn’t put me in as dark a place as that night.  There’s never been another Dark Night of the Soul, because when the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to me the first time, it made it the only time.  And, I’m never alone.  Ever.  When I’m by myself, I’m not alone.  He is with me always.

Because of my failings and weakness, it took me many years to learn, really, the fourfold lesson above.  I finally learned by living – the truth and power of each lesson.

Maybe I should expand on these lessons.  For now, let me share my 20th anniversary “for others.”

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Responses

  1. I have been reading old books. I have read too many on Christian teachings, but perhaps I should.

    Submitting to God. Easily said. Hard to do. Doubt we ever stop learning what that means and then doing what God wants us to do.

    I certainly wish a few words would come to my mind. I hope I am doing what I should be doing. I don’t know, but then again I have never prayed earnestly for guidance, and that you did.

    As we grow older, we still have many choices. In some ways, we have even more.

  2. Thanks, CT. You can’t read too many books on Christian teachings. You can’t spend too much time reading the Holy Bible.

    Your witness in the words of your blog is strong. Thank you for the work you do.


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