There is a natural cycle of day and night that I have no difficulty acclimating to. There is, so it seems, also a spiritual cycle of day and night. I experience great peace during the spiritual daytime. For some reason I think I am accomplishing something in its brightness. I feel inspired to walk in my vocation as an Oblate and have a certain sense of stamina during these seasons that propels me along as though I’ve been gifted with wings.
I’ve learned though that dark nights can fall at any time and catch me by surprise. It seems they often, in one degree or another, come after seasons of brightness and clarity. Things seem to be going so good. One day I’m are on a mountaintop and the next I’ve fallen like an avalanche to the floor of a deep dark valley.
One day I feel like I’m floating on the clouds above the mountain peaks and the next I feel like I’m buried beneath the weight of the mountain. To know the freedom of the Spirit during the brightness of the spiritual daytime on the mountaintop and then to experience the deep heaviness of the spiritual nighttime in the dark valley can be nearly debilitating. There is a certain sense of depression that accompanies it. This heaviness, this season of spiritual nighttime, is often referred to as the dark night of the soul and I ought not to be surprised by it. Who am I to think that I have some immunity?
When I encounter this spiritual nighttime it becomes more difficult to do the same things that I do easily during the spiritual daytime. It becomes harder to pray. I feel like the heavens have become brass and simple prayers become difficult to express. Reading, even reading the Scriptures, becomes more of a chore than a delight. Though I know and am confident that God has not abandoned or taken his Spirit from me it’s difficult, or even impossible, to sense God as a living reality within my own being.
These can be pivotal times. There is a definite turning taking place and I can either yield myself to its process or I can yield to the temptation to fight against it. It’s much easier to fight against the process than it is to simply wait on it to accomplish its divine purpose.
I am afflicted with the human tendency to want to control my destiny, my direction in life, and this is something that the world supports as personal maturity. But personal maturity, in the spiritual sense, has more to do with surrendering to the Greater Will than with insisting upon my will or interest. Nevertheless, not my will. Dark nights are not necessarily unproductive seasons. They are more intended to be productive seasons where egotism, along with its accompanying cousins of pride and selfishness, are carefully pulled from the furrows of life.
Pressing through the darkness, pushing toward a fresh season of daytime, should not become my objective during these more difficult seasons. I do need to continue, perhaps a little more casually, maintaining some fashion of spiritual discipline. My prayers need to be simplified to more childlike expressions of prayer. Devotional reading from the Scriptures, and other resources, need to be taken in smaller measures.
What I do devotionally is important. But the greater importance resides in what God is doing behind the scenes of my life in places and ways that I am not aware of. In this context, the words of a prayer by St. Philaret are very appropriate. “Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all it shall bring. Direct my will. Teach me to pray. And you, yourself, pray in me.”