What is the dark night of the soul? According to psychiatrist and spiritual counselor Gerald May it is not necessarily a time of great suffering, and it isn’t synonymous with depression. The dark night is instead, a time of transisition and liberation from our attachments — a term that might be better understood as addictions, or idols. The idea of darkness refers to things seeming uclear or obscured. The spiritual disciplines that have formerly comforted us and been comfortable to us, lack meaning. We may find that our spiritual life has become dry or unsatisfying. However, instead of longing to have our old feelings back, we yearn for something different, something more.
Drawing heavily upon the writings of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, May discusses the differences between meditation and contemplation, and the signs that one is experiencing a dark night. Both John and Teresa emphasize that the deepest constants of the spiritual life are the same for everyone. It’s always a process of letting go attachments, growing freedom to love God and others, and self-knowledge or awareness of our true identity in God. In relating to this month’s theme, you could say it is surrendering more and more to God. As we mature, we move from self determination to a willingness to be led.
Dark night times come and go. This is not a once in a lifetime experience. It may be dramatic, but more often it is quiet and inner. Gradually hope dawns, things become clearer. In the midst of feeling things are going terribly wrong, we see that something is going just right. God is at work, transforming and changing us.
I agreed with most of what the author had to say. However, at the end of the book he seems to question God’s omnipotence:
“An alternative vision, one that I find repeatedly in contemplative literature, is that instead of God being unloving or arbitrary, God may not be so omnipotent.”
I believe that God is omnipotent (the bible clearly says this) and His plans are good. However, we often are simply unable to fully understand His purposes or see how they are working out. We must simply trust and surrender.
VERDICT: 4 STARS. If you’re wondering about the dark night of the soul, this book is clear and will certainly help you understand the concept and distinguish it from depression.
For more on the dark night of the soul see:
Flee to the Scripture– A Quote by R.C. Sproul