"One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
—ah, the sheer grace!—
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled."
These words comprise the opening stanza of The Dark Night by Saint John of the Cross. For years, I've heard about the experience of the dark night of the soul. And I've tried my best to avoid the dark night experience and this book because I had no desire for anything that looked like a dark night. I guess that's because I associated "dark night" with depression and I went through that once and I don't ever want to go back there.
However, the dark night experience is a bit different. In describing this stanza, John commented "The soul speaks of the way it followed in its departure from love of both self and all things. Through a method of true mortification, it died to all these things and to itself. It did this so as to reach the sweet and delightful life of love of God."
I've come about a dark night experience in a round-about way, not because I intentionally chose it in order to deepen my love for God. Over the past few months, I've gone through a crisis of belief. Some circumstances have arisen, some words spoken to me and some challenging misunderstandings have occurred that have caused me to go back to the foundations of what I believe. I've questioned almost everything that I've written and taught for the last 15 years. I've agonized over whether I hear God's voice. I've reflected on my journey with God—the big decisions and the little ones. I've woken up with questions. I've gone to bed with questions.
I've shared my angst with close friends who know me well. I've been open about my questions with others. My wife and I have had long conversations about these questions. The answers though have not been found in the answers that have been proposed. In fact, many of the questions have not been answered. In the dark night, I'm learning that the darkness drives me to God, not to answers. I've been asking the wrong questions. My core foundation that has shaped my questions does not go deep enough and my foundation has been shaken. The dark night breaks unsure foundations and causes us to dig deeper. There we see not answers but new questions that are shaped by a new love for God.
God's love is the "urgent longing" not my love for him. My love is too weak, but his love for me draws me out into the darkness. There I find him, the only answer.