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I'm an Irish guy living in France. I like music, books, creative writing, art, history, vegetarianism, people, and chocolate.

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Saturday 14 June 2008

Dark Night of the Soul

It's been over a year and a half that we haven't been part of any church or community. L works every Sunday so it's not even possible for her to attend anywhere, and I've long given up looking for a place of worship where I feel I can belong.

Yet I don't see my churchlessness as an entirely negative thing. After all, I had become tire
d of the fundamentalists and the crackpots ; tired of hearing the same old moralising sermons or congregation-pleasing rethoric over and over again ; tired of the criticism of anyone different or the promises of health and prosperity. Tired of church in general, at least the way it is done in this city. The only thing I really miss is the sense of community, the fellowship. But even that was never very profound. Superficiality is something we Christians major in.

I don't see my churchlessness as an entirely negative thing. I have learnt more in these past two years than I have in all the previous years of my existence. I don't know if I've grown : I haven't started putting all these things into practise yet. But I've learnt.

But this process of discovery has come with a price. The more I search for the truth, the more I realise I have to leave my old mindset behind, like a dark - but warm - cocoon. I have never felt so liberated as I do now, yet at the same time, I have never felt as scared and
doubt-ridden. In fact, sometimes the only thing I am sure of is Christ. Yet He has never felt as far away. I just can't feel his presence the way I used to. I have never felt as abandoned.

I think this might be my dark night of the soul.

The dark night of the soul is a period in one's spiritual life when one feels lonely and abandoned by God ; it can last for a few days or for most of one's lifetime. I wanted to look into the subject more. St John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish Christian mystic, counter-reformer and poet, first coined the term, in a poem and later a commentary of the same name.
According to St John of the Cross, some of the symptoms are a feeling of abandonment, a fear of losing oneself on the road, of backsliding or of losing one's salvation ; an intense yearning for God while being unable to feel His presence ; a difficult and unsatisfying prayer life.

To explain the reasons why God puts us through this, the poet uses the analogy of a child nurtured by his mother. A day comes when the child, used to the sweetness of his mother's milk, has to let go of her breast, separate from her and learn to walk. The child's weaning is a very distressing period of its life, it loses all sense of security, yet it is essential if it is to grow. In the same way, when someone gets to know God, there is at first a sweetness and a sense of satisfaction when he or she prays or talks to Him. But this is sometimes taken away so that the believer may learn to rely on God without the pleasure of his senses, be it peace of mind or intellectual satisfaction ; so that he or she may learn to grow spiritually, and not to go to God simply to get something from Him, but to seek to serve Him and follow His will.

According to the mystic, it is something that happens to a large number of followers. The book reassured me a lot because it seems to correspond, more or less, to the period I've been going through. John tries to give an explanation for it, which, to me at least, seems rather satisfying. During the dark night of the soul, God tries to make us realise how lowly we are, and teach us to rely on Him even when our senses seem to indicate that we are alone and abandoned.

I just hope it doesn't last too long.

On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy chance!—
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.


Anonymous said...

or..... with out the like minded faith affirming community... it doesn't seem to real.. could be because its not, its a delusion, wishful thinking. As yourself that if you were starting from scratch, from where you are now... and someone started to go on about god and the bible.. whether you would be convinced.

I grant you though... if i could take a 'heroes' memory loss and go back to before i REALLY started to put everything on the table and up for grabs. i might... christianity is like heroin. not that ive tried! (just thought it sounded poetic)

Groovy Shamrock said...

If I was "starting from scratch", as you say, you're probably right : I don't think I'd be interested in Christianity or any other religion. I'd probably be a committed atheist. Partly because I tend to be a rather cynical and pessimistic person. Mostly because of the bad record of people who, throughout the ages, claimed to be Christians. The true spirit of Christ has nothing to do with the Christian religion. The true message of Christ is about love, forgiveness, peace and justice. Sadly, it's not one that has always been followed by the very people who are supposed to...Christians.

Anonymous said...

You don't need to be a Christian to believe in love, forgiveness and justice. You talk about 'the true message' ... how do you know what the true message is...? what does it mater what the true message is?

if you were starting from scratch... you'd be a commited athiest... thats a very telling statement.

Groovy Shamrock said...

I never said that you need to be a Christian to believe in love, peace, forgiveness and justice. But I believe that that is the true message of Christianity. It seems clear to me in my interpretation of the words of Christ.

It matters what the true message is, because many people are claiming to follow Christ without following what I believe his true message is!

If I was starting scratch, I think I would probably be an atheist because of the false image of Christianity which is spread by people who should know better, and because of the culture I grew up in, which is very secular (which is probably a good thing) and tends to be very atheistic.

Anonymous said...

why not start from scratch then? renew. why worry about 'dark nights of the soul' ... you can still follow what you belive the true message of jesus is... with out having the baggage of faith and religion.

can't quite remember who i came to this blog :) must have been a breadcrumb trail

Groovy Shamrock said...

Belief in Jesus' divinity isn't a baggage for me, nor is it even a crutch. It's just something I believe to be true. God is as much a part of my reality as matter is. I don't see any conflict between science and belief in God.
I know this may sound far-fetched to an atheist, and I understand it : but I have a very cynical and pessimistic view of human nature, and I believe only a divine force could inspire a message of love and hope in the way Christ did.

Anonymous said...

Im not an atheist.

And a devine god doesn’t seem far fetched – although im unconvinced. But you’ve said yourself that if you were starting from scratch you’d probably not be a Christian… would the things that made you come to the conclusion of Jesus divinity or the reliably of the bible…not be enough to convince you again?

in which case i presume you wouldnt try to convinve others of something which wouldn't convince you... you seem to say that you 'believe' its true.. but you wouldnt be convinved again if you say, had a memory loss.


Anonymous said...

youre pessimistic about human nature? Why? Do you not think we’ve progressed… socially, medically, politically from the caves, to the middle ages, to the slums in the 17th century, through slavery and misogyny to where we are now… and do you not think we’ll have progressed more in 100 years again? (they’res always ups and downs of course)

Groovy Shamrock said...

These are all very good questions. And which I've often thought over myself.
It's hard to answer your first question, simply because it's hard to think of what COULD have been. All I can do is speculate. If I was starting from scratch, and if I only met "obnoxious" Christians, fundamentalists and so on, I probably wouldn't become a Christian. I would either be a firm atheist, or maybe (but less plausibly) an agnostic. But think that if I met the "right" people, and had read the "right" books, I would come to some sort of belief in the divine, and maybe Christ, even if I was starting from scratch. But in the second case, the perspective depends on what premise you start : if you believe in God, you could say that it's divine providence leading you to knowledge of the divine. If you don't believe in God, you could say it's coincidence. It's a bit hard to guess. But I don't think the reliability of the Bible would be enough to convince me, because it can be interpreted in so many ways. I think I would only be convinced if I met people who seemed to actually act out their beliefs... which is something you don't often see.

Would I try to convince others of something which wouldn't convince me? No, probably not. Even now, I'm far from being a fervent evangelist. If people ask me what I believe, I tell them, but I don't try to convince them that it's true. I don't like forcing things down people's throats. And when I meet people, it's not the first thing I talk about. (I don't know if this is an answer to your question or not, lol!)

Anonymous said...

Hmm you give unexpected answers :)

>>I would either be a firm atheist, or maybe (but less plausibly) an agnostic.

Why do you say this? Why is it more likely you’d be a ‘firm athiest’ than agnostic. Surely we are all born agnostic… some of us make decisions to be believers in the divine… but you can obviously see an argument for atheism… as in… actually thinking there is there proof of there being no god – im not sure its possible to ever prove a negative… therefore I don’t see how anyone can be atheist about anthing… including the Wugga Wugga god that I’ve just made up in my head (it MIGHT be a true god, but as yet there isnt the evidence)

>>I think I would only be convinced if I met people who seemed to actually act out their beliefs... which is something you don't often see.

Im not sure you are being honest with me (or maybe yourself) :) from reading your posts you don’t seem to be the kinda person who is convinved of a diety depending on how nice or loving or charitable the followers are… surely that’s irrelevant. I mean… some muslims REALLY act out their beliefs… but I doubt that impresses you much. The centrtal point is surely, did jesus do what its reported he did… and did he rise from the dead and is that proof of devinty… even if the followers are ALL obnoxious tits .. that wouldn’t effect whether it was factual or not

Groovy Shamrock said...

Actually my view of the human nature is a bit complex and perhaps contradictory, in some ways. I do believe that we have progressed in some ways : there has been some great victories. You mentioned the end of slavery, and a somewhat better position for women in society (thought that still needs to be improved!). So yes, I do believe that this is progress, and I do believe that some people can inspire great change. But I don't these things are won forever. Things can go backwards ; knowledge can be forgotten ; rights can be lost. We need to be vigilant about these issues.
But alongside this progress, there is still the same problems that there always has been : war, hunger, poverty, injustice, crime, and so on. These things keep me pessimistic about the human nature. I believe that man inherited some sort of natural goodness, perhaps from God. But human beings have free will, and most of the time, we chose not to use our "good"s side : we prefer to respond to our second, darker nature : greed, selfishness, pride.
So basically, you could sum it up like this :
- I believe that Man is flawed, but has an immense potential for doing good. Sadly he doesn't often tap into this potential.
- I believe that the world has a sort of double progression : the main one is backwards-orientated, or at least it's keeping the status quo : evil persists, in the form of hunger, poverty, hatred, etc. But there is also a smaller strand of forwards-orientated progression : women's rights, better stewardship of the environment, social justice, etc, which is initiated by a minority of human beings at some points of history. I'm thinking Gandhi, I'm thinking Martin Luther King, but there are many others.

Groovy Shamrock said...

1) If I was a committed atheist, it would be determined by several factors.
First, I grew up in France. The school system here is very, very secular, so there is absolutely no room for religion (except if you go to a private school, which I didn't).
Second, I chose to study literature & some philosophy : the teachers who teach these subjects in France are traditionally committed atheists. I would have been very influenced by them — even more that I was.
Third : I am not, strictly speaking, a Marxist, but was influenced by his thought a lot. I am a sort of utopian socialist, and borderline anarchist, which fits in many ways to my faith. If I didn't have this faith, I would probably have embraced classical Marxism to fill the existential void, and I probably would have embraced the whole package : which inclused atheism.

2) I suppose you're right. People being nice and charitable would probably impress me, but not necessarily convince me that they're right. There are many adorable Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, Rastas, whatever.... "niceness" and goodness don't determine truth. I do believe in Jesus' claims, but to be honest, I couldn't tell you why. There are many, many arguments from both sides, both claiming to refute and to prove those claims. I just seemed to be convinced that it is true. Perhaps partly because I come from a Christian home (but that's not enough, because I've changed my mind about a great many things in life). Partly because it makes sense to me, it fits the experiences I've had in life more than any other system of belief or religion.
To be honest, I don't think I could give you any definite answer. It's really hard to know what things could have been, or even to know exactly why I believe what I believe.

Anonymous said...

- this is in reply to the comment before… ill read your next comment now :)

Hmm ok... havent really thought about it too much.. but let me give you my ‘top of head’ aliens view of humankind (yes, I am a alien)… and see how it sits beside yours

People, like all animals, first and foremost want to protect their lives (which they instinctually hold sacred) and that of their family and loved ones. They have a need for food and shelter so they compete with others for that and work with others in their community in terms of ‘division of labour’

Inevitably there are conflicts of interest which cause wars and crime and the need for societies to police this for the good of all. People are largely and (growing evermore) empathetic with those in their communities and other communities. The humans have also created a system of taxes where the more money they earn the more they pay to help the less fortunate have food/heathcare/shelter.
They also, through the growing speed of media and news feel that their well being is invested in the well being of others around the world… and the general well being of the planet.

I can’t think of a century over the last 1000 years (say) that it would have been better or more tolerable to live in the century before. Progress is undeniable… bar the occasional hic up. Reason, rationality, education and intellect have been the drivers for this.

Pessimism regards humanity is unfounded.

Anonymous said...

I was raised in a Christian family too... and was a committed Christian until i decided to see what happened if 'started from scratch'. Whoops a daisy.

Groovy Shamrock said...

Qmonkey, thanks for summarizing your view of humankind. I actually do agree with some parts of it. Actually, coming to think of it, it's hard for me to describe myself either as a pessimist or as an optimist regarding humanity. I believe in something in between the two, or maybe transcending the two. As I've said before, I do believe human beings to be flawed, which is, in my view, the reason why evil persists. At the same time, I believe that they were made to reflect God (whom I believe created them) in certain ways, which is why they are capable of bringing light into the world. I suppose that, at the end of the day, my views about progress, humanity and the future are best explained in the context of my belief in(and interpretation of) Christianity. I'll not give you the whole shebang as you were raised in a Christian home so you know the story. But I believe that Christ's resurrection prompted in a new order of things (or "kingdom" as it is classically put), which, although it will only be fully implemented in the future, has already been inaugurated in the present : this is why light is sometimes brought into an otherwise dark world, this is why progress DOES happen, this is why there is hope. But evil, for the moment, still exists : like the hiccups you mentioned. And now for what I believe about the "end times" : I know that this a much-derided belief, and that I'm probably making a fool out of myself, haha. But here goes. I believe that the whole of the world will be transformed and renewed — "healed" of its wounds, whether ecological, social or political — by a returned Christ, and that the dead will be given a new body, immortal and incorruptible. And that they will enjoy the new transformed world, and enjoy it, but also continue present-day activities (music, painting, art, social interaction, you name it!) in ways never dreamt of before, to the greater glory of God. (I don't believe in the traditional image of playing the harp with angel wings in the clouds). So I guess that, in the long run, I'm an optimist! And, you might think, slightly crazy as well. =P

Anonymous said...

I don’t see that evil persists... I see no evidence at all for ‘evil’. Well, from a non-argumentative view point, I guess I do see why the idea of good/evil is presented as a theory.

I think its a similar reason that the ancients gave names and personifications to sun gods and river gods etc... volcanos as a result of upsetting vulcan etc etc

To my mind most/all positive things that have happened to the human race have been enabled by the application and increase of rational thinking, evidence based inquiry and the like… not a drip drip revelation from god. In fact as see no evidence for this.

You’re sure, yeah?

Groovy Shamrock said...

If you don't see evidence of evil, what do you call "it" then? Like the hiccups you mentioned before, you must have a name for the drawbacks, the backward steps in the progress of humanity?

I do believe in rational thinking, alongside faith. I don't see them as mutually exclusive.

Anonymous said...

I think these backward steps have mostly come (though not exclusively) through the abandonment of rationality… like the middle ages when religion and fear of hell fire really took hold… too much faith I might say (cheekily). Mostly though… building cohesive societies and communities and world communities isn’t easy... generally we’ve gotten better at it… some people do ‘bad’ things according to our current agreement (homosexuality was ‘bad’ up till the last 100 years or so, until the common assent gradually changed)... people kill/steal/cheat for a number of reasons… a lot to do with up bringing and circumstances (along with possibly some genetic propensity).

I’m no expert… and it’s an interesting area… but I think it’s a bit easy to cry EVIL.

Remember, a lot of what each of us believes to be self-evident… is that what we’ve been taught from a young age. Only 10% of people leave/rebel against the religious/world view of their parents.

>>I do believe in rational thinking, alongside faith. I don't see them as mutually exclusive.

Of course, I think we all do to a point (I don’t fully understand aerodynamics, but I get in a plane)… as long as you replace the faith with the rational thought as answers become apparent. Eg don’t keep hanging on to the sun god in the face of new evidence… or the volcano god in the face of knowledge re: tectonic plates… or indeed the hey-presto creator god in the face of contrary evidence.

Groovy Shamrock said...

Well, we'll just have to agree to disagree. ;)
I don't believe that reason alone has brought "good" or progress to the world.
But I would maintain that rationality and belief in God aren't irreconcilable. I do not believe it is unreasonable or irrational to believe that a God created the natural laws. In fact, many during the Enlightenment were deists. For me, the supernatural per se doesn't exist; Rather, everything responds to laws of nature put in place by God, even if we don't know all of those rules. I believe that even "miracles" can be explainable by science. Which doesn't make them any less special.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure i disagree all that much.. which is what's interesting.

i have no problem with 'miracles' that are explainable by science. My son is a 'miracle'... i've got a problem with delusion though - god helped me find my car keys or cured my cancer because i prayed hard.

I've also no real problem with deism.. you're right, the likes of Thomas Paine where deists.. though i'm not sure they would have remained so post-Darwin. Before the realization of evolution it was hard to get past the question of... how the flip did we just end up being here... the question still exists of course, but thats whats so exciting about life. Saying 'god did it' serves an algebraic purpose, but not much else (in my humble opinion).

Groovy Shamrock said...

Actually, a lot of Christians accepted Darwinism without too much trouble. (Being created from a monkey or from dust : after all, what's the difference?). It's mostly in the 1920s with the rise of fundamentalism in the US that it became an issue...
There was also a French Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who was an important palaeontologist, and a prominent evolutionist.
I understand your "'saying God did it'" argument. It's like what they call the "God of the gaps" : whenever there's something which is (as yet) unexplainable by science, some people give a supernatural explanation to it.

In theory, I wouldn't need to see the need for a God for the creation of the world. What I mean is, it's not to fill a void or a misunderstanding of science that I believe in God. No one can prove the existence of God ; no one can prove that he doesn't exist either. God has just always been part of my reality : even when I didn't want him there.
What my belief in God gives me some answers to (or at least, helps me ask the right questions, I believe)is not the "how" of things, but the "why". Metaphysics, not science. But then again, that's not the reason why I believe in him.
So why do I believe in him? That's a very complicated question, for which I have no complete answer yet. And it kinds of brings us back to your first question (about starting from scratch). I can only guess. I know it can partly be explained by the context I grew up in (geographic location and culture). But somehow there's more — much more — to it than that.

Anonymous said...

>>Actually, a lot of Christians accepted Darwinism without too much trouble.

Of course. I was just using those who don’t as an example of delusion. I find it useful to analyse the delusion in others – then in that light examine my own beliefs.

>>So why do I believe in him? That's a very complicated question

May I assume then that you have had no external revelation? Eg, if I’d had an external revelation from the Ungo Bongo mountain god, then that’s why I would believe in it. The other way, is to accept that the bible (NT) is reliable reportage and enough evidence to decide. (as opposed to being benignly indoctrinated as a child – as most non-christian faith people are (I would submit, and you may agree)). Don’t fear life without belief in god... it works just as well (no dark soul nights required).. and its nice being shot of mumbo jumbo and wishful thinking…

Groovy Shamrock said...

I didn't have any external revelation heaven-opening-up-to-earth-style or angel visitation or Zeus popping up on my door or whatever. I accept the gospels as sufficient evidence to ground my belief. There again, there are so many debates and arguments on both sides, both with convincing "evidence" that the gospels are actually historically correct or that they are fabrications or what-have-you. So in the end, I could chose to believe in either theory. It just so happens that the gospels-as-truth seems to me to be the more plausible explanation to me, whether from what I observe from the world around me or from my experience.
I don't fear life without belief in god. I just don't believe that life is without God. I'm not going to give up something which I believe is true just because I hit some dark times from time to time. More importantly, I'm not going to give up someone I love just because things aren't going as well as I would like. God isn't a crutch for me. It's not some mumbo jumbo I believe in to make my life easier - (it doesn't, by the way). I just believe it to be the truth, and whatever I go through emotionally, I don't want to give up something - someone - I believe to be true.

Anonymous said...

>>It just so happens that the gospels-as-truth seems to me to be the more plausible explanation to me,

But Mohammad getting instructions from Gabriel isn’t plausible? Even though the writing is 500 years younger… why do you think so many smart rational people are Islamic? 28ish % of the world isn’t it… and why are only 30% of the world Christian? Is that he smartest 30%?

If I come to a different conclusion to you on the ‘gospels-as-truth’ conundrum.. am I dammed? Seem a bit harsh to you? Does that fit in with the the loving god narrative? If I take a look at the idea of the gospels actually being reliable narrative and think… nah.. cause .. say .. im too dumb. Im dammed to hell, or at least a life without knowing my creator god. Plauseable ?

Groovy Shamrock said...

I said it was plausible to me, not to everyone else. I'm saying it makes sense to me, I'm not assuming it's the same for everyone.
Being smart doesn't have much to do about religion or faith.

I don't believe you are damned if you don't believe the same as I do. I believe God is loving and accepting. Who am I to judge? Why put limits to God love? I, for one, will not.

Emerald Champagne

rambling on...

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