54: Night of Sense: The Biblical Desert, Part 1 (cont.)

Photo by Ron Barnett

Remember these things…
I formed you…
I shall not forget you.
– Isaiah 44:21

“Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection…says, ‘People would be surprised if they knew what their souls said to God sometimes.’ Centuries before Freud ‘discovered’ the unconscious, contemplatives such as Brother Lawrence, Teresa [of Avila] and John [of the Cross] had a profound appreciation that there is an active life of the soul that goes on beneath our awareness.  It is to this unconscious life that Teresa and John refer when they use the term ‘dark.’

“When we speak of darkness today, we are often referring to something sinister… [T]his is not what Teresa and John mean when they use the Spanish word for dark, oscura… ‘obscure.’  In the same way that things are difficult to see at night, the deepest relationship between God and person is hidden from our conscious awareness.

“In speaking of la noche oscura…John is addressing something mysterious and unknown… profoundly sacred and precious beyond all imagining… It is the secret way in which God not only liberates us from our attachments and idolatries, but also brings us to the realization of our true nature. The night is the means by which we find our heart’s desire, our freedom for love.

“…[It] is a totally loving, healing, and liberating process.  Whether it feels that way is another question entirely… The only characteristic of the dark night that is certain is its obscurity.  One simply does not comprehend clearly what is happening.”

– Gerald May, M.D., The Dark Night of the Soul


Remember: This is a gift, born of the love of God, to bring us to God.  The greatest struggle is not to become discouraged, to think something is wrong, confuse what is going on with depression, abandon the spiritual journey, or to listen to voices within and without.

At some point in our journey, a pervasive sense of God’s absence begins to manifest itself during prayer and spreads into every area of our life. This is actually the beginning of a deeper union with Christ. Most of us, however, do not experience it that way. When the biblical desert opens up within us, we worry that something is going wrong in our relationship with God. [Isaiah reassures us]: “Remember these things. I formed you. I shall not forget you.”

“How ought we to listen to the Word which is spoken to us in the depth of our hearts at every moment?  If our senses and reason do not understand or penetrate the truth and goodness of that word, is that not on account of their incapacity for divine truths?  Should I be astonished because a mystery disconcerts my reason?

“God speaks: it is a mystery…A mystery is life to the heart through faith, but for the rest of our faculties a contradiction.  The divine action kills and vitalizes with the same stroke; the more lethal it appears, the more we believe it to give life; the darker the mystery, the more light it contains.”

– Jean-Pierre de Caussade, The Joy of Full Surrender

To Practice
  • Listen to the audio recording about the night of sense between Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler and Mary Anne Best which is about 15 minutes long and was recorded for the online retreat “Silence and The Spiritual Journey: Lent” in March 2015.
  • Sometimes people use the term “dark night of the soul” to mean an experience of bad or hard times in life. Father Thomas in Invitation to Love says, “Our ordinary ways of relating to God are being changed to ways that we do not know. This pulls the rug out from under our plans and strategies for the spiritual journey. We learn that the journey is a path that cannot be mapped out in advance [by us].” We come to learn that the spiritual journey is mostly God’s work and our YES.
  • Reflect on today’s teachings and this journey God is leading us on, listening for a word or phrase that speaks to you. What do you hear that inspires you to persevere on this pilgrimage?



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Audio for this Narrative

“Night of Sense,” with Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler and Mary Anne Best from “Silence and The Spiritual Journey: Lent,” online course, March 2015 (15 mins.)
For English captions and auto-translation of subtitles, watch here on YouTube:
To download this audio (English only) click here:

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Resources for Further Study:

You may wish to read Chapter 11 – 14 in Invitation to Love (20th anniversary edition), Chapters 10 – 13 in older editions.

You also may wish to read The Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May.

Additional Resources