Once we start the healing process during the night of sense, the energy that previously went into satisfying the demands of the energy centers is freed up and becomes available for other purposes. We might say that instead of running on the energy of the false self we are running on divine energy. The freeing of this energy can be quite powerful and sometimes overwhelming, especially if we are not prepared for it. The Gospel suggest that we prepare ourselves by creating two banks in our lives, likes the banks of a stream, so that this energy can be channeled for our good. The first bank is created and maintained through the discipline of our practices and our devotion to God. The second bank is service of others through our state in life, our commitments, and perhaps some ministry.
The two banks prepare us to channel the energy of what Fr. Thomas calls the “unloading of the unconscious” into higher levels of consciousness. The night of sense is a transitional stage in our growth and development where God shakes the ground on which we felt secure and opens us to new ways of seeing and experiencing reality. It is the interior silence, the resting in God, the opening in trust that enables the night of sense to begin its healing work. It is in this transitional stage that we begin to dis-identify with our emotional programs and with our cultural conditioning, which in early life formed our identity, our image of God and our relationship with God. God relates to us wherever we are in our level of human development; the fruit of the night of sense is that we have the opportunity to relate to God in a new way, face to face, being to being, in pure faith.
The night of sense challenges our commitment to the spiritual journey. Commitment in relationship, including our relationship with God, allows us to be vulnerable and let down our defenses, which sometimes causes the dark side of our personality to arise. This is our growing edge, part of the process of purification and transformation. This can be very painful, especially if we are experiencing aridity, that feeling that God is absent, and the loss of our previous spiritual consolations. We may start to have second thoughts about the path we have chosen. In this session’s video Fr. Thomas says, “if you…walk away from your commitment to the spiritual journey, who goes with you? The false self, of course. And wherever you go, you take it and you just have to face it once again under some other circumstances, with some other community, or with some other person.”
“God is calling us in the night of sense to take responsibility for ourselves and for our personal response to Christ’s invitation to follow him. This includes our response to the people we live with and, ultimately, to the whole human family.”
– Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love
“The sun, the clear morning, the quiet, the barely born butterfly from the cocoon under the bench. Solitude – when you get saturated with silence and landscape, then you need an interior work, psalms, scripture, meditation. But first the saturation. How much of this is simply restoration of one’s normal human balance? Like waking up, like convalescence after an illness… I have been coming here into solitude to find myself, and now I must also lose myself: not simply to rest in the calm, the peace, in the identity that is made up of my experienced relationship with nature in solitude. This is healthier than my ‘identity’ as a writer or a monk, but it is still a false identity, although it has a temporary meaning and validity. It is the cocoon that masks the transition stage between what crawls and what flies.”
– Thomas Merton, A Year with Thomas Merton, Daily Meditations from His Journals
- View the video excerpt “The Night of Sense: The Biblical Desert, Part 2” which is about 23 minutes in length.
- Fr. Thomas refers to the night of sense as a transition stage where God is shaking the ground of our security. Last session Gerald May offered, “the darkness of the night implies nothing sinister, only that the liberation takes place in hidden ways, beneath our knowledge and understanding… mysteriously, in secret, and beyond our conscious control…[and] always works to our benefit.” Thomas Merton gives us the image of the “cocoon that masks the transition stage between what crawls and what flies.”
- Where are you on your journey? Have you experienced the night of sense and didn’t have the words or images to express what you were experiencing? Can you take comfort in knowing this is where God is leading you on this journey and that Christians throughout the ages have had similar experiences?
Audio for this Narrative
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.