…the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
– John 1:5
The path of contemplative prayer is a continual lesson in consent, each consent perhaps a little more difficult than the last. If you remember in the lesson on the four consents, we are asked to consent to our basic core of goodness, and even that is hard for most of us. In the night of sense, we are asked to consent to dryness in our prayer life, the seeming absence of God. The challenge here is not to be discouraged and give up. When we consent, we discover God is communicating with us at an even deeper level, leading us away from selfish motivations into dependence on the loving presence of God.
In this session’s video Fr. Thomas presents two versions or paths of the unfolding of the spiritual journey. The first is described by St. Teresa of Avila from her experience, and the second is from St. John of the Cross’ experience. Teresa describes felt experiences of the presence of God as stages of prayer beginning with what she called infused recollection, then the prayer of quiet, the prayer of union, and finally, the prayer of full union.
John described another path many people experience that he calls the path of pure faith, a path of moving towards transforming union by way of a hidden staircase. There may be some awareness of the will resting in God, but dryness continues and even bombardment of thoughts in the imagination and memory. Is one way better than another? We only know for sure that each one of us has a unique experience in our relationship with God and whatever we are experiencing is the best way for us. Either path leads to transforming union, which is a restructuring of consciousness.
“The experience of the transforming union is a way of being in the world that enables us to live daily life with the invincible conviction of continuous union with God. It is a new way of being in the world, a way of transcending everything in the world without leaving it.”
-Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love
“If we really knew what we were called to relinquish [consent to] on this journey, our defenses would never allow us to take the first step. Sometimes the only way we can enter the deeper dimensions of the journey is by being unable to see where we’re going.
“We cannot liberate ourselves; our defenses and resistances will not permit it, and we can hurt ourselves in the attempt. To guide us toward the love that we most desire, we must be taken where we could not and would not go on our own. And lest we sabotage the journey, we must not know where we are going. Deep in the darkness, way beneath our senses, God is instilling ‘another, better love’ and ‘deeper, more urgent longings’ that empower our willingness for all the necessary relinquishments [consents] along the way.”
-Gerald May, The Dark Night of the Soul
- View the video excerpt “The Night of Spirit: Towards Transformation, Part 1” which is about 27 minutes in length.
- When we first hear the description of the Christian path leading us towards transforming union, we may be confused by the terminology and how it applies to what we are experiencing. Reflect on the two paths Fr. Thomas describes in the video, Teresa’s stages and John’s hidden staircase. Do you find yourself being led down one path or the other, or some combination? Are you able to recognize that you are being led or “taken” where you might not have otherwise gone on your own?
Audio for this Narrative
Resources for Further Study:
You may wish to read Chapters 15-17 from Invitation to Love (20th anniversary edition), Chapters 14-16 in older editions.
You also may wish to read The Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May.