“God as he is in himself can be fully accessed only by pure faith. The purification of faith and love, not spiritual consolation, leads to transforming union… For those enjoying the path of exuberant mysticism (the path described by Teresa), as well for those on the hidden ladder, there comes the further purification of the night of spirit. Even in the experience of the unfolding stages of prayer, the false self is at work, subtly transferring its worldly desires for satisfaction to the good things that are now available on the spiritual path.”
-Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love
In past sessions we talked about the dismantling of the false-self system and in the above quote from Fr. Thomas, we see that despite our best efforts, the false self persists. Up to this point on our spiritual journey we are largely engaged in getting to know this false self as we progress in self-knowledge, what some say is the purpose of a spiritual journey. Mary Mrozowski, one of the founders of Contemplative Outreach, used to say that we should be gentle with our false selves because for most of us it is the only self we know. During the dark night of the soul, as Gerald May reminds us, we are being led by God into places we could not or would not go on our own, the purpose of which is to get to know who we really are in God. The night of sense moves us in that direction but doesn’t quite get us there, so we enter into the night of spirit.
The night of spirit is a more intimate purification where all “felt” experiences of God disappear, but we enter into a process of liberation. In this session’s video, Fr. Thomas describes five significant fruits of the night of spirit. The first is freedom from the temptation to assume a glamorous role because of our spiritual gifts and charisms (humility). The second fruit is freedom from domination of any emotion. Third is purification of our idea of God, the God of our childhood or the God worshipped by the particular group to which we belong. The fourth is the purification of what are traditionally known as the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. And the fifth fruit is the longing to let go of the selfishness that still lingers in us and to be free of every obstacle that might hinder our growth in divine union.
Experiencing these fruits “we are free to devote ourselves to the needs of others without becoming unduly absorbed in their emotional pain. We are present to people at the deepest level and perceive the presence of Christ suffering in them. We long to share with them something of the inner freedom we have been given, but without anxiety and without trying to change them or to obtain anything from them. We simply have the divine life as sheer gift and offer it to anyone who wants it.”
-Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love
“As the dark nights deepen, we find ourselves recovering our love of mystery. When we were children, most of us were good friends with mystery. The world was full of it and we loved it. Then as we grew older, we slowly accepted the indoctrination that mystery exists only to be solved. For many of us, mystery became an adversary; unknowing became a weakness. The contemplative spiritual life is an ongoing reversal of this adjustment. It is a slow and sometimes painful process of becoming ‘as little children’ again, in which we first make friends with mystery and finally fall in love again with it. And in that love we find an ever increasing freedom to be who we really are in an identity that is continually emerging and never defined. We are freed to join the dance of life in fullness without having a clue about what the steps are.”
-Gerald May, The Dark Night of the Soul
- View the video excerpt “The Night of Spirit: Towards Transformation, Part 2” which is about 26 minutes in length.
- Fr. Thomas talks about the inner freedom we have been given, and Gerald May talks about recovering our love of mystery and ultimately the freedom to be who we really are. Where are you on your journey in experiencing or discovering a sense of inner freedom, an inner identity that is continually emerging and the love of mystery?
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.