My food is to do the will
of the one
who sent me
and to finish his work.
– John 4:34
The night of spirit is designed to free us from the residue of the false self in the unconscious and thus to prepare us for transforming union with God. It is an intense course in humility, purifying the secret satisfaction of being chosen as the recipient of God’s special gifts. It greatly reduces our attachments to the programs for happiness and frees us from the domination of our emotional programs and cultural conditioning.
Even more importantly, our view of God changes; the God we thought we knew seems to disappear completely and we are reliant on the interior experience of darkness, or emptiness, of the inner room where God’s language is silence. On the exterior, like Elijah on Mount Horeb, our daily life becomes a place where God moves with a gentle whisper. As the sights and sounds of God change, we find ourselves becoming attentive to the relationship in a different and deeper way.
With fewer obstacles within, the free flow of grace brings forth the divine light in us, and faith, hope and love begin to emerge. More surrendered, we feel an inner longing to give ourselves to God, to let go of ourselves and submit to the divine plan for our lives. We begin living ordinary life with extraordinary love — through the love of God.
“The freedom of love and realization of union leads to active participation in God. Here one not only recognizes one’s own beauty and precious nature, but also shares God’s love and compassion for others in real and practical service to the world.
“When we begin to grasp the breadth and depth of this vision, it becomes obvious that we could never achieve it on our own. It seems a miracle that it could happen at all.”
– Gerald May, M.D., The Dark Night of the Soul
“There will be times when contemplatives feel they cannot pray anymore. All that is left to them is the desire to pray, sometimes buried under enormous difficulties in daily life along with interior purification. They need to be reminded again and again that the desire to pray is itself a prayer. St. John of the Cross wrote with great insight, ‘Love consists not in feeling great things, but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved.’ The love of God is not a question of feeling but of choice, and this choice is put to the test… Thus someone who wants to pray is praying, and someone who wants to love is loving as long as he or she continues to remain available both in prayer and daily life to the Divine Therapist.”
– Thomas Keating, Intimacy with God
- Listen to the audio recording about the night of spirit between Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler and Mary Anne Best. It is about 20 minutes long and was recorded for the online retreat “Silence and The Spiritual Journey: Lent” in March 2015. In this recording, Gail and Mary Anne share the work of God’s miracles within them, even amid experiences of great emptiness and humiliations. Gail advises, “You know, we have everything we need. We have all the virtues. We have everything we need for this journey – it’s already inside of us. It’s the Indwelling Spirit that lives and breathes us, but we don’t have any awareness of that because of the overlay of what we call the false self or the emotional programs and all our doubts… As this opening happens, it really could have the feeling sense of being emptiness or a void. But on the next level, it’s a pathway for faith, hope and charity to arise in us…and for them to take over our inner motivations.” Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler is one of the founding members of Contemplative Outreach. She served as Executive Director for many years until her retirement in 2016.
- Reflect on the teachings of the dark nights 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?
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.