Most narrowly, the phrase originates from a Spanish poem (Dark Night) centuries ago. Its author wrote explications of the poem which speak of two metaphorical nights that purge the soul to approach divine union during this lifetime.
Divine union. That’s a very rare state, exemplified by a rare subset of Saints, and perhaps the most exceptional of spiritual gurus.
I say “perhaps” because it’s a very mystical, abstract notion—-any description of which demands artistic expression like poetic language. It may be the deepest of paradoxes in human experience, alchemically blending suffering and pure joy. After all, “divine union” is a pretty big notion!
If exemplars are extremely rare, how is their experience valuable to the rest of us? The term Christianity presents Christ to us as an exemplar. Every institution which lays claim to that name is inarguably flawed, in no small measure because none is The Exemplar Itself.
Why does it seem so hard to emulate Jesus and Saints? The records say he said, “My burden is light.” It sure doesn’t seem that way to most of us, most of the time, does it? What are we getting so wrong? I think one source of consternation is how poorly the institutions of his name carry the simplicity of his example. They’re obsessed with grandiosities, or with an us-centeredness, or in our otherness versus the divine. In short, the withoutness of sin.
Jesus Christ is a human person, and infinitely more. Divine. The moment we conceive “more,” its meaning evaporates. So, should we seek to emulate the saints who have most fully experienced the dark night, and to emulate Christ? Of course, but their lesson is that those paths lead to evaporation of any intention to emulate.
Ultimate paradox. Seek and ye will will find. Find what? Answers? However unexpected? I don’t think so.
Maybe what we find is that being is seeking; it is not receiving, not finding, but some inaccessible or indescribable mode of being, like (weakly) that eternal among son, father, and spirit?
How “in the hell” could we know?
What we “know” most easily as human beings is our mortality. That’s at some logical spectrum’s opposite of eternity. Christ unifies those opposites, mortal and eternal. Bodily, spiritually, one.
On another abstract spectrum are poles of joy and suffering. Christ unifies those too. Yeshua’s example as exemplar was not to seek *escape* from suffering and find joy. It was to *embrace* suffering and find joy. Undertake the suffering, but don’t be trapped there eternally. Instead, undertake it for the sake of love, and joy will unfold. Not separately, but unified.
Jesus was/is a person. The saints were persons. You and I are persons. Escape from what we are is absolutely NOT the example of these exemplars. Living and being what you are, what I am, what each of them are. A “light burden” must involve that. The good news can’t be only for the saints and spiritually elite, excluding the everyday person.
Don’t lump together, or organize, or institutionalize humanity collectively. Don’t seek to serve all of humankind. Institutions promulgate institutional thinking, and institutions are artifices of the human mind, not divine. God could not be looking at humanity collectively. Christ didn’t. His tradition wasn’t to baptize all humanity at once. One precious person at time. By another precious person. If you’re pursuing a rule of living — some mindset or practical guide — that does not plumb that profound mystery to its deepest depths, you’re chasing air.
Each exemplar served an individual at a time—-one child of God at a time. They quashed false grandiosity by responding to the call to love — at each ‘given’ moment — the singular child their eyes were beholding, at that moment ‘given.’ Not all of humanity. In fact never even the whole life of one individual. In fact, NO part of one person’s life except for the very moment.
Whatsoever you do to the least of my people… That’s not about an abstract collection of humanity. The face of Christ is not some abstract group at which we should seek to aim our love. You can’t develop any plan for how to act in a future that never comes. Only successive moments come, the future never.
The Christface is in one child of God at a time, as we meet that child, in this moment.
And sometimes, at a moment, that child is within; you too are God’s child. Follow the exemplars’ examples and love your own self. Hard? Let the purgation begin.
Suffering and joy… They are one. When you wrestle with them to separate them in your mind, you lose every time. They are you. Both. And, you are already divine. All in this moment.
The joy and suffering you carry will NOT resolve in any future. Stop pretending it can, and love the one you’re with now, even — and perhaps especially — if that one is merely you. Merely you? There’s no “mere” about you, or anyone else. And this is one way to conceive a dark night’s purpose.
When the night of the senses strips away your fantasies about your being “merely” your sensations and futile thoughts of resolving suffering with some grandiose plan… You’re left with a naked you. And ridiculously, you run away from you, back to less profound states of feeling and thinking. Unresolved.
Neither you nor anyone else will see you as all you are, in your divine power and glory, unless you are naked, and little by little, begin to act, content with your nakedness. Then, as that proceeds, your true clothing fits you much more naturally, so you need not don an artificial persona to present to your self and the world.
If you want a rule and mindset for your future happiness, stop looking for it, or planning it. Seek divine union one child of God at a time. I think, as you do that, you will deepen union with the divine within you, meeting your own very-loving self over and over and over without even seeking that. Meeting your loving-self in that other Christface. That repeated shock of the unexpected is enough to sustain us for eternity, in the image and likeness of our loving Origin.
Forget “One day at a time.” That sort of rule for living doesn’t quite capture, “Live in the moment”—which itself is not easily accessible in cognitive terms, requiring mastery of mechanical practices like meditation. That’s no “light burden” either, for the everyday human being. What IS naturally human is relationship. Relate to one Christface at a time.
We have everything we need. Not for a lifetime. Or even the full day. For the moment. A string of which constitutes a lifetime. And beyond. One Christface at a time.
A shorter synopsis of this article, extricated from Dark Night contexts, is next.
[see also resource index]
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Neil D. 2020-05-13