Dark Nights and Fatigue

John of the Cross and John Neumann

It is part of the natural development of the spiritual life to pass through the two dark nights (of the senses and of the deeper roots of the spiritual soul), which are really one long darkness as Saint John of the Cross says. It is a “natural”, “normal” thing. What Saint John describes is, of course, the perspective of a soul that is both generous and living a primarily contemplative state of life. What he describes has a very high and universal value (he is, after all, a Doctor of the Church, and this means that his teaching has universal value). But what he describes is not realized in exactly the same way or exactly the same mode in all people.

When Saint John of the Cross says,

nada nada nada y en el monte nada,

“Nothing, nothing, nothing,” it does not mean that this “nothingness” and detachment will be known in the same way for someone in Carmel and for someone living contemplation and/or action on the road and in the mud.

In fact, these detachments from our senses and “our own” will that John speaks about in the two dark nights can have very “ordinary”, very “everyday” causes. On the surface of things, we may simply be pushed to tiredness and want to give up. We may be fatigued. We may lose our senses and our will through that circumstance. This is a common teaching of saints.

For example, in a letter to his parents, Saint John Nepocumene Neumann writes,

When they have toiled for a long time and have found that their hearts, which long for happiness, are not satisfied in the life of the world in work and sweat, they surrender to the Lord in their poverty, and with this now voluntary poverty, contentment, faith, and child-like love of God enter their hearts. Thus, forced like Simon the Cyrene, they carry the cross after our Lord and are overwhelmed with hitherto unknown graces.

This simplicity is very close to what, among many Eastern Fathers, was called ponos: the tiredness that brings us to the point of giving up, not our work, but our own self, so that God can with “hitherto unknown graces” accomplish the work in and for us.

There is nothing extraordinary or unusual in this. It is simply the realization that, to accomplish the duties of our state in life, we cannot retain anything of our own. This realization can progress from one stage to another. We may first feel it mostly as regards our senses and sense consolations. Then, we may see it as regards our will; then we may see it as regards abandonment to providence; and so on.

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4 thoughts on “Dark Nights and Fatigue

  1. Pingback: Little Văn Learns About Ponos | Contemplative in the Mud

  2. Pingback: When the Saints Want to Give Up (Again) | Contemplative in the Mud

  3. Pingback: A Few Words about Ponos in a Letter | Contemplative in the Mud

  4. Pingback: “Contemplative in the Mud” | SOUL FOOD MINISTRIES

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