Courage, Darkness, Faith, Fear, God's Faithfulness

Dark Night of the Soul

A photo by Tobias van Schneider.

When I walk through the darkness, I do not walk alone. Even though I feel utterly alone, the presence of God is real. Dark times of life are sometimes called “Dark nights of the soul.” A dark period of life is felt as a deep-seated spiritual crisis.

One person who experienced this is Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Ten years after her death, a collection of her private letters was published. The letters revealed that, for the entirety of her public ministry, she endured unceasing feelings of desolation and abandonment by God, her dark night of the soul. It persisted from 1948 almost up until her death in 1997, with only brief interludes of relief in between.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a 19th-century French Carmelite, wrote of her own experience. Centering on doubts about the afterlife, she said, “If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into.”

So when we experience such darkness, we can at least know we are not alone in the experience. Still, dark nights of the soul are frightening and very real. They challenge our faith and make us question our relationship with God. Sometimes they happen suddenly. But more often, they are the result of a great loss or disappointment, triggered by some external event or some disaster.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes this from her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.

When we can no longer see the path we are on, when we can no longer read the maps we have brought with us or sense anything in the dark that might tell us where we are, then and only then are we vulnerable to God’s protection. This remains true even when we cannot discern God’s presence. The only thing the dark night requires of us is to remain conscious. If we can stay with the moment in which God seems most absent, the night will do the rest.

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