The Dark Night of the Soul
Publication Date: April 1, 2010
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"There are others who are vexed with themselves when they observe their own imperfectness, and display an impatience that is not humility; so impatient are they about this that they would fain be saints in a day. Many of these persons purpose to accomplish a great deal and make grand resolutions; yet as they are not humble and have no misgivings about themselves, the more resolutions they make, the greater is their fall and the greater their annoyance, since they have no the patience to wait for that which God will give them when it pleases Him."
"These persons, in communicating, strive with every nerve to obtain some kind of sensible sweetness and pleasure, instead of humbly doing reverence and giving praise within themselves to God. And in such wise do they devote themselves to this that, when they have receive no pleasure or sweetness in the senses, they think that they have accomplished nothing at all. This is to judge God very unworthily; they have not realized that the least of the benefits which come from this Most Holy Sacrament is that which concerns the senses; and that the invisible part of the grace that it bestows is much greater; for, in order that they may look at it with the eyes of faith, God oftentimes withholds from them these other consolations and sweetnesses of sense."
"These persons have the same defect as regards the practice of prayer, for they think that all the business of prayer consists in experiencing sensible pleasure and devotion and they strive to obtain this by great effort, wearying and fatiguing their facultires and their heads; and when they have not found this pleasure they become greatly discourage, thinking that they have accomplished nothing."
"These persons likewise find it irksome when they are commanded to do that wherein they take no pleasure. Because they aim at spiritual sweetness and consolation, they are too weak to have the fortitude and bear the trials of perfection. They resemble those who are softly nurtured and who run fretfully away from everything that is hard, and take offense at the Cross, wherein consist the delights of the spirit."
"This is the first and principal benefit caused by this arid and dark night of contemplation: the knowledge of oneself and of one's own misery."
I'll confess up front that I have not read the book in its entirety yet as a Spiritual Guide who has a solid foundation in Carmelite Spirituality has advised that I read two other works by St. John of the Cross first before diving in to "The Dark Night of the Soul". I am now in the process of reading the second of those two "prerequisites".
I've scanned the book several times and look forward to the day in the near future when I can delve into this book in earnest.
This book requires a very particular timing. At times I've tried to read this book and the words just wouldn't really sink in. I picked it up again when I felt I was experiencing some spiritual desolation, and I feel this book helped me realize the big picture. It shows you that God is working within you to purge various attachments, and that what is happening to you is not fruitless. It does have a purpose. It's a difficult read, but worth it if you're undergoing desolation.
How could I give this anything but five stars? This is an irreplaceable book in the Western tradition on the spiritual life. Every priest and spiritual director ought to study it carefully.
I do not, however, think that everyone should read this book. Everyone serious about the personal prayer life should learn the basic principles in some way. But those who have not had good catechesis, or are too young, or who struggle with a lot of anxiety, or are dealing with scrupulosity, should postpone reading this book directly until a later time. I read it meeting all of these conditions and the result was nothing short of disastrous. However, now I find the principles indispensable, even though I don't feel ready to read it all anytime soon.
If you want to learn the principles of this book, but do not think you are ready to read St. John of the Cross, you might consider Upon this Mountain: Prayer in the Carmelite Tradition by Mary McCormack, OCD. (I wish Tumblar House carried this title.) She takes the basic principles of Dark Night and translates it for the "average" person, in a much more gentle manner, and through the lens of St. Therese.