With the winter sun sinking below the horizon by 4 p.m. in Seattle now, there also seems to be a corresponding dip in many people’s spirits as we enter into the darkest days of the Northern Hemisphere. When all around the culture and religious festivals shout “Rejoice!” some people struggle with grieving the passing of loved ones—glaringly apparent during festive family gatherings, others with Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the appropriate acronym, SAD), and still others with losses of various kinds the holidays can emphasize in painful contrast, like a season sculpted in high relief.
Even if this is not your own reality during the holidays, if you’re human, you’ve experienced down times, pain and suffering, and perhaps even a more intense “dark night of the soul.”
What is this dark night written and spoken about for millennia by saints, mystics and everyday people of faith? All those “d” words come to mind: death, disillusionment, depression, despair, or even worse, dissolution, the void, the place thought of as the absence of everything. Many fear it, flee it, or avoid it until the darkness can no longer be denied, and even when there is no more ignoring the fact that they are smack dab in the middle of it, they resist it to the seventh heaven.
For example, this was recently tweeted (on Twitter for those of you still catching up to the digital age) referencing God:
“I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…”
Sounds like modern day Job questioning epic-sized suffering during a dark night, eh? Alas, no, just Steve Johnson, receiver for the Buffalo Bills football team, after he dropped a game-winning pass. Still, Johnson’s protest is characteristic of responses to God during dark seasons of life.
I am surrounded right now by people who are, if not smack dab in the middle of a dark night, are at least dipping a toe into those deep waters and finding themselves chilled, fearing a frozenness of spirit if they descend into that icy sea.
In my present paradigm (always subject to change without prior notice), I embrace a reality of unity or non-dualism. Darkness is not, from this perspective, the absence or the opposite of light. Darkness is nothing to be afraid of. Darkness is necessary and even good. But in order to not be afraid of it, we need to understand it.
Michael Bernard Beckwith teaches there are three types of darkness:
1) times of deep cleansing: during this type of darkness, our shadow or subconsciousness is brought more into our awareness so it can be integrated.
2) times of gestation: during this darkness it may seem like “nothing’s happening,” but it is a necessary time for the seed to lie fallow underground waiting for the right season to call forth new growth.
3) times of temporary blindness: this darkness happens when the next stage of our growth is so overwhelmingly beyond our current vision that we are blinded by its light and we only see darkness…until we catch up with our soul’s paradigm shift.
My own dark night of the soul (which, interestingly, was NOT my whistle-blowing saga as you who know my story might suppose) in addition to the being all three of the above was also an initiation into mystical spirituality, though I didn’t know that at the time. It would lead many years later to an even greater initiation (now the whistle-blowing saga comes into play!) with a full-blown mystical awakening.
This, in fact, is what I believe is a rarely grasped but crucial nuance in the Job story. After his long and painful dark night, he is initiated into direct communication with God (a signature of the mystic). After God speaks and answers Job with a whirlwind tour of the miracles of the universe, Job capitulates: “Before I had only heard rumors of You (indirect), but now my eye (singular) sees You (direct) [Job 42:5a]. Job’s dark night then is his initiation into unitive vision (another signature of the mystic). Jesus said, “If your eye is single (or one), your whole body is full of light” [Luke 11:34a].
When you can see all as one and God in all, you see darkness or the void for what it is, that space of the pregnant womb, where the new is ever-born. Then you can see God and see as God sees, that “even the darkness is not dark to you, the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” [Psalm 139:12].
One mystic, Mellen-Thomas Benedict, was initiated into the Light, then into the Void/the Absolute during an “after death experience” (his body was clinically dead from terminal cancer for more than 90 minutes). This is, in part, what he says about his experiences with the Void:
“It is less than nothing, yet more than everything that is! The Void is absolute zero, chaos forming all possibilities. It is Absolute Consciousness, much more than even Universal Intelligence. The Void is the vacuum or nothingness between all physical manifestations. It is the SPACE between atoms and their components. Modern science has begun to study this space between everything. They call it Zero point. Whenever they try to measure it, their instruments go off the scale, or to infinity, so to speak. They have no way, as of yet, to measure infinity accurately.
“There is more of the zero space in your own body and the Universe than anything else! What mystics call the Void is not a void. It is so full of energy, a different kind of energy that has created everything that we are. Everything since the Big Bang is vibration, from the first Word, which is the first vibration. The biblical “I AM” really has a question mark after it. “I AM—What am I?” So creation is God exploring God’s Self through every way imaginable, in an on-going, infinite exploration through every one of us. I began to see during my near-death experience that everything that is, is the Self, literally your Self, my Self. Everything is the great Self. That is why God knows even when a leaf falls. That is possible because wherever you are is the center of the Universe. Wherever any atom is, that is the center of the Universe. There is God in that, and God in the Void.”
Benedict’s own death led him to his greatest discoveries, including finding God in the Void.
The one question that seems to be at the heart of dark nights, though, goes right back to Job and to Steve Johnson’s tweet: Why does God allow pain, suffering, and loss in the first place? I myself have worked through this question at deeper and deeper levels and am okay both with this question and the resolutions I have discovered. I am often reluctant to state these resolutions because for me it has been that in searching and staying true to the questions themselves that have emerged in times of darkness, this is when and where the light has been reborn for me. If you can hold on during dark times, calling out for the help you need from God, your angels and your human angel friends, and accept that you are in a dark night rather than resist it and fear it, so much more soul strength and illumination can come. You may even be initiated into the journey of your greatest rebirth, your Self-discovery (yes, capital S, the divine spirit Self).
And so during this season of darkness, that is difficult for so many, I hold space for you in great love and in great expectation of the Light that will shine forth again for you and your loved ones. The pregnant void, the Great Womb that holds all in pure potentiality is ever-birthing the eternal Light. If you can stay true to the birthpangs of this spiritual labor, the newborn Light will dissolve the darkness like the brilliance of the morning sun at dawn and you, too, will become a mother of God.