"Sweet night, in whose blessed fold
No human eye beheld me, and mine eye
None could behold.
Only for Guide had I
His face whom I desired so ardently."
~ St. Juan of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul
When darkness befalls, or when our steps meet paths of unease and obscurity, we must navigate forward, come what may. It is crucial to move straight through, and not fear to confront our nights of the soul. It seems the more active and conscientious one’s life becomes, the more susceptible to exhaustion, and so in this natural course, reflection and retreat become more than medicinal- but maintenance. As with weather patterns, the dark nights happen; they neither pursue nor do we necessarily pursue them. Indeed, along the voyage of the spirit desolate places will dot our unseen maps.
Crossing deep waters and enduring deserts is not necessarily neatly alternated with pastures and respite. At times, an obscurity that begins to lift from the road will abruptly plunge it back into a thick darkness through which we cannot see. But the survivor within us, honoring the adventure so far, sets us toward navigating a dark night of the soul. The only landmarks are those precious assurances we can recollect. Our coordinates, for a time, must be the blessings we can count (and must trust). We travel on, and that movement is the embodiment of our hopes. It is also our refusal to stand still. Our days on earth are of a duration unknown to us, and so we cannot and must not go backwards. A memory comes to mind of an after-midnight crossing of the vast and lengthy Thousand Islands Bridge in torrential rain. It was impossible to see in any direction- or any other vehicles, for that matter. With just a wisp of a guard rail’s punctuation, I just drove straight ahead.
Venturing through darkness with faith means we do not anticipate in vain. Experiences- both those we are assembling and the stories of our friends- attest to the resolve of wholeheartedly engaging the voyage. The ancient Psalmist emphasized that "weeping may endure for a night, but at morn there is rejoicing." Shadows need not always be perceived in a fearful frame of reference. These may be the places out of which we discover our profoundest consolation and creativity. Formless mysteries call to the hearts of those who long to commune with their Creator, and my own journey has brought me to traverse deep waters and ascend through darkness, plumbing the unseen. It’s rather as one who longs to stagger off for a spell, from the scuffed-up playing arena to the sidelines to regather. Or to the darkroom, after recording images upon many rolls of film in the field. The latent impressions must be processed and developed. I have intimately known the texture of the dark as both cradling consolation, and as fearfully foreboding. As a season of the spirit, the Divine darkness is navigated by spiritual means, and for one who writes, the journey is also explored by the written means that have become vital directionals of navigation. And I am now able to keep in mind how critical are the crossroads through which we can guide ourselves away from the lures of dwelling in darkened false securities, choosing the routes that weave through the seamless, edgeless unknowing and out to open horizons. "The light of grace," wrote Johannes Tauler, "raises nature far above itself."