Two types of “being lost” can be very spiritually dangerous. We have all lost something—car keys, money, perhaps a child in a busy mall. I remember the deep bewilderment I felt in the Frankfurt, Germany huge airport when I got separated from my travel companions and missed a connecting flight. The languages over the intercom were not English and hundreds of people were rushing here and there to make their flights. In the midst of all that airport hurry, I felt lost. Lost is separation. We, until conversion to Jesus Christ, are separate from God in terms of an intimate covenant relationship.
Do you have an experience with the dark night of the soul? What have you learned?
John Newton wrote about this lostness in his famous hymn “Amazing Grace”— “…I once was lost, but now am found…” Jesus told a story of two lost sons (Luke 15)—one was lost geographically, the other relationally. The youngest son went to another country. The eldest son stayed in the father’s house, but was deeply separated from his father’s heart: two kinds of being lost.
In his riveting book, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, Jon Krakauer writes, “For the next two hours, Beidleman, Groom, the two Sherpas, and the seven clients staggered blindly around in the storm, growing more exhausted and hypothermic, hoping to blunder across the camp. … ‘It was total chaos,’ said Beidleman. ‘People are wandering all over the place; I’m yelling at everyone, trying to get them to follow a single leader…’. ‘We tried to keep warm by pummeling each other,’ Weathers remembers. ‘Someone yelled at us to keep moving our arms and our legs. Sandy was hysterical; she kept yelling over and over, ‘I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!’” Krakauer reports that some climbers simply walked off in panic and were never found. Lost.
The other type of being lost is what St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul.” John was a Spanish Carmelite monk (1542-1591), a student of philosophy and theology. Teresa of Avila and St. John were contemporaries. St. John defines the ‘dark night.’ “The ‘dark night’ is when persons lose all the pleasure they once experienced in their devotional life.” The experience feels like God does not exist. St. John suggests that God wants to wean us from depending even on our own consciousness and experience of God. This is pastorally challenging territory. Some folk just cannot fathom the dark night of the soul and end up jettisoning their faith. Had they the will to persevere, the God on the other side of the dark night would be closer, bigger, much more loving. We’ve produced an American infantile spirituality that requires God to be our security blanket. What if God “disappears”?
St. John of the Cross describes new believers as eagerly devoted to Christ and rigidly disciplined in spiritual practices. In their following Jesus they develop a “secret pride.” They become “too spiritual,” condemning others who are not as spiritual as they are. They stay disciplined in order to be esteemed by others. They begin to avoid confession because confession may ruin their image. They become more spiritual for their own sake, not for God’s. Enter the dark night. The dark night is a purging work of the Spirit. John writes, “For the truth is that the feelings we receive from the devotional life are the least of its benefits. The invisible and unfelt grace of God is much greater, and it is beyond our comprehension (emphasis added). …For true spirituality consists in perseverance, patience, and humility. …No soul will ever grow deep in the spiritual life unless God works passively in that soul by means of the dark night.” The dark night is called dark for a reason; it is an inner darkness that makes one feel like he or she is wandering toward the inky abyss. Pastors must know this hard terrain in order to offer spiritual direction so that all is not lost.