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Healing in the Dark Night

“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.” ~Christine Caine

From December 1987 through June of 1988, about 7 months, renowned priest, writer and theologian Henri Nouwen went through a time of deep anguish during which he wondered whether he would be able to hold on to his life. Everything came crashing down – his self-esteem, his energy to live and work, his sense of being loved, his hope for healing, his trust in God… everything. Here he was, a writer about the spiritual life, known as someone who loves God and gives hope to people, flat on the ground and in total darkness.

A dark night of the soul it is sometimes called. It can be caused by something, or by nothing. But it feels like darkness hanging as heavy as old velvet drapes obscuring any trace of light. It feels like trying to slog through quicksand. It feels empty, alone, desperate, exhausting, scary, hopeless and filled with despair.

How do we get through when we feel like we’re dying inside? And we’re dying alone. Not even God seems to care. And if God doesn't care, then how do we trust God… or even believe in God? Is healing even possible in this miserably dark place?

To begin to answer these questions, lets look at the very beginning of the Bible, the first few lines. I believe our creation myth holds the metaphor we seek to bring us hope. The story says after the Spirit created the heavens and the earth, somehow it all fell into darkness, chaos and emptiness. Yet, the Spirit of God was brooding over the waters, the way a bird might brood over the eggs in her nest. It is a word that elicits a sense something is in the making, the mighty breath of the Divine is working to recreate and restore that which was destroyed.  It is as if the darkness is an egg in a nest, or a womb, a place where new life and new creation begins to form out of chaos.

What happened with Henri Nouwen? He writes that “Going to L’Arche and living with very vulnerable people, I had gradually let go of many of my inner guards and opened my heart more fully to others. Among my many friends, one had been able to touch me in a way I had never been touched before.”

But the success of the friendship became its nemesis. Nouwen said, “I became possessive, needy, and dependent, and when the friendship finally had to be interrupted, I fell apart. I felt abandoned, rejected, and betrayed. “ Nouwen left L’Arche and sought help from psychological and spiritual counselors. He spent 6 months in a womb of therapy and seclusion. As it turned out, it became, in Nouwen’s words, “A time of intense purification… new inner freedom, a new hope, and a new creativity. “

It was in the darkest, most confusing, most chaotic time of my life when I was forced to go deep  within and discover my true self and find the voice that would lead me. It was there I cried out in pain to God, “Why?” It was there I really heard no answer, because the answer was to go deep and find it within.

Going deep, trusting the Divine within, beneath words, beyond pushing, found in the vast emptiness of the soul. It is there we go, and there we rest, and there we nestle, allowing the darkness and quiet and solitude to wash over us, calm and comfort us, give us a moments peace  while withdrawing from the tempest of emotions and neediness and abject terror of life.

I don’t doubt that every dark night is full of pain, loss, confusion, anxiety, fear, distress; but I also know that within each dark night are the seeds of hope, the seeds of grace and mercy, the seeds of forgiveness, possibility and new growth.

God does not leave us alone in the dark night, it is there God holds us, even if we can’t feel it. Have you even been held by someone so intimately you felt the boundary between you dissolve and you no longer knew where they ended and you began? We aren’t aware of God’s presence because all of the layers we have created to separate us from God have been stripped away and we have become so much at one with the presence we are One.

Held in the womb of Great Love while we grieve, and wail and shake and scream, eventually we calm and a seed planted deep within begins to sprout. One never knows how many days or months or years it may take for that new plant or flower to grow, but it will. 

How do I know? Because I have seen it in my life over and over again. And I have seen it in the lives of others over and over again. In the pit of darkness we draw new strength and new resilience. In the pit of darkness we find creative ways to move forward that can eventually open new doors and pathways. In the pit of darkness grows the potential to love again and live again.

Love & Light!