It has been observed that, "There seems to be a rash of "Dark nights of the soul" going around the blogosphere. It's almost as if the revelation that Mother Theresa suffered through such an experience has made it pandemic!"
Though I'd read for years about Mother Theresa's dark night of the soul, it seems that the most recent coverage of it has kicked off no small degree of fascination. I've even read some bible-thumpers declaiming that Mother Theresa's lack of "spiritual consolations" (whatever exactly those are) show that she hadn't truly become a Christian.
All this had been giving me some pause for thought, and then the other day I ran across a link over at JulieD's Happy Catholic to a set of podcasts by Fr. Thomas Dubay on contemplation. I was working on a long data project, and I was getting tired of the music I'd been listening to, so I figured I'd listen to a couple episodes while working. (What can I say, I'm an inveterate multi-tasker. It's not always a virtue, but there it is.)
Fr. Dubay was talking (working from St. Theresa of Avila) about how contemplative prayer involved an "intimate being alone with God who love us" and sometimes results in a "strong felt present that He is there." He distinguishes this from either an emotional reaction to the process of prayer, or an intellectual knowledge gained from study and belief.
This somehow brought together for me a couple threads that I'd had in my head up to this point. The root, I think, of my failure to get all the fuss about the "dark night of the soul" is that if the dark night is the failure to feel any of this assurance that God is out there -- that basically describes my normal and constant experience of being Christian. Nor is it something I'm particularly upset about. While I'm certainly willing to imagine that one could have some sort of experience that was clearly something other than one's own emotional or intellectual reaction to belief, it's not something that I can imagine experiencing clearly enough to desire, much less get excited about missing.
I think there must be rather different ways that different sorts of people experience faith. My own experience of Catholicism is simply as the set of beliefs about the world according to which Things Make Sense, whereas none of the alternatives seem to do so. This is not, I will quite willingly own, an ecstatically exiting sort of faith. It's low on special effects, emotional and otherwise. On the other hand, given the very different ways that God has seen fit to make us all, I can hardly see why everyone should have the same spirituality.