Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Long Quiet Mid-Afternoon of the Soul

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.


sdecorla said...

I LOVE the title of this post. It describes quite accurately my own spiritual state most of the time.

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.

Ditto. I’m the same way, for the most part. Though I admit I do get a little envious when I hear about the miraculous experiences so many people seem to have. For example, I’ve said the St. Therese novena several times and I’ve never gotten a rose. I have to admit I was a little disappointed. Maybe St. Therese is just not into me, LOL. Why does the “cool stuff” never happen to me? But maybe it’s because I don’t need it. I’ve always had a very deep conviction that Catholicism is true. I’ve certainly struggled at times in my life with being a good Catholic and following Church teaching, but I’ve never doubted that God exists and that the teaching is true, no matter how hard it is. Maybe people who experience the “cool stuff” need a little extra something to help them believe.

I know I should not be dependent on external signs (like getting a rose from St. Therese). I tell myself that I’m simply asking for St. Therese’s intercession and don’t really care about getting a rose. Except that I do. :) How does one become completely “pure” in one’s intentions when praying something like the St. Therese prayer, to the point where one doesn’t care at all about getting a rose? I have no idea. But I have a feeling those are the people who get roses.

mrsdarwin said...


Be careful what you ask for. My dad once said a novena to St. Therese for me, and St. Therese sent me a baby.

Rick Lugari said...

Don't worry, Sarahndipity; it could be worse. I once asked St. Therese to help me carry a particular cross and all she did was sit on it barking commands like, "this is nothing, you don't know what a real cross is - stop your whining and get busy carrying it, darn it!"

Seriously though, St. Therese has answered my wife with a rose a number of times, but in all my prayers to Therese, I only asked for a rose once and didn't get it. Probably should have went to the florist and forced her hand...

Anonymous said...

There are times when our dear Lord can give us beautiful consolations and in the things I've read by St. Therese, St. Teresa, Blessed Teresa, and St. Faustina, He gave them these beautiful consolations and then took them away. They had to keep believing, keep trusting in His love without them.... a difficult thing to do.
I know that I've experienced some brief consolations myself and when I haven't experienced them for a long period of time, I find myself wondering if I've done something wrong. I have to ask myself at those times..."Do I truly love God or do I love His consolations?" I think great graces can come to us by believing, trusting, and loving even when we feel nothing at all.

Patrick said...

I'm not sure it's quite proper to write this here, but I too think that you've hit on something- but about human nature, not about the cosmos.

The trouble is that a materialist cosmos makes sense as well (and it's only on very dubious metaphysical grounds that one can try to argue it doesn't). However, atheism doesn't Make Sense in the manner you mean: it doesn't provide a fixed framework for answering the key questions of human life, nor does it necessarily provide hope that we can find a reason for even purely material things (such as the universe being such as to support life). Catholicism holds out the promise that all Truth is ultimately known by someone who loves us, and that the source of the physical world is also the source of the moral one. That's quite an attractive hope.

But the cosmos isn't bound by our human desire for certain kinds of answers. Forgive me if it's rude to add that.

Darwin said...


If you want to count as rude in the world of blogs, you'd have to do something much more spectacular than just present ideas!

I would agree with you that a materialist cosmos "makes sense" in the sense that it logically consistent and not necessarily inconsistent with observation, to a point. I have some doubts as to how well a truly materialist cosmos can be reconciled with things such as "knowledge" and "free will" (in the traditional senses of the term) much less extra human properties such as "good", "justice" or "beauty". I suppose the question, at that point, is how well those lacks fit with observable reality.

Even short of being Christian, I think that I'm a convinced enough Platonist that I'd have trouble abandoning the above, and once you're at that point I find the path to Christianity fairly straight forward.

Opinion seems divided, however, on whether or not this consists of "evidence" or merely "preference" on my part.

Anonymous said...

A 'Dark Night of the Soul' is simply the appearance of reason in the thoughts of religious zealots.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mrs Darwin,

that was foxy of Therese to send you a child when you wanted something else. I shall be very careful of her in the future.

What a lovely blog, I like your admission of the Platonist position very much and will keep it in mind as I read Alex Nehama's A Promise of Happiness in the coming weeks. Currently chasing Teresa and St John around the web while I write a blog post on The Abbey, so i might see you around.