Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 11: The Dark Night

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The Story

When Eve awoke, it was night, though probably nearer to dawn, but dark as ever. For the moment, all she could see was the cloudy sky. Occasionally she would see a flash of light and hear the roll of thunder. She tried to lift up her head, but she couldn’t move it. She tried to lift her arms so as to push herself up, but she couldn’t move her arms either. She couldn’t move at all!

“Ah, she is awake.” It was Lilith’s voice, but, of course, Eve could not see her. Before long, however, Lilith’s dark frame loomed over her, however much her features were hidden by darkness. Eve struggled again to move, but all her efforts were in vain. “Did you really think that you could be rid of me?” Lilith asked. She held out her hand over Eve’s body and then yanked it back. Painfully, Eve’s torso jerked forward to a seated position. What happened? What did Lilith do to her? She could swivel her head now, but her arms and legs were still weighted down.

Looking about, Eve saw that there were others in Lilith’s company, all shadowed figures, standing in a circle around her. What is more, she saw that they were in the valley of the garden. “Who are you? What are you?” she asked.

Lilith likewise glanced at the others. She replied, “I have not been completely honest with you. We are not the Creator’s failed experiments; we are scavengers—scavengers born of your pain.” She crouched down. “You were right. I initially was not real. I was just a figment of your imagination, but you have made me into something substantial. Humans appear to be delusional things. At one point is their madness more real than reality?” She stood back up, “In any case, now I am your master.” She held out her hand again and this time lifted Eve to her feet. Eve’s entire form was forced into a rigid stance, and she could hardly breathe.

Lilith continued, “But I am a wounded, incomplete thing. If I want to be whole, I must take more from you. Give me your flesh. Give me your bones, and I will be the one who walks abroad this lonely earth—however much a monster I am.” She held up her hand again, bending her fingers in a crooked way. Suddenly, her whole body tensed, and Eve could feel her body slowly disintegrating, as if every organ and bone in her body was beginning to separate themselves from each other. “I will be the new Eve,” Lilith said with an excited, though crazed, voice. “And I will take my place as queen of this world! You see, Eve, I could not let you return to harmony; I need you to be broken!” She pulled her hand back, and a spray of skin and blood shot out from the surface of Eve’s body and was absorbed into Lilith’s hand. From there, the materials traveled up her arm and filled up the gaps in her scarred face. “For the more broken you are, the more alive I am!”

Eve glared back at Lilith and fought on to move her arms and legs. Finally, she was able to budge, and that only gave her the motivation to keep trying. She could see herself escaping that terrible grip. But Lilith smirked and, moving her hand, lifted Eve into the air. Again, Eve felt her body being shredded, and more of her essence escaped into Lilith’s hand. “This is human destiny!” Lilith exclaimed. “The way of the soul is into abyss!” Eve’s entire being shriveled and aged, but Lilith, on the other hand, was being invigorated.

At last, Lilith let Eve’s limp body drop to the sandy ground. Lilith no longer had any grip over Eve, but it didn’t matter. Eve was now too weak to stand.

There was a loud crash of thunder, and Lilith turned her head towards the storm. “Look.”

Eve lifted her head.

“Death has come for you.”

Eve could see it. Coming forth from the storm was that hooded, faceless figure, walking with a staff in hand.

Lilith chuckled. “Thank you, Eve, for your life. You are free to go.” She began to walk past Eve, but, as she did, Eve grabbed Lilith’s dress with a surprisingly firm grip and pulled her back. Scowling, Lilith kicked Eve away, forcing Eve to roll back.

When Eve came to, looking up, she saw that Death was standing over her, the void of its countenance glaring at her.

Again, Lilith laughed.

Death stretched out his hand, and Eve cowered. But Death reached for her and took her arm. Then, it lifted her up to her knees—in a gentle manner. Moreover, Eve felt refreshed, enlivened, and her body was suddenly restored.

Lilith was taken aback. She didn’t know how to respond to what happened.

Eve looked up at Death’s empty face, and, for some reason, she felt calm. Her fear had flown away. Death then delicately released Eve’s arm and raised its staff, saying in a deep, androgynous voice, “Let me fight your battles.”

Then quickly, the spirit darted, jumping towards a dumbfounded Lilith as its staff emitted a bolt of lightning. It swatted Lilith back and then was confronted by the other wraiths. At first, they swarmed it, but its mighty, thunder-booming staff as well as its unnatural speed was too much for them, and they began to flee. Death chased after them, and one-by-one struck their hollow forms and turned them to wisps of smoke only to be carried off by the wind. All the wraiths were defeated thusly. Lilith, however, remained, and Death turned to her.

Lilith, having been sprawled out on the sand, tried to scramble away. But Death zoomed through the air to her but paused before landing the killing blow. Lilith held up her hands and shrieked, “Wait!” But Death swung its staff of lightning and, like the others, scattered her dark being to the air. Her scream faded with the passing breeze.

When it was all finally over, Death planted its staff into the ground with a thunderous sound. Just as it did so, the storm above began to alleviate. The wind settled, the lightning stopped, and the clouds thinned. Eve was awestruck. She remained seated the whole time. But now that all was quiet, she did not know what to do. In fact, she was terrified of what was going to happen next. That is when Death silently faced her, staring at her without eyes.

She then heard another sound, and she saw Adam swiftly climbing down from one of the nearby cliffs. Death heard him too and turned abruptly. Adam stopped when he hit the sand. Though concerned for Eve, he dared not test Death’s reaction.

Death looked back and forth between them, then said, “It is about time that we spoke. You have hid long enough.”

Adam shifted uncomfortably but nonetheless demanded, “What do you want?”

“I want to talk,” the spirit reiterated.

Adam took a step forward. “Who are you?”

The spirit replied, “I Am Who I Am.”

Analysis: Relinquishing Control in the Dark Night of the Soul

When life does not appear to be going well, it is normal for a person to ask God for help—to ask God for healing. However, the human pursuit of healing becomes a paradox. As long as healing—in this case, psycho-spiritual healing from God—is an object of longing, suffering is prolonged. This idea stems from a Buddhist concept. One of the four noble truths declares that the cause of suffering is craving, or excessive desire. This desire honestly begins with being Imago Dei—specifically with what I call the Serpent Nature (part 10). It is exacerbated by the existential crisis, and it reaches destructive ends under the influence of the Wraith (Part 9b). In other words, when a person recognizes that something is missing, and that missing thing must be acquired and absorbed, it is difficult for a person to reach contentment. Even the longing for contentment can prevent contentment from happening. This is a psychological phenomenon, for the experience of suffering coincides with a certain perception of self in relation to the environment.

At this point, it is important to clarify the difference between pain and suffering. For our purposes, pain is the experience of physical or emotional damage. Suffering, on the other hand, is an obsession with that pain. Certainly, the word “suffering” has a number of connotations, but, through the course of the series, this is the definition I am working with.

All this is to say that, generally speaking, the desire to be healed could actually perpetuate suffering. There is nothing wrong with wanting healing, but so often it is sought in the wrong places or the attempt to balm the pain is momentary. How does one properly seek healing then? Let me also emphasize that I’m talking about “seeking” healing, not “acquiring” it, which is to say that what I am about to discuss does not guarantee that healing will actually take place, but accepting the truth of it could at least help to abate the experience of suffering.

Anxiety and Powerlessness

A significant portion of a person’s longing for some kind of healing originates with the deeper desire to have control. One of the great misconceptions in life is that humans have control. I guess we could say that the extent to which a person has control is relative to the situation. But when it comes to many of the events in one’s life and in one’s environment, the sense of control can be an illusion. Such is a reality that people would prefer to ignore or deny. While we can affect the world around us to a great degree—per our natural creativity—and cause a ripple of change, the outcomes we intend to reach are either not reached perfectly or, assuming they are, create a number of unintended consequences. In which case, we do more to contribute to the chaos of life rather than dissolve it. Human existence has been one in pursuit of order, of control. But the most that we can do is, at least for our own perceptions, mask the ambiguous flux.

The longing for control produces the suffering that we call anxiety, and our society is fraught with it. We challenge nature, we challenge age, we challenge time. We desire progress, but we are unwilling to embrace the pain that can come with it. When things do not go according to the plan that we have idealized in our minds, somehow it means that the future can offer nothing good (I exaggerate, but sometimes people react that way). Change is symbolized flame, and fire is a difficult thing to step through. Anxiety is a symptom of our desire for power and our deep, often unconscious, understanding that we are actually powerless. As much as humans want to be the gods over their own lives, they are not. Even prayer can be an effort to have control—control over God. In the existential crisis, anxiety results in despair. In the pursuit of healing—more specifically the pursuit of God—the experience of anxiety and powerlessness results in the Dark Night.

The Dark Night

There is a natural anxiety that comes with drawing closer to God. For those who have believed in and perhaps even devoted themselves to God develop distinct opinions as to who God is and how God operates. But as one moves forward, he/she may experience a discomforting wonder, doubt, and fatigue. There may come a point in one’s spiritual life where God does not exactly live up to one’s expectations, one is powerless, and suddenly God seems so far away. However, as with the existential crisis, the Dark Night is a necessary stage of one’s journey for the sake of growth.

Described by Evelyn Underhill in Mysticism, “The Dark Night…is really a deeply human process, in which the self which thought itself so spiritual, so firmly established upon the supersensual plane, is forced to turn back, to leave the Light, and pick up those qualities which it had left behind. Only thus, by the transmutation of the whole man, not by a careful and departmental cultivation of that which like to call his ‘spiritual’ side, can Divine Humanity be formed….” It begins “…after a long life passed in faithful correspondence with the transcendental order, growing consciousness in the of the ‘presence of God,’ the whole inner experience is suddenly swept away….” This is followed by helplessness and hopelessness.

In some cases, a person in the Dark Night experiences a glaring absence of God. The being he/she considered to be so loving and so near is perceivably gone—or was never there in the first place. In other cases, a person does not necessarily lose sight of God but painfully realizes that there is a wide gap between humanity and God, one created by sin. The suffering that a person sought to escape by seeking healing in God is intensified. Underhill quotes St. John of the Cross, “That which this anguished soul feels most deeply…is the conviction that God has abandoned it, of which it has no doubt; that He has cast it away into darkness as an abominable thing…the shadow of death and the pains and torments of hell are most acutely felt, and this comes from the sense of being abandoned by God, being chastised and cast out by His wrath and heavy displeasure.” In truth, the experience is a purgative one, so to compare to hell is quite appropriate. I plan on writing a whole other post on spiritual purgation/purification, so I will go more in depth on that idea. But, for the Dark Night, it is a case where a person has actually drawn so much closer to God than ever before that he/she must be tested, molded, and cleansed before he/she may proceed any further. The experience of destruction is actually a creative process—one in which a person is secretly being rebuilt by God: “…before the whole self can learn to live on those high levels where—it is being utterly surrendered to the Infinite Will—it can be wholly transmuted in God, merged in the great life of the All, this dependence on personal joys must be done away….The various torments and desolations of the Dark Night constitute this last and drastic purgation of the spirit; the doing away of separateness, the annihilation of selfhood, even though all that self now claims for its own be the Love of God.”
However, admittingly, due to how emotionally painful the Dark Night is, it is a hard thing to see.

A person has a choice though, he/she may continue to wallow in the suffering of their own misconceptions, or he/she can be still and let the Godhead reveal itself. According to Underhill, “All [the] forms of the Dark Night—the ‘Absence of God,’ the sense of sin, the dark ecstasy, the loss of the self’s old passion, peace, and joy, and its apparent relapse to lower spiritual and mental levels—are considered by the mystics themselves to constitute aspects of parts of one and the same process: the final purification of the will or stronghold of personality, that it may be merged without any reserve ‘in God where it was first.’” It seems that the suffering that one has experienced and continues to experience comes as a refusal to be in the place that God wants him/her to be.

Into the Cloud of Unknowing

A popular concept among Christian mystics is that God exists in darkness—not in an evil sort of way but in a mysterious sort of way. God cannot be fully comprehended; his being exists in a cloud. We would rather this not be the case, and our striving to treat God differently makes us resist what God actually is and where God is. When one is in the Dark Night, the best thing that one can do is be patient and let God act first—however long it takes. One must relinquish the control we so desperately want to have. We cannot fight the storm; we must ride the storm.

It is a test of faith, a test of trust. Through faith, a person properly seeks healing. It is a process by which a person does not know whether or not healing will actually come, but he/she acknowledges that all is well nonetheless. Great anxiety can arise in not knowing what will happen, but anxiety unveils a person’s lack of faith. Admittedly, the statement “have faith” seems to be a trite expression. So, I will discuss what it means to have faith in the next post.

Next Post: Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 12: The Cloud Speaks–An Honest Encounter With God

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