Dark Nights of the Soul

I’m reading through Dark Nights of the Soul by Thomas Moore (not to be confused with Dark Night of Soul by St. John of the Cross or with the man [Thomas More] who died staying true to his faith), so my next several posts will deal with quotes from the book. The book deals with the states of pain, fear, depression, disillusionment, despair and grief that every human being experiences at some point in their lives. So to begin with . . .

Religion, too, often avoids the dark by hiding behind platitudes and false assurances. Nothing is more irrelevant than feeble religious piousness in the face of stark, life-threatening darkness. Religion tends to sentimentalize the light and demonize the darkness. If you turn to spirituality to find only a positive and wholesome attitude, you are using spirituality to avoid life’s dark beauty. Religion easily becomes a defense and avoidance. Of course, this is not the real purpose of religion, and the religious traditions of the world, full of beautifully stated wisdom, are your best source of guidance in the dark. But there is real religion and there is the empty shell of religion. Know the difference. Your life is at stake. (pg. 15)

Ever since I read Care of the Soul several years ago I have enjoyed books by Moore. This one is no exception. In this passage he is talking about something that falls close to my heart – religion used as a means of avoiding immersal into life. I have heard good Christians from many different denominations utter phrases like “it’s God will,” “God’s in charge even if we don’t like or don’t understand what’s happening,” etc. Sometimes, upon hearing these phrases, I catch a glimpse of the river of uncertainty that underlies those words.

Is God really in charge? Does God have everyone’s best interests in mind? Is there really a God? Was Jesus a real person? Can I trust what my minister/preacher/priest/church tells me?

Moore asserts that true religion will not make you shy away from asking those hard questions. Rather, it will support you in your quest for knowledge and truth, and it will help you even as you struggle in your own dark night, fumbling in the shadowy half-light of your still-being-born faith.

In The Princess Bride, Westley (posing as the Man in Black) says this to Princess Buttercup: Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something. (If you’ve never seen the Princess Bride, stop reading this, go rent it, and watch it. I’ll wait. Hmm . . . I guess you could read it, too, but I’ve never read it . . . but I digress.)

Truer words have never been spoken. And I think our churches and synagogues and temples and mosques and psychotherapists do us a disservice when they attempt to sell us on a vision of humanity that can be totally pain-free, as if this were an option we could choose and strive for: perfect balance with nary a care in the world.

Real life hurts sometimes, and real spirituality and religion isn’t there to lift us out of the transforming and beautiful pain of life – it is there to help us appreciate our moments of darkness and confusion, appreciate our link with other humans who are also stumbling about, soften our hearts and flood our hearts with compassion for our fellow sufferers, and make us people who can truly become compassionate, as God is compassionate with us.

Blessings & Peace,

1 thought on “Dark Nights of the Soul

  1. Patti says:

    You got that right. Embracing the pain in our lives allows us to experience the joys that are also in our life. I truly believe when you love (anyone) you will feel pain at times. I do believe that God will use all things for good. But don’t believe he causes all things. And I trust in His ever lasting mercy.

    The Princess Bride is a marvelous movie. People need to own it to view it at least once a year.

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