The dark night

rays-of-light-shining-throug-dark-cNo, not the Batman movie. Night. Darkness.

Even when we’ve left childhood far behind, we may still be afraid of the dark. Hopefully, we’ve learned to manage our fear, even as we make fingerprints all over the wall, feeling for the light switch.

And yet, we have our days of darkness, in which we feel anxious or lost. Sometimes, the days stretch into seasons.

The 16th century Spanish Catholic mystic, St. John of the Cross, once wrote of what he called “the dark night of the soul.” These days, the phrase is often used to mean something like “spiritual depression.” But that’s not quite what he meant. It’s more like trying to find your way to a destination without knowing how to get there: no map, no GPS, perhaps not even a clear address. Such is the soul’s longing to be united with God.

Still, the modern usage isn’t entirely inappropriate. In times of trouble, we may find ourselves groping in the dark for some reassurance of God’s presence, some manifestation of his glory. As suggested in an earlier post, we may pray for a Red Sea or Mount Carmel moment in which God comes in power to rescue us.

But instead of asking God to save us from without, what if we sought the light of his glory within?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting some version of tapping into innate human potential. Nor would I want anyone to stop praying for miracles. But neither would I want anyone to believe (or tell some suffering soul!) that the absence of a miraculous intervention signifies the absence of God or the inadequacy of one’s faith.

Sometimes, we just need to redirect our vision.

Throughout his gospel, the apostle John tells us that Jesus came as light to a darkened world; in him, God’s glory is revealed (John 1:1-18). Similarly, the apostle Paul says that God himself has “shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6, NRSV). Moreover, Paul suggests something even more astounding:

All of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18, CEB)

I’ve suggested before that when we think of God’s glory, we probably don’t think of the cross, nor of ordinary clay pots (2 Cor 4:7). Let me now add to that: we don’t think of looking in the mirror.

But that’s what it would mean to realize that God’s glorious presence is always with us through the indwelling of his Spirit, who works in and through us, who even prays on our behalf when we can’t find the words (Rom 8:26).

Don’t stop praying for miracles. But don’t miss the miracle that God has already done. You might see it in the mirror, if you adjust your vision a little. You might see it in the sisters and brothers who come to comfort you and pray with you in your distress.

The glory of God is with you.

So what are you waiting for? Light the night.