From one of my favorite books....
Although the difficulties of late dualism appear across the population in isolated and apparently unrelated ways, these difficulties can be fitted together in a developmentally coherent sequential pattern. This pattern has been recognized in spiritual literature as reflecting the process by which the self is gradually stripped of worldly attachments and identifications in preparation for spiritual awakening. Spiritual literature describes this process of being "weaned" from the world in many different ways; for example, as "dying to the world," "the spiritual desert," "death of self," and "sickness unto death." In this chapter I shall examine the account of the process as presented by the great sixteenth-century mystic St. John of the Cross in his masterpiece The Dark Night.
That is from Michael Washburn's Transpersonal Psychology in Pschoanalytic Perspective (State University of New York Press, 1994, p. 217). -- emphasis by me.
I love that book. Like St. John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul, Spiritual Canticle and Ascent of Mount Carmel, it is one of the few books I pick up and read again.
I wonder how long it would have taken me to become comfortable enough to trust Washburn had he not used St. John of the Cross as an example, beginning in Chapter 8. Let me tell you why. Doing so, will provide a perspective to this blog...
When I was in my mid-twenties, I read the complete works of St. John of the Cross. I distinctly remember finishing the last page, closing the book and sitting there, stirred, and saying to myself, There is a lot there, and it is going to mean more to me one day, than it does even now.
I was right.
I read it again in seminary. Reading time in grad-school was at a premium-- there was more assigned than could be digested. As one classmate put it to me in our senior year, "One of the best things about seminary is this wonderful library of great books I now have-- and I can't wait to read them after I graduate!" But I re-read St. John of the Cross because I knew it was time and therefore, that it would become even more important to me.
Before Michael-the-Bell, circa 1993, (The Blessed) Father Charles Caldwell, seated; the author at far right.
A side-story comes to mind: That classmate who did not read any of the assigned texts in seminary made straight A's, I think. That semester, some of my classmates (including that one man), had ramped up the continuing political antagonism against the Dean and faculty of the institution and the the rest of us were paying a price against an angry faculty.
One angry faculty member gave us an exam which included a question that went like this, "On page 267 of his text, the author uses a word which is central to this concept, explain how this word is relevant to the discussion." It was a closed book exam and since I had read the assignment, I could say with certainty that the author would not have been able to answer the question! What a jerk. Adding insult to injury, my classmate -- the primary instigator of the political attacks who never opened a book-- aced that exam without getting a single question answered correctly. Politics.
Each time I have read St. John of the Cross, I doubled my spiritual understanding which he desires the reader to gain. It is very dense, and because it is mystical, more of that density unfolds into one's understanding the further the soul is into the spiritual realm of reality. Therefore, after a significant spiritual progression, it is always time for me to take up those works again.
I know nothing about the host site for this image, but it is amazing close to what I have "seen" when reading St. John of the Cross's Dark Night of the Soul and Spiritual Canticle-- of lover's stealing away in the dark of night to be alone.
Sometime around, perhaps, my second or third reading, it occurred to me that the "Dark Night" is not intended by the contemplative writer to be understood as a darkness which prevents perception-- there is nothing sad or despairing about the darkness of the night. Rather, it is likened to the time when lovers can steal away with one another, unseen into the woods. For me, that image connotes "parking" on Firman Road when I was sixteen years old with my first love.
When another tells me that they are entering a "Dark Night of the Soul" time in their life, and speak only of it as meaning a time of aridity of the soul, I feel that the person is a reading or two away from getting to the fun part! Such a person is still at the door to the party-- getting the Hell beat out of them.
Mystically speaking, I eventually stepped through that door and the torment and beating stopped. My soul's Lover romanced me, sang love songs to me, cherished me body and soul, promised to be true, and promised to return again and again until we were wed-- when our passion could be satisfied for ever.
Before reading Washburn's book, the aspects of the stages of the process of late dualism had only been expressed to me in terms connoting Eastern Mysticism. My problem with that is that Eastern Mysticism does not provide to me the purposefulness I require.
Father Caldwell did say, "It is imperative to answer, concerning your self, 'from Whence and to Whom.' Of course, I state the questions, just now, with the answer already implicit, because I have answered the question for myself. Where I am from, is God. Where, or what (or Who) I am to, is God. Father Charles Caldwell did not lead the question as I have. Instead, he asked us to consider where we are from and where we are going, carefully opening the question with variations-- "Are you to anywhere, or any purpose?" and so on.
God created me so that He could court me, romance me, stir my heart to Him.
God as "Him," the masculine pronoun: The gender issue is awkward to discuss, but it is not confusing in the mystical reality. St. Paul and Christ Jesus both refer to the faithful as the Bride, the feminine. I recently read Paulo Coelho's Witch of Portobello. He explains that the devout Catholic heroine has been forced from the Church largely due to the Church's failure to offer the feminine. Not true. The Church is the Bride of Christ, the betrothed of God the Son. Mary, the Blessed Virgin is, mystically, the Church (consider any classic prayer or devotion to Mary and substitute the word, "Church" and you will see that the meaning is the same-- that the meaning has doubled!). The Church has always known this; but the culture within which the Church exists cannot see it-- cannot comprehend it--and so it is a substantially mature faith which can shake the culture and enter the truth of the spiritual reality.
That shaking off of the culture is a very important part of getting beat up at the door. You get mugged-- you get brutalized-- when you try to enter the party, and I think part of that is rummaging through what you try to take with you inside. No part of the culture is allowed-- no part which will interfere or mislead. and most of our culture does both. What you hold from the culture is going to be pilfered or you are not getting inside.
So, one Dark Night, my soul saw the most beautiful of women-- an image very close to a woman I knew. We were alone. She was tantalizingly covered in white lace and I drew near to embrace and explore this beautiful and alluring lover. Just as I did, the meaning of the vision dream was instilled in me: I was the one covered in white lace, and my Lord was the one drawing near to me-- I witness His love for me in images specifically given to me so that I could understand that He saw me as the perfect lover (as He sees all of us).
But inside, in the party, the mystic reality is not all the nearness of the warm embrace of mature lovers, nor is it always stealing away with your first and true teenage love to be alone and explore your new and shared passion. It is also adventure, purpose, creativity, and recreation. These are things I also associate with Heaven.