Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dark Night of the Soul

Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross (1542-1591). Music by Loreena McKennitt.

Saint John of the Cross was a reformer of the Carmelite Order and is considered, along with Saint Teresa of Ávila, as a founder of the Discalced Carmelites. He is also known for his writings. Both his poetry and his studies on the growth of the soul are considered the summit of mystical Spanish literature and one of the peaks of all Spanish literature. He was canonized as a saint in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII. (Wikipedia)

"Dark Night of the Soul," like much of John's poetry, is based on "Song of Songs" from the Biblical Old Testament, and also on much of the romantic poetry and lyrics of Spanish popular balladry of that time, i.e., 16th century. The "secret stair" has less to do with a staircase in a monastery, and more to do with the popular theme of lovers meeting for a late night romantic tryst. In order for this to be possible, the young maiden of the song or poem would have to sneak out of the house, by the "secret stair." John uses this as a metaphor for the soul in prayer who, by means of contemplation, steals away from the world unnoticed, to meet in loving relationship with God. The dark night refers to the soul's search for God, beyond the confines of the human definitions we have put upon God."

~Fr. Emiel Abalahin

Certainly this explanation is congruent with the mystical notion of God and soul as lovers seeking union, This is the ultimate goal of the Christian spiritual path: purgation - illumination - union, and is often framed in the context of contemplative prayer as recollection between lovers - the Beloved and the Beloved.

Dark Night of the Soul
Upon a darkened night
the flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright
I fled my house while all in quiet rest

Shrouded by the night
and by the secret stair I quickly fled
The veil concealed my eyes
while all within lay quiet as the dead

Oh night thou was my guide
oh night more loving than the rising sun
Oh night that joined the lover
to the beloved one
transforming each of them into the other

Upon that misty night
in secrecy, beyond such mortal sight
Without a guide or light
than that which burned so deeply in my heart

That fire t'was led me on
and shone more bright than of the midday sun
To where he waited still
it was a place where no one else could come

Within my pounding heart
which kept itself entirely for him
He fell into his sleep
beneath the cedars all my love I gave
And by the fortress walls
the wind would brush his hair against his brow
And with its smoothest hand
caressed my every sense it would allow

I lost myself to him
and laid my face upon my lovers breast
And care and grief grew dim
as in the mornings mist became the light
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair

In all of your Dark Nights, may you rest assured that God is with you. Find comfort in his arms and know you are dearly loved. And the mornings mist will become light....Peggy


  1. Thank you for posting this Peggy.

    It is my experience that all the Dark Nights exist only in my desire for things to be other than they are. When I give up my "demand" that things be different, and surrender this insane insistence to the will of God, I am free to accept the Beloved which is always waiting for me to get out of my own way.

    I love and appreciate you!


  2. Wonderful insight as always my friend! Thank you for sharing Elliott! Love, Peggy