St John of the Cross is famous for a lot but primarily for his work The Dark Night of the Soul. The title by itself brings forth thoughts and images. It describes the work of God upon the soul – not through joy and light, but through sorrow and darkness. The concept of the “dark night” has for many been an integral part of their spiritual journey.
St John says, “At a certain point in the spiritual journey God will draw a person from the beginning stage to a more advanced stage…. Such soul will likely experience what is called ‘ the dark night of the soul.’ …. This happens because God wants to purify them and move them on to greater heights.”
One analogy to the “dark night” is a champion athlete going into a slump before he reaches greatness. He/she starts to miss shots, putts, or open receivers. What came naturally all of a sudden seems forced, and the more the athlete tries the deeper the slump. He/she feels like they are in a downward spiral and he/she grasps for advice to no avail. If you can’t comprehend this analogy think of the writer or painter who stares at a blank piece of paper or canvas, nothing helps.
Often, to come out of the slump a great athlete may seek out an old coach, who often counsels the athlete to go back in time when he enjoyed the game or sport. Another method is to walk away for a week or two, if possible, from the game and relax and find joy in other aspects of one’s life. Most importantly, a coach counsels to not fret over the “slump” but recognize that it part of the maturation process. The slump will eventually go away and to be grateful for all the happiness the sport brings.
In our spiritual journey, we should follow the athletes lead. When experiencing a “dark night” or a “spiritual slump” seek out a friend who can help you remember the joy you once had. Back away or change-up your spiritual disciplines for a week. Finally be patient with God. Get out of the way by trying to control your own spiritual journey and let God give us what he wants us to have, no more no less.