Monday, April 04, 2005

"Other kinds of pain the soul suffers in this night."

From John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul (Mirabai Starr's translation), Book 2, "The Night of the Spirit," Chapter 6: "Other kinds of pain the soul suffers in this night":
In dark contemplation, the soul suffers the suspension of all her natural supports and perceptions, which is terribly painful, like hanging in midair unable to breathe. God is purging the soul, devouring all the imperfect habits and inclinations she has contracted throughout her entire life, as fire consumes the tarnish of metal. Besides this natural and spiritual poverty, she is likely to suffer interior torment from the radical undoing of all the remaining imperfections rooted firmly in the substance of the soul. "I shall gather up the bones and light them on fire. The flesh shall be consumed and the whole composition burned, and the bones shall be destroyed," says Ezechiel. "Place it also empty upon the embers that its metals may heat up and melt, its uncleanness taken away from it, its rust consumed."

Purified in this forge like gold in a crucible, as the Wise Man says, the soul feels as if she herself were coming to an end. David calls out to God: "Save me Lord, for the waters have come in even unto my soul. I am trapped in the mire of the deep. I have nowhere to stand. I have come unto the depth of the sea and the tempest has overwhelmed me. I have labored in my cry, my throat has become raw and my eyes have failed while I hope in my God."

God greatly humbles the soul now so that he might greatly exalt her later. And he makes it so that when these feelings are quickened in the soul they are soon stilled; otherwise she would die within a few days. The soul is only aware of their vibrancy at intervals. These souls descend into the underworld alive.

I will say more about this later.

Right now, I have two thoughts. First, that this sort of thing, the reading of Scripture as a description of the mystical journey of the soul as it moves towards (and away from) God - something that John of the Cross does quite often - is the beginning of a new theology. It is a way to make the Bible intelligible in the modern world; a way to connect with people outside the tradition.

This kind of reading diametrically opposes "fundamentalism" - and it is a historical method as well. "Fundamentalism" is essentially, and ironically, a very modern way of looking at the Bible. It is a scientific reading of literature that was often meant to be read and understood in a completely different way. This, I think, is the means to the end we seek: a "new Pentecost," as I read elsewhere (someplace!). A new language for a new era, and a way for the Holy Spirit to reach the modern ear.

Second: Well, maybe I'll wait on that as well; so much to say about it. But here's the topic: what our connections through this medium mean for religion going forward. I get a lot out of talking things over with people online, and together we already make up an informal "community" of sorts - people who identify with, and feel related to, one another in matters of the heart and of the spirit. Some of us are self-described solitaries (in the religious sense, I mean) already, but we have found a way of talking to one another in way in which most of us can't, with people in our actual lives. I find this to be similar to what happens in the monastic communities, actually. I'm very interested in how the phenomenon might play out; I wonder if there will be formal "virtual communities" of this sort in the future, made up of people who have otherwise normal lives but internet-based spiritual lives. Can we pray the Daily Office together, apart? Can we follow one of the various "Rules of Life" this way, or create new ones? Can we work out new theology in these kinds of discussions? (The web is changing the world in every other area of life, through the lightening-fast spread of ideas; why wouldn't this also happen in the spiritual life?)

IOW, can we have ordinary, but religious, lives, together in this way in the modern world?

But this is a big topic, so maybe for later.


LutheranChik said...

I just came home from a communications class I took through my synodical program (great class, BTW, but really tough -- it felt like earning a minor in com in eight hours)...and one of the points our instructor made, in applying some practical theology to communications theory, was that Jesus always moved outward...breaking through boundaries to get at the people who needed him. And I think the idea of online religious community is a reflection of this dynamic. I was thinking about this during class: The online community that I see developing -- and it's been really amazing in the past couple weeks seeing how ideas and even themes have been disseminating from blog to blog and group to group -- is an extension of this reaching out. I think that the network of "spiritual blogdom," discussion groups, etc., is reaching out to meet people where they are -- people who may feel isolated by geography, or because they don't feel sufficiently spiritually "fed" in their churches, or because they don't feel welcome in the institutional Church. At the risk of sounding kind of evangelical, LOL, I think building online community is a ministry. To use Pauline terminology, it's building up the Body of Christ...not by dragging people in, but by going to them via computer. If that makes sense.

bls said...

Yep - and I do very much like that this medium CAN reach all those various people who are outside the "mainstream" for one reason or another. (Hate using that word, but you know what I mean.)

It really doesn't seem so strange to me anymore, either. Certainly people have different psychological approaches to religion and/or the spiritual life - in real life and in the ether - and if this can connect people that otherwise might not ever meet, I think great things can come from that.

bls said...

Anyway, it's a fact of life now. So we might as well make the best of it, no matter what!