The Dark Night, on a Monday Morning

Monday, July 19, 2010

John of the Cross

This summer, I've resolved to read many of the Bible study books on my shelf. I have quite a collection; a shrine to my good intentions and lack of follow through.

So, I recently selected Devotional Classics by Foster and Smith. I'm pretty sure I purchased it back in my young lawyer days, when I was searching for meaning and guidance. Devotional Classics was too heavy for me then. I think I got through the first two readings before it went back on the shelf. I'm giving it another shot. It is still weighty, but I like it.

In order for something to really stick with me, I need to read and write about it. I like that Devotional Classics has "reflection questions" and "suggested exercises" at the end of each chapter. It gives me something to think about and write about for a few days. The readings are thick - these are true classics, written long ago. But it is refreshing to read something old that rings true today.

Let me share an example. A intriguing read is an excerpt from The Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross (1542-1591). I bet you just thought of the Batman movie, The Dark Knight. I did, too. It gets more interesting. The Dark Night of the Soul is about how God helps us grow through times of sorrow and darkness. John of the Cross identifies "seven capital sins," and how God works on us through those sins in order to purify the soul.

Hello?! Ever heard of the movie, Seven?

I have to admit, I never saw Seven because I am a big wuss. Not even the promise of Brad Pitt could woo me into the theater for those gruesome scenes. Still, the Hollywood-generated themes here are enormous. Dark night, seven sins. Good versus evil, chaos as a precursor to peace, sin and punishment. My mind was spinning after the first three paragraphs. But as I read on, I came to see that Hollywood's version of these concepts is not what John of the Cross was going for. His "dark night of the soul" is about hope. It is about hanging on, and moving on to greater spiritual heights. It is about darkness as a natural and necessary part of spiritual life. It may be difficult, but it is not head-in-a-box or Heath Ledger's Joker horrific.

Okay, now that I've put those pleasant thoughts in your mind, let's move on.

According to John of the Cross, the seven capital sins are:
1. Pride
2. Greed
3. Wrath
4. Luxury
5. Gluttony
6. Envy
7. Sloth

John of the Cross (can I just call him John?) does not define these sins in terms of the world. They are spiritual sins. Pride refers to those who do spiritual exercises in order to be admired by others. Greed refers to those who always want more and more spiritual consolation. Sloth refers to "those who become weary with spiritual exercises because they do not yield any consolation, and thus, they abandon them. . . they begin to lose interest in God for they measure God by themselves and not themselves by God."

I told you it was heavy.

But here is the good news. John of the Cross promises, "Through the dark night pride becomes humility, greed becomes simplicity, wrath becomes contentment, luxury becomes peace, gluttony becomes moderation, envy becomes joy, and sloth becomes strength. No soul will ever grow deep in the spiritual life unless God works passively in that soul by means of the dark night."

So I changed the list to look like this:
1. Pride -> Humility
2. Greed -> Simplicity
3. Wrath -> Contentment
4. Luxury -> Peace
5. Gluttony -> Moderation
6. Envy -> Joy
7. Sloth -> Strength

And that brought me a lot of comfort. I don't know if (okay, I'll do it. . . ) - John - would appreciate his writing being dumbed down like that, but there you go. That list is the sort of thing that I can write on a 3x5 card and slap on my bathroom mirror for some morning inspiration.

I hope you approve, and I hope that you find a little comfort there, too.

Now go out there and have a good Monday!

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One Response to “The Dark Night, on a Monday Morning”

  1. Oh, that is deep, but I like it. And I never wrote a comment about "Mantras" - but I've been thinking since that post about what I used to say/sing to myself every day as I went to school to face my various classrooms. Sort of a mantra, and I think I told you about it one time: "Guide me, O [sic] Thou great Jehovah, Pilgrim through this barren land; I am weak, but Thou art mighty; Hold me with Thy pow'rful hand; Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more..." Back in the 1700's, lyricists knew how to write words for mantras.