What is Waiting to be Discovered in the Darkness?

“And the people stood afar off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.” (Exodus 20:21)

The year is winding down, and the winter solstice is just around the corner. For me, the shorter days leading to the longest night are a time to reflect on what has been revealed in the darkness of this past year, both personally and for our global community. As the verse from scripture above indicates, God is at work in the darkness. While light helps us see, darkness can give perspective.

What does God reveal in the night?

St. John of the Cross, the 16th-century Spanish monk, was imprisoned and tortured for supporting reforms of the Carmelite order. During his imprisonment he wrote the poem known as “Dark Night of the Soul.” It’s a beautiful poem that describes deep intimacy with God. His experience reminds us that God never gives up on us, even when things feel hopeless.

A dark night can be a painful period in one’s life, but it also holds promise for a deeper and fresher awareness of God’s presence. I do not mean to romanticize the suffering John experienced. Rather, he discovered something about God during that period: God longs for us to grow in relationship, and a perception of God’s absence may in fact be an invitation to a new and deeper form of relationship. And we too, whether suffering or not, may find deeper connection to God on the other side of a period of desolation. God is always calling out to us, inviting us, beckoning us. Sometimes a dark night helps us notice, helps us listen to that invitation.

Constance Fitzgerald has written about how communities, even nations, can experience communal dark nights. She refers to these as times of impasse. Indeed, we seem to be experiencing several impasses: the coronavirus pandemic, white supremacy and racial injustice, climate crisis, and ever deepening political divides.

What does God reveal to us through these impasses? What deeper connection are we invited toward?

St. John’s teacher, St. Teresa of Avila, spent much of her ministry inviting her fellow sisters to go deeper spiritually and let go of all the extra frills that could get in the way of deeper awareness of God. She described this process in her book The Interior Castle. The medieval walls of Avila, Spain informed her metaphor of going deeper into the rooms of the castle as growing in deeper union with the divine.

I think the invitation through the impasses of our days involves both a personal journey of going deeper, and a painfully honest communal discernment of the present moment. Teresa and John offer timeless teachings that feel particularly relevant in a time of so much misinformation, shallowness, and instant gratification.

Have you felt stuck by the mounting global crises of the present moment? Are you wondering how God is at work in this dark night? Are you experiencing a personal time of transition that has brought about some spiritual reconsideration? Or maybe you’ve wondered what John and Teresa are talking about through their extended metaphors?

In response to any of these wonderings and more, I invite you to consider joining me and Bryan Berghoef July 5-15, 2023 on the newest Shalem pilgrimage, Walking the Ramparts: A Pilgrimage with Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. We will journey to Avila, Spain and consider Teresa’s Interior Castle while walking in her footsteps. We will explore how we’re being invited to go deeper as individuals. We will also go to Toledo, Spain, where John was imprisoned. There, we’ll consider the communal dark nights of our times and how God is beckoning us to respond.

You can learn more about the pilgrimage on Shalem’s website. Once there, you can also sign up for an information session on Jan. 14 at 11:00 AM Eastern to learn more about the details.

Dark nights can feel lonely or hopeless. But they can also be full of wonder and possibility. However you’re experiencing these darker nights, may you realize – as John did – that God does not ever stop loving you. This Christmas, may we notice God’s presence in the dark and trust in the coming dawn.

December 12, 2022 by Jackson Droney 1 Comment
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Beth Flannery RSM
Beth Flannery RSM
1 year ago

Jackson, What a profound invitation to, like Moses, dare to approach the darkness wherein God also waits, beckons, longs for us to be transformed. Thank you.


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