Sunday, February 22, 2009

42.Dark night of the soul, fourth installment

We were talking of spiritual gluttony

In Saint’s own words:

"These persons are most imperfect and unreasonable; for they set body penance over obedience, (which is penance according to reason and discretion)…….”

“For some of them kill themselves with penances, and others weaken themselves with fasts, by performing more than their frailty can bear”…… “... Avoiding their superiors whom they should obey.”

“But such one-sided penance is no more than penance of beasts, to which they are attracted, exactly like beasts, by the desires and pleasures which they find, therein. Inasmuch as all extremes are vicious………………….., they are acquiring spiritual gluttony and pride in this way, through not walking in obedience.”

“……better way is that of humble resignation...”

“They strive with every nerve to obtain some kind of sensible sweetness and pleasure……..and when they don’t receive it, they think they have accomplished nothing at all. This is to judge God very unworthily” The reason is that invisible part of grace, which does not come through senses, is better than the visible part, which comes through senses. Thus, their behavior denotes impurity of faith in God, which is a grave imperfection.

“But God, very justly, wisely and lovingly, denies it (pleasure) to them, for otherwise this spiritual gluttony ….would breed innumerable evils”

“…….they are very weak and remiss in journeying the hard road of Cross….” For they want pleasure, while that road is devoid of pleasure and consists of self-denial.

“They have many other imperfections. ……in time the Lord heals them, by means of temptations, aridities, and other trials, all of which are part of the dark night”

The last two defects ( 6th and 7th) are spiritual envy and spiritual laziness. If others outperform them, they are envious of them. They may dislike others being praised, may even dispute the praise, or may argue that they should be similarly praised. Whereas correct attitude should be one of holy envy: grief at not having the virtues of others, yet also joy that others have them, and strive to be like them.

These beginners may be so used to sweetness in spiritual acts, that the things that do not give pleasure tire them quickly. For instance if prayers do not give them satisfaction, they may abandon them. Thus due to this laziness they may give up the way to perfection.

In a similar vein, if they are ordered to do something which does not give them pleasure, it irritates them. They are in for sweetness, not for fortitude in denial of sweetness.

The seven imperfections of the soul are not the only imperfections in these beginners, there are others, but these are the most important root defects, others arise from them.

You may wonder why the other more grave weaknesses, from which most if not all humanity suffers, are not mentioned here. For instance, Sri Ramakrishna, one of the greatest mystic of all times, railed against the two cardinal temptations of lust and gold, which are not mentioned here

To be continued

Sunday, February 15, 2009

41.Dark night of the soul, third installment

We were talking of spiritual greed. Please read posting 40 first for better understanding

Saint John warns:
“For true devotion must issue from the heart, and consists in the truth and substance alone of what is represented by spiritual things; all the rest is affection and attachment…”

Compared with some others, who;
“……make good progress, attach themselves to no visible instruments, nor desire to know more than is necessary; for they set their eyes only in being right with God, and please Him”

Third defect is spiritual luxury. There may arise in them impure acts and motions, while they are engaged in spiritual exercises. These acts arise in sensual part of the soul, and may arise when the soul is in deep meditation. Both acts may be proceeding simultaneously; meditation on God satisfying the spiritual aspect, impure thoughts pleasing the sensual aspect. The aspirants have no control over their impure thoughts and are powerless to prevent them. They may visualize, most vividly, foul and impure actions. There are at least three reasons, cited by the saint, which are the cause of this distress. For the sake of brevity I will not discuss the causes.

Some aspirants are so weak and excitable that any spiritual reward, during prayer or penance, overwhelms them. They become inebriated with joy. Their senses are overly satisfied. They may later realize that certain inappropriate acts have taken place. All this is vain gratification and not good for the soul. Anger and grief raise similar exaggerated emotions in them.

Some other souls develop spiritual friendship with others, but its basis may be related to their sensual nature. A test of such spiritual luxury is that as the sensual love increases, the love with God decreases, and as the love for God rises, the other love falls. The two loves are contrary to each other.

Fourth defect is the sin of anger. These seekers have been deriving joy and consolation with spiritual practices. When they no longer derive any consolations from spiritual things they become bitter and angry. They become irritated over little things. They become like children whose favorite toy has been taken from them. Others may have difficulty in tolerating them. It is natural to be saddened by the deprivation of joy with spiritual practices, but it is not correct to indulge in it.

Some travelers have another kind of anger. They become angry with imperfections in others.

Another group recognizes their problem, but become vexed and irritated by it. They lose their patience. This is contrary to what is required; patience and meekness. They should strive hard to remove their faults, but still wait patiently for God’s grace to fall on them and remove their defects.

Fifth shortcoming is spiritual gluttony. These persons are never satisfied by what they have, they want more and more. They are most unreasonable. It appears that St John, as director of souls, encountered several of them. He has a lot to say about them

These souls used to derive great pleasure from spiritual exercise, now they don’t. They go to extremes to get these joys. Spirit of patience and moderation leaves them.

To be continued

Sunday, February 8, 2009

40.Dark night of the soul, second installment

We were talking of the imperfections of those souls who are about to enter the first dark night.

The defects, which the saint examines one by one, are the seven capital sins, which result in one of many imperfections in these beginners.

The souls, once selected by God, enter the first night. The pool from which these souls are selected are those that show an interest in God, meditate about spirituality, are already contemplative, and have been discussed in the first stage (postings 33-34).

Once they have c0mmitted themselves to the service for God, they are tenderly nurtured by God, just as a mother, takes care of a newborn baby. When the baby is hungry and cries, mother readily gives the baby nourishment. She rushes to alleviate his distress. She sings to the baby lullabies, gives him warmth from her bosom, caresses him, and changes his diapers. So far, these beginners were like babies. They were given spiritual nourishment readily. Sometimes for whole night they were given joys and bliss. Grace of God gave them pleasures in all things pertaining to God, free, without their own efforts. Even hardships such as fasts and penances were joyful.

As they enter into the purification process, things change. No more milk and honey. They have to give up baby food and learn to eat food with crust. They have to stand on their feet, and learn to walk. They have to endure falls and pain. Mother puts aloe over her breasts to give it a bitter taste. She lets the baby cry, without picking him up.

The first of the seven deadly sins is pride. Aspirants may develop secrete pride over their efforts and hardships, and be proud of the fervor in their hearts. There may develop a desire in them, which is vain desire, to talk about spiritual things in front of others. They want to be esteemed by others. They don’t like others being praised.

To increase their pride the devil may increase their enthusiasm to perform more of such actions which are a source of their pride, such as penances, fasts and prayers. Thus their virtues start turning into vices. Instead of being humble, which is a necessary requirement for spiritual travelers, (because God likes humility and dislikes pride and arrogance) they become proud. They like to teach others instead of learning from others.

Some of them realize their imperfection. They become angry and impatient with themselves, which is another fault. The correct attitude being meekness, , patience , loving fear of God, thinking little of their efforts , ascribing their virtues to God’s grace and not to their actions, holy envy of others, (whom, they think, are far better than them ) , and begging Him to remove their defects.

Second defect is spiritual greed. These seekers are not content with the spirituality that God gave them. They become dejected and irritable. They think that some other practice or some other article may be the answer to their troubles. Thus, to find the answer, they are forever reading books or listening to counsels. They may become strangely attached to crosses, images and rosaries. Leaving one, picking up another. They are like children with trinkets. Thus, instead of developing inner poverty of spirit, by mortifications, they use outer crutches.

To be continued.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

39.Dark night of the soul, first installment

There are not one but two dark nights of the soul. The term ‘dark night of the soul’ was coined by St John of the Cross (widely quoted from; see sidebar; ‘dark night of the soul’), a 16th century Discalced (shoeless) Carmelite Spanish monk. He supervised (director of souls) the spiritual training of dozens or hundreds of monks/nuns, and, therefore, had extensive experience with the problems and pitfalls faced by spiritual travelers. The term “dark night” is used to denote purification process.

Thus, the saint tells us, that there are two purification processes. The first is an active process; the second is a passive process. The first is performed by the seeker; the second is performed by God Himself, without any participation of the seeker. The first process is for purification of the sensual part of one’s soul. The second deals with purification of the spiritual aspect of one’s soul, although further improvements of the sensual side of one’s nature also takes place, because the root cause of some sensual defects resides in the spirit.

Second purification process follows the first. The first night is bitter and terrible; the second is bitterer and more terrible.

As I mentioned previously (35. Stages in spiritual development) not everybody goes through these purification processes. Although, the saint describes it in Christian mystics, similar processes probably occur in seekers of other faiths also.

I think, persons who are pure to begin with do not need any further purification. This is further supported by statement by St John in his book that the duration and the harshness of the nights depend upon the amount of imperfection the soul has.

The purpose of these nights is to remove the defects from the sensual and spiritual aspects of one’s soul and make it ready for Divine union with God. The union with God cannot take place unless the soul is perfect, even one imperfection will hinder the Divine union.

St John compares the purification process to the burning of a log of wood. The log has to burn in fire, its impurities such as mould, dirt, rot and moisture have to be burnt and removed, an extremely painful process for the log, for it to assume the properties of fire and become like fire.

Not every aspirant is selected for the first night. Not every aspirant who has completed the first night is selected to go to the second night. Not everybody who travels the second night climbs to the 10th and final step of the secret ladder (according to St Thomas and St Bernard) of progressive love for God. Such honor is reserved for very few souls. It entails complete assimilation into God. Person leaves the flesh after the nineth step.

Imperfections: Those who travel the first night have several imperfections and three enemies. The enemies, who constantly put obstacles in traveler’s path, are the world, the devil and the flesh. At the end of this purification process the traveler has to achieve control over two main forces, and those are grouped under the heading of passions and desires.

To be continued