instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, September 10, 2007

Dark night of the sole

In a comment on a post at Swingin' Rosaries, Crusader Coyote wondered why a culture that loved "Footprints in the Sand" can't understand the dryness that characterized much of Bl. Teresa of Calcutta's life.

I suggested the difference was the industrial grade sentimentalism of "Footprints" and the utter lack of sentimentalism in a decades-long dark night of the soul. She replied:
There was enough of the idea in that little thing that they should have been able to draw a connection between that idea and Bl. Mother Theresa's persevering struggles, much like one can draw a connection between a juice box and a fine wine.
Perhaps. In both cases, though, if what you really crave is the sweetness, then the connection may not be apparent at all.

Opposition to sentimentalism is one of my hobby horses, though not one I've ridden to death yet. The dark night of the soul (to the extent I understand it) seems not only to be an utterly un-sentimental experience, but also to be a disinfectant against sentimentalism. Disconsolation neither supports nor can be supported by mushy-heartedness.

I think it's no accident that "Footprints" is written from the perspective of one looking back. The happy ending is, not merely assured, but already attained. The suffering is over; all that's left is an academic curiosity, a question that seems not to have occurred to the narrator until he asks it. And the question is about difficult times in the narrator's life when, on reflection, he didn't notice God's presence.

The dark night, on the other hand, is about times that are difficult precisely because God's presence is not apprehended. To pass through it and then to wonder why God wasn't with you is (it seems to me) impossible. What lies beyond this purgation is not the same spiritual state you were in before, but a more perfect unitive state in which no one would think they had ever advanced alone.

To the extent someone is governed by sentimentalism, purgation will seem like folly (or possibly scandal). Sentimentalism is a contradiction in which pat answers generate feelings of satisfaction, and
Who can know God's counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends?
is an answer too pat to satisfy those with real needs. It's not for nothing, though, that the book it comes from is called Wisdom.