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dark night, reflection, green place, shelter

           While trying to look for something else the other day, I rediscovered this old poem that I’m going to share with you. I don’t remember writing it, but I do recognize the emotions and thoughts expressed in it, because I have lately been experiencing them. Again.

           Back in 2007, when the poem was written, I had not read St. John of the Cross’s book, Dark Night of the Soul, but I am reading it now. And I have to say … I’m not sure if I’m glad to be reading it. St. John’s description of beginners felt like charges being leveled against me — charges that are true. Spiritual sins of pride, greed, sloth, and envy: guilty. And the doubts. I’ve noticed that he and his mentor, St. Teresa of Avila, don’t go very much into spiritual doubts, those kinds of doubt that leave the novice wondering if there even is such a thing as Christ or the power of prayer. I am sometimes haunted by those old doubts. Perhaps that makes me an even weaker novice.

           I see that I need a terrible amount of stripping to get to the essence of my life.

            And I think that stripping is happening.

            You, dear reader, know what spiritual dryness is. You’ve experienced it, I know you have. No matter what “level” of believer or prayer practitioner you may be, you have experienced pleasing outcomes to worship — a good feeling after a church service or after an answered prayer or after doing something that you know is charitably right. But, along with the occasional highs, you have also experienced the lows: a feeling of, well, nothing at church or in prayer, or perhaps a fatiguing unwillingness to bother with prayer; a feeling of not needing to bother to try to figure out and do what is right because it won’t matter in the long run anyway. And you have sighed heavily, wondering why you are a believer. Wondering if you are a true believer.

            Something may inspire you to go on, something like duty or honor, or maybe something more like instinct or hope. Or you may simply choose to follow the wisdom of your clearer days, those stronger, purer moments of radiant insight when you knew, you knew that this is true, that this is the way to live real life. Maybe it’s like remembering your wedding vows along with the taste of your first kiss and the willingness to take care of your marriage and the person that, when all is said and done, you have chosen to love. You have chosen. You are chosen. So you choose to abide.

            After all, if you only loved — if you only prayed — because it felt good, then your love would be weak and not last very long. If you only committed to love — if you only became a person of faith — in order to get self-centered satisfaction and pleasure out of it, then you would not truly be a devoted lover, a devoted believer, but rather a mere stroker of your own ego. A hypocrite. A fool.

            I have never wanted to be a fool. This is the main reason that I gave in to my doubts about God when I was 19 or 20 years old. This is also the reason that I could no longer be an atheist when I realized that “the reality that everyone calls God” is real. Perhaps, this is also the reason why I am willing to progress in my life of faith, why I am willing to go through deserts of spiritual aridity and even be stripped of the delightful pleasures that I take in created things. Innocent though my little joys may be, I understand that they can distract me from the fullness of truth and the essential meaning of who I am. Poisonous snakes are greatly feared, but a tiny little insect can be surprisingly, stealthily lethal.

            Whether I am experiencing a true Dark Night or not, I know that I am experiencing an opportunity to grow, but in this opportunity there is a great need. An almost desperate, life-threatening need.

            What I need is what we all need: renewal. Whether it comes in the form of a sweeping wind and tongues of fire, like at Pentecost, or in a gentle, bone-deep understanding that you wake up with one day, or in a genuine laughter that you weren’t expecting — laughter at ghosts and dryness, laughing with the fidelity of your Creator‘s constant presence — renewal comes. The sun rises. The river flows. We may swirl in dangerous eddies but, if we don’t cling desperately to the nearest dead hulk, we will reemerge from the confusing, sometimes tumultuous, sometimes murky, sometimes drowning waters renewed, reborn, restored. Restored in our course to the life-giving sea that is the source of our lives — which animates us and bears us through time and space — as well as our ultimate destiny.

            Anyway, here’s the poem. (Expect more rediscovered poetry through the summer.)

Dark night of the soul, that’s what this is called;

I’m dry as a desert and all my hopes have fallen.

Black as a shadow, crumbling into dust, blown like the sand, oh, how I must find

a ray of light,

a green place,

to shelter me.

I thought I heard your voice, it sounded real to me;

I swear I felt your presence embracing tenderly.

Now, I’m all confusion, memory unclear. That it’s all imagination is what I sorely fear…

a ray of light,

a green place,

to shelter me.

Dive in the pool of eternity,

bathe in the waters of purity…

but now I’m only weeping,

dry eyed and in vain,

and breaking,

and breaking,

with no joy, not even rage in pain…

a dark night,

a barren place,

to bury me.

Life has lost its meaning, love has lost its pull;

all my vessels, now empty, I think were never full.

Lying in the grave… nothingness at last.

What was there to save? Everything was past.

A dark night,

a barren place,

to bury me.

The shroud of my eyes

slips away from me.

I’m naked on the threshold

of all eternity.

With my newborn seeking, clear in front of me —

what was always present I can finally see —

a ray of light,

a green place,

to shelter me.

A ray of light,

a green place,

to shelter me.

© 2020 Christina Chase

Feature Photo by Sam Manns on Unsplash

Christina Chase View All

Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.

5 thoughts on “Renewal Leave a comment

  1. So why do babies laugh so much?
    Why do they want to make us laugh?
    Surely they know, not having words to tell us,
    That letting go into merriment
    Is letting ourselves fall into God’s waiting hands?


    • Thank you for this poetic response! (I hope you keep sharing your poetry.)

      I am reminded of “Man plans and God laughs.” And also this bit of poetry from 2001:

      Something there is that doesn’t love a laugh,
      A heavy force, like gravity,
      that weighs the human down
      and holds the spread of wings that fly upon the whim.
      Something there is, an instinctive cord
      that grows internally like a hardened spine
      and checks the wing spread before the being is lifted from the ground.
      And all delights of wonder
      and all the mirth of glad
      are pinned down and closeted as childish and ridiculous;
      childish flight of fancy,
      childish imagination,
      childish nonsense,
      As though to be mature is to propagate sobriety
      and, with straight line of face, keep the heart upon the ground.

      The rest of my poem got a little stranger after this! I love the succinct and truthful lines of your poem. ❤ Thank you for sharing with us!
      Pax Christi


  2. Yes !!! we have all felt down etc. and then I think of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, asking his Father that if the cup can pass me by, but not my will but your will be done. What pain.
    Then there is Redemptive suffering, where our sufferings are join to Jesus suffering.

    Personally, I like the road to Emmaus when The apostles do not recognize Jesus and invite Him to join them for dinner since it is getting dark.
    They all sit down and Jesus proceed to break the bread and suddenly they recognize who He is, but Jesus disappears…WHERE DID HE GO?.. He went into the Eucharist where he invites us to join Him. Ever since I heard this, I have received the Holy Communion with great Joy
    I see from reading your book that you are very deep in your spirituality and I’m encourage to keep rereading certain passages with great satisfaction and grow.
    Thank you so much Christina
    Joan Bussiere

    Sent from my iPad


    • Beautiful reflections, all — thank you for reflecting with me and sharing with us! I think we all need the renewal of Christ’s Eucharistic presence during this pandemic. Hopefully, absence is making the heart grow fonder. And patience is a virtue.
      God certainly works in mysterious ways… I am grateful that He has given me wonder and words with which to inspire and encourage. Thank you for your loving encouragement, Joan!
      Pax Christi


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