Esp 22: Why The Dark Night of the Soul is like Fight Club

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Doug Jackson, Returning Guest and All-Star, Explains the 3 Stages of Spiritual Development and Dispels the Biggest Myths.

Do you know St John of the Cross?

What you don’t know could hurt you…but good news, you are now in for a treat!

Listen and get a fascinating perspective of the darkest places on the spiritual journey with your guide Professor Doug Jackson. See the show notes below!



Historic context of 16th Century Catholic Revival-Era Spanish Mystic, St John of the Cross


3 stages of spiritual development 

How do we know if we are making progress and what can we expect?

St John (1542-1591) provides a roadmap for night

The Beginner Stage
(The beginner loves God for the self’s sake. The beginners thinks, “What’s good for me.”)

John H Coe

Doug explains the Dark Night of the Soul, the important next stage of spiritual development, in keen and helpful detail.


God starts at the first stage (in a place of joy and thrill in God) and allows us delight in spiritual things and feed on “mother’s milk” spiritually.

Next, God helps us get used to our baby teeth by moving us to love God for God’s sake.

John of the Cross takes the 7 deadly sins and show how they can happen to us in a spiritual sense.


God is weening us away from nursing and from spiritual milk. Like a baby, we may misunderstand and feel unloved or unnoticed, at first.


Commodified is the Dark Night of the Soul in Amercian Evangelicalism. The phrase itself is often used inexactly.

It’s not feeling sad or a string of bad things have happened for which we feel upset and confused.

BUT—It is that without cause we feel God has abandon us.

It is not a loss of faith, nor not depression, nor a felt distance because of sin.

It was also an analysis of depression 400 years before Freud! 


God withdraws sensible (sensory, felt) affects. The dark night of the senses. (first phase).


Maybe it feels like prayers are bouncing off the ceiling. Maybe it feels that songs or sermons that had made an affect no longer do. This sense of loss will be different for each person.


Essentially, the delight in God disappears.


Mistakenly, we often may try to shock people back into spiritual infancy with a method, tactic, or suggestion that seems like it might cause feeling once again. (like a book, a conference, a service, etc)


The spiritual advice from John is to not abandon your spiritual practices (like prayer, fellowship, meditation, service, etc) continue to obey God and carry on until you pass through the night. They won’t be fun, but you continue for God’s sake, not your own.

Then you can come out on the other side to the stage of the Proficient. (Though the stages are actually more porous.)


The 2nd stage is where John says most of us get and hardly proceed from.

2nd dark night, is rare, and is horrible and includes a bewilderment and even a loss of faith in God and one comes out with a much richer deeper faith and far more settled and fuller understanding of God.

John Coe using 1 John 2:12-14 explains the stages as well.


John of the Cross found this understanding through terrible suffering and imprisonment and he saw the spiritual connection.


In the Dark Night of the Soul, spiritual answers are obscured and things are hidden from view.

Walking by faith and not sight.


If you can’t find the answers it doesn’t mean that something went wrong, it’s just that you can see right now. There will be a lack of certainty.


Stick with the basics in the dark night.


In the dark night we aren’t doubting our Faith, or God, but but we are doubting our understanding of God and our Faith.

The call is to obey God and persist in our ways as before. Eventually a dawn will come.


In this stage, we jettison things that are not core, central and true and come to understand God in a better way.

BE WARNED: Others may feel anxious to get you back in to where you were.


Backsliding is not the same thing as a Dark Night experience. The Dark Night is progression.


Prophets in the OT go through the dark night times.


Using a different lens to see what is already there.



Elijah after Mt Carmel

Apostle Paul


Jesus (wilderness and Gethsemane)

Jesus “learned obedience” and the the will of God was not pleasant

We all go through these types of dark nights



John of the Cross’s work was (and is) written for [spiritual] guides (leaders) so they can recognize what is happening and to know what not to do.


Some mystical-style theologians have been hijacked and grafted into a different (sometimes New Age) model of how the reality is ( i.e. “divided self”.)


The Devil – So what about the Devil which is a prominent feature in the writings?


John takes the readers’ Christian theology for already granted. The basic Christian theology was assumed because that was the background and beliefs of his audience.


Doug answers…Devil with a Big “D” questions. How do we come to understand John and what he is saying, if it is different than our understanding of The Devil and the spiritual world?

Don’t rehabilitate [John], or superimpose our ideas on his work.

Don’t judge or put parts on trial for the embarrassing and difficult sections of St John of the Cross.


Approach the text thus: “Eat the meat of the fish not the bones”


If the language bothers you, then let it lie fallow and see what is going on in your own heart as you read.


We can learn from old text.


On intellectual honesty and intellectual humility


On why the devotional classics become that way.


On the reading of old books (C.S. Lewis) (click to read)

We have different blind spots now. Different mistakes in different times.


Our cultural and worldview will effect our beliefs.


How do we get through the Dark Night?

It is up to God as a Grace. Our only job is to remain faithful.

Father Francis Kelly Nemeck


The promise is (found in Scripture and from those who’ve gone ahead of us in the Faith) that we come out (into dawn) and see the value of what we went through.

God says to Job: I’m God and you are not.

Job says, “Now I have seen you. I spoke out of turn.”


A word of hope for those in the dark night.

1. Those in the dark night bless those around them and their pride does not effect this because of the Night itself. We are spiritual protected.


In the Dark Night we don’t get to be proud of our humility.

Be faithful know that God is using you and wait it out.


Modern example Mother Teresa. She lived most of her life with a sense of abandonment by God.

“If I ever become a Saint I will be a Saint of Darkness, facing the dark to guide souls to the light.”


People were drawn to her service and work for God even though she felt God’s silence.


On her critics who say she stopped believing in God.

Christopher Hitchens wrote slanderously about her and others in his book “The Missionary Position”. He said she did have the courage to admit publicly that she didn’t believe in God and never had.


Mother Teresa–her fruit shows otherwise (it’s sow belief and faithfulness).

Apostasy is a deliberate walking away from God which is a danger of misunderstanding the Dark Night. This is why trained and wise spiritual guides are essential.


C.S. Lewis character Screwtape urges: “Use the word “phase” to tell him he had it all wrong”

In a genuine Dark Night, we may think we have abandon God or want to and then find ourselves incapable of it.


Doubt in God is like holding a volleyball underwater with just one hand and senses all the force and then thinking there is no volleyball because it cannot be seen.

“We aren’t working without a net and we won’t fall out of the arms of God.”


If you are in the Dark Night…(it helps) remembering “it’s a thing, a documented thing”.


Walking in the footsteps of those who’ve gone before.


What to do if you are in the throes of it all. best advice.

Richard Foster’s advice in the Celebration of Discipline. The chapter on solitude.

Don’t try to explain this to people when you are in it.

(It’s like Fight Club) “The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about fight club”

Most people will not get it. It can hurt our spiritual reputation. God is drawing us into obedience and faith in the absence of feeling. We carry on

Spiritual Director or guide is very important.

“The Dark Night of the Soul” (click to get it free)

“The Way of Spiritual Direction”

“The Spiritual Journey: Crucial Thinking and Stages of Adult Spiritual Genesis”

Henri Nouwen “The Way of the Heart”


Protestantism running thin in certain areas.

Psychology tainted some spiritual experience as pathology and than co-opted with modern Christianity.


Baptists were not systematic theologians early on because of the persecution from the Mother Church (in Rome).


Puritan writers like Jonathan Edwards take God as Physician of the Soul very seriously.


The one sermon that did in Jonathan Edwards in our time.

“The Religious Affections” To teach that the Great Awakening was just an emotional experience or demonic experience. He writes on how to understand what is of God.


On taking your time understanding the Dark Night. God is trying to bring us into greater maturity and Christ likeness.

Have you ever gone through a Dark Night of the Soul?
If you’ve reached the dawn, what was strengthen or changed in you?

Blessings in your night travels. If you aren’t in a Dark Night, it’s coming. Stay Calm and Carry on.

If you have any questions or you would like to drop me a line about what you are going through, please use the contact page. A helpful (worldwide) listing to find qualified guides is here.


Everything Happens for a Reason?…probably not

Part of my journey, spiritually, has been to move from a fundamentalist upbringing, to an Evangelical / post-conservative theological formal training, and then toward “the mysteries” (i.e. mystic tendencies). What brought me there? Tremendous pain. I usually don’t talk of it for too long. Maybe there’s a memoir in me that should come to light, but the progression is palpable.

In “the mysteries” this means that I don’t think of suffering as a problem, sorrow as un-wellness, or bouts of profound unhappiness as a sign that I have too little faith. In fact, most of the biblical characters were kind of tortured souls. It’s a more recent construct that we should think the life of faith has a “Sunshine Mountain” feel to it.

So, I wanted to write out a few thoughts about what Mark Lepper posed out there on the Twitter-verse (see lower image).

My initial Twitter response (you see below) was less than 140 characters, so I thought I’d add a bit more.

@thelepper Nah. That notion helps us cope, but we can’t possibly verify it. It’s part of “the mysteries”

For just a moment…

Imagine your child kills himself. The most horrid thought (you needn’t linger there).

In the first few days, probably 20 people will tell you, “Everything happens for a reason.” Or, they’ll say, “All things work together for good…” You know the verse, right?


(Probably most people don’t realize how out of context that verse is used that way. Erroneously they utilize just a part of it as a “band-aid platitude” to offer kindness.)

There are a great many things that have no good explanations and will not. The reasons won’t be revealed later either. On earth or in heaven. It really doesn’t work that way. And it really shouldn’t. Otherwise movement toward maturity would be at stake.

Really, it would be too confusing for us that God would answer these questions, so don’t count on an inquiry at the “ask the author” line in heaven, my dear friends.

When the pain of suffering wallops you and you can’t shelve your doubts long enough to work through the real hardship of it, one temptation is to consider that God must be malevolent or AWOL, instead of considering that we can’t possibly know the answer.

It is in the unknowing that we become enlightened to the ways of God.

It seems the two most common tactics (ways of coping) in tragedy are…

1. Try to believe that something horrible or evil has some sort of good redemptive reason, or will eventually come to something good because of it.

(Though it is true that God makes it his business to redeem everything…eventually….somehow…. we can’t think of this backward when we come into pain, and try jumping ahead. Pain can serve a point.)

2. Realize that so much is unexplainable and let our hope and faith erode or dissolve.

But there is a third option. And maybe more than just one more (you can let me know). Another way that’s been employed since humans have had optimism and spirituality (read: a very long time) is…

“the way of the mysteries”. And it’s not a cop out.

It’s farsighted. It’s a perspective that holds that the beauty we witness in this world is almost out of place in the nastiness and madness of it. It’s the idea of (good) ideals we all seem to possess that point to a greater, underlying and sustaining beauty and goodness obscured by the ways of the world, suffering, and the hardships of being human.

To embrace our situation as the mystics do is to not shun hardship or revel in it, but rather to let the pain refine us and make us wise. Oh, and it hurts. It hurts like hell.  And it, in some real sense, beats the hell out of us, and makes us endearing and compassionate. Beautiful.

The trouble is that if we’re satisfying with answers like, “Hey, friend! Don’t worry there’s a reason this horrible thing is happening,” then we are of very little good to those who are truly suffering.

In fact, our notions of “reasons” are often so pale and wanting. They just couldn’t possibly be sturdy enough. They don’t reveal what is legit and accurate.

Only when we can sit there alongside in the pain of those who hurt, and even take a part of the sorrow itself do we find we can make our way, honestly. And too, we must sit in our own pain. It’s uncomfortable. It’s dark. Sometimes horrid.

But to have the permission to hurt can send us toward wellness. It shows us that great sorrow comes on powerfully, and hurts badly, but does not have the final word. In the process of living well and deeply do we like a tender shoot become oaks of maturity and grace.

Please friends, be careful and don’t make a mockery of pain by disrespecting it or minimizing it (for yourself or anybody else). There is no human life without pain. There too is no growth without it. That’s the bit about incarnationality: The divine enters the human experience. That is our model.

So very deeply have I hurt, but now deeply can I love.

It’s true that redemption is chosen.

To be chosen it must first be acknowledged.

(that’s my longer answer)

Does your Breakfast (and your deity) make you AMAZING?

Continental breakfast
Image via Wikipedia

Un-amazing Breakfast from Creative Commons



Quaker Oatmeal has a new tag. I have to say, I love it. It just excites me. It probably won’t prompt me buy their oatmeal… I’d eighty-six porridge for eggs or coffee cake any day.

Nevertheless, I felt a sense of well-being just watching the Quaker Oats commercial. A rugged construction man, sits back, high upon a skyscraper girder.  From a thermos, he peacefully enjoys his heavily textured cooked oats . The voiceover asks, Does your breakfast make you amazing? (The build up to that was the scripted: “Rome wasn’t built in a day; and it wasn’t built on a coffee and a danish.”) Well, I think Rome was built on mead, or sambuca, but whatever.

In keeping with pop Evangelicalism, I’ll do the obvious. I’ll do the proverbial. I’ll take this inspiring tag line, and do a Christian parallel. (Isn’t it some sort of moral duty to take catch phrases, or witty wording, pilfer it, and spiritualised the thing ad nuaseam, in the name of edification, of course? I think the Biblical backing for this comes from II Leviticus 2:1, “Thou shalt copy they neighbors clever word-smithage. I am the LORD.”
Is it an epidemic religious and cultural kleptomania? Um. Yep.
And, right now, me fingerz feelz sticky, too.

So, here we go: “Does your God make you Amazing?”

Of course, this is a wildly self-centered question. I don’t even want Christians to “go there.” This is a preemptive, cut-Christian copy cats off at the pass, post. It’s meant to subvert a horrible Christian propensity, or worse, an ill-advised “evangelizing tactic”

I’m making an executive decision. I’m going to hijack the hijacking of, at least, this tagline.
Are you surprised?
BOOM. Amazing!

A basic truth: We like to be inspired to be amazing. Oh. Yes. We. Do.
We either think we’re pretty amazing already, or wish we were.

So, what about that?

AND–What breakfast, or attribute of God (or both) propels you towards “AMAZING”?

Evangelicals and Lack of Tradition

This year, the Christian calendar begins November 28th. It is the Season of Advent.

Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran and many mainline churches observe the Christian calendar. The topic for each Sunday is predictable. Scripture from the lectionary guides the themes, liturgy, sermon, art, and music of that particular time. Traditional? Yes. Useful? I do believe it is.

It provides congruence. Most Evangelical pastors are accustomed to, more or less, speaking about what’s been on their mind recently. This is carefully referred to as “what God has laid on their heart.” (And you’d be a fool to question the movement of the Spirit, right? Maybe a fool, or maybe a blasphemer…if you spoke your thoughts.)

In general, it’s not a terrible thing to follow the leading of the Spirit. (If that is truly what is happening. But, that’s another post entirely!) But does this unformatted contemporary formula help cinch together the Story of God, the Christian Story, and bring a cohesive message of the Gospel, in history and depth, in a palpably connected way? Or, is the shoot from the Holy hip often more of a “bang here and a bit there,” approach?

I’d like to hear your take on it?

I tend to think a healthy mix of several Christian traditions could be very spiritually useful in contemporary times. We are already malnourished on a sound bite way of life as is it.

Chaplain Mike, a one-time Southern Baptist preacher, who blogs at imonk does the whole topic much more justice than I can. I strongly encourage you to link to his specific post with the link at the bottom, if you’d like.

Witness this poignant quote found there:
(It really hit home with regards to my Christian church experiences.)

“Part of the problem is that evangelicals really don’t have traditions,” said Carter. “Instead, we have these fads that are built on the strengths and talents of individual leaders. … But a real tradition can be handed on to anyone, from generation to generation. It’s hard to hand these evangelical fads down like that, so it seems like we’re always starting over. It’s hard to build something that really lasts.”– Joe Carter as quoted by Terry Mattingly

My main resource for this post and a really helpful article is here at imonk. It is most helpful for Evangelicals, and I challenge you to consider a deeper appreciation for the Christian calendar year, starting this Sunday, November 28th.

Thank you for reading.

Friendly vs. Hospitable

80s hospitality

A lot of people claim to have friendly churches. But we have to ask, “Friendly…compared to what?”

Most would avoid saying, “our church is unfriendly.”

Yet, friendliness is distinctly different from hospitality.

• A friendly church might–by policy or administration–greet newcomers

• A friendly church may staff a church information center

• A friendly church might include a greeting time within the order of the worship.

But, this is surface-level hospitality.

Friendliness involves a, “Hello, how are you?” But, hospitality waits for the real answer, and offers an invitation to break bread together… Really, to do life together.

• After church, are folks staying afterwards to visit, or do they rush off to their kids’ soccer matches, NFL games, or other obligations?

• Are spiritual siblings, sort of, shooed out so the Sexton can lock up the building?

• Can congregants make and share a meal at church, a snack, or put on a pot of coffee, without the deacons getting nervous about clean up and carpet stains?

• Does the building, and the programs and schedules therein eclipse the human beings for whom the church exists?

Shouldn’t church feel (be) comfortable–like an inviting hearth and home? Should it not have the kitchen and the living room vibe, where people feel a bit saddened to leave, at the end, because they have enjoyed a time with people who love them. A place where people don’t look at their watch, but instead comment on the pity it is that time went so quickly. A. hospitable. place.

What is the culture of your church?

If you could change something, what would it be?

What does hospitality look and behave like, [to you]?

Thanks for your ideas.