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.


Likes VS. Hugs: Upgrade your Reality

I’m not sure there’s any number of Facebook likes that can replace a hug. –Seth Godin

It’s true that as real life plays– out not in the hard scrabble face-to-face ways, but through pixels and clicks– that we grow not just a bit more jaded but also less human.

Typing away about our problems and working on getting noticed for what we think can fool us into thinking that this is normal or optimal human behavior. It’s not. It’s distancing behavior. It’s the kind that can’t stand under the weight of true in-flesh reality, and makes us less ready to do the real and messy work of grace and friendship. Or, reap their invaluable rewards. This stuff of the inter webs is  not the kind of being that often propagates a compassion that breathes real life into our souls and health into our bones, at least not like the solace that in-person camaraderie can.

If reading your screen is making you often angry or upset it could be making you sick. Maybe physically but surely in your soul. And it should be well with your soul.

Write out some of your frustrations for no one to see.

Distance yourself for a bit from the thing that distances you from other humans or too often makes shallow mockeries of fellowship and communion.

Unplug and be well.


Of Bullies & 5 Clues that Your Dictatorship is Ending

The face that could launch a thousand mirrors into pieces.

I have to be very honest with all of you today. I’m REALLY struggling.

I’m reeling from some awful news about a man who’s been going to our church. The article is here, but be aware, it makes for horrid reading if you’re a parent, or have a heart for children.

Everyone is heartily nauseated by this series of events, and plenty of people hope he dies, or is tortured, etc. As sick as this makes me, I continue to wonder where redemption and restoration can be found for all involved. What would God have us do? My heart feels broken.

I ask you to stop, right now, and pray for all involved.

Abuses of authority rank at the top of things I loathe, and I’ve seen it in many varieties that I won’t go into right now. I just cannot seem to get a handle on this situation, right now. I couldn’t sleep last night, and I’ve been wondering just how many young people have been hurt by this person, or those like him.

Sadly, the statics are so high, it’s likely there are more abusers that just haven’t been caught, within our fellowship and community–but I pray not. The trouble is, like rape, child molestation is one of the most underreported crimes. The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin states that only 1-10% are ever disclosed. Please, read that again, and let it sink in.

Kids like my disabled son, and shy children, are prime targets. And hearing about it all, so close to home, makes my blood run cold, and prompts me to action to defend and protect the innocent.

A FEW FAST FACTS that you should know:
• 96% of these types of abusers are male, and the average pedophile knows the victim, and molests 260 victims during their lifetime.

(I’m not trying to condemn a gender, but seriously…what the heck?!)

• All have a fascination with pornography. Please! Read that again. Now, think: how easy is it to get a hold of that, and feed the monster? Rates of abuse are skyrocketing, with no end in site. If you struggle with this issue, and pornography is in your life. Get. help. now.

Pornography is a gateway poison, that leads to a diseased mind and criminality. We need to come forward, and be honest about just how detrimental it is for all sectors of our society.

• The behavior is highly repetitive, to the point of compulsion, rather than resulting from a lack of judgment.

Um. wow.
And here the other fast facts from that source.

For now,

I’m going to channel my energies in this post to opposing and satirizing Dictators, because that’s about all I can do without crying, at the moment. Bullies come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties, but they have the same basic qualities.

My choice today is Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi, who’s a bit dim witted. Bullies thrive with creating fear, dictators especially so. When the fear is diminished, hope flourishes; and many will struggle to the death to gain freedom.

Here are 5 Clues Gaddafi could use to extend his life. But, I really hope he never reads this.

1. Realize the importance of shoes. Sure, women, for millennia, have valued shoes, but in the middle east, the bottom of one’s shoe is considered vile. If posters of you are getting whacked with shoes, your time is running out. You are considered lower than dirt, and probably for good reason.

2. Calling Yourself a Martyr Doesn’t seem to hold any sway. When Gaddafi said, “I cannot leave my country, I will die a martyr,” it probably told his opposition he really just “didn’t get it”, right? Or, maybe martyr in Arabic means “fool”.

3. Your Fancy Hats Cease to Charm People. Nothing says coo-coo like a stupid hat worn by a sociopath. This has never been more true. You folks from Reedsville know just what I mean.

4. Your Putting on of Aires is Lamentable. If you pretend you are Lawrence of Arabia and try to imitate his wardrobe, disaster is probably in your future. Really Gaddafi is decades overdue.

5. If your best friends are dictators, the signs look bad. Palling around with other known dictators isn’t just in poor taste, it shows to your “subjects” that you root for the bad guys, which includes yourself. Try to not be retarded, if possible.

Thank you for hanging on with me, and reading this today.

I’m sorry it’s bizarre. Too many sad things all at once I suppose.

So, You wanna ditch your church? Top 5 Mistakes

Alphonse Mucha's work here reminds me of Redeemed Humanity, the Bride of God's Only Son

Sometimes going to church doesn’t seem worth it. For heaven’s sake, wouldn’t it be better to just have breakfast with some family or friends, and forego irritating people, scheduling problems, overblown or petty dramas de jour, personality conflicts, politics, dodgy doctrinal positioning, and the rest of machine the local church can be? Is the Cracker Barrel growing a bit more more alluring each Sunday morning?

Seems like a no brainer, right?
If this is kind of thing is happening for you, in your local church, maybe church shopping is around the bend? Well, wait just a minute. Here are 5 Mistakes you can make (or have made) regarding your local church.

1. Making theological judgements for what are personal preferences.
2. Mistaking the “local church” for The Bride of Christ.
3. Misunderstanding the idea of “community.”
4. Implementing a consumer approach with the spiritual and transcendent.
5. Overlooking what is happening in the sacraments.

Being from a more independent faith tradition, I grew up with the sense that church, in the local setting, was mainly about worship and fellowship. Well, it is, but not in the small sense I understood it to be. Now a bigger view of Church guides my life, and my relationship with my God and Savior.

Simply put: Church is hardly about “the local church” or about any human individual.

Jesus saved humankind through his Bride the Church. That means our preferences have very little to do with what God is doing, and the workings of Church.

The Church is something universal, invisible AND visible, international, and local. It is bound by culture and history, and yet handily transcends them both. It may exist in a location temporarily, but exists eternally in every location. Yes, it’s bigger, in every way than you think, or have the ability to imagine.

We apprend it in such tiny ways at times…
Perhaps, we get caught up or annoyed by such things a personalities, worship styles, programs, or issues related to our doctrinal formulations, opinion, or personal preference.

We may go “church shopping” and miss the point completely.

How correct to say, “Church is not about me.”
It’s about WE.

In the sacraments, the community of God (Trinity) intertwines with the community of man (humanity). We receive divine grace. God is with us. God is with his Bride, the Church. Locally the church celebrates what the collection of Christians, past, present, and future is enacting, together.

Each Sunday, worldwide, Christ’s Bride gathers, and meets together. The church is with “him”, as it has done from the beginning.

Even as the earth spins, the variances in time zones cause prayer without ceasing, and the fellowship and communion of the saints occur, globally.

And with Christ, Father, and Spirit, we celebrate the reality of koinwnia (koinonia) with the Divine.  Thomas Aquinas wrote, “the Eucharist is the sacrament of the unity of the Church, which results from the fact that many are one in Christ.”[7] (Eucharist means thanksgiving.) Koinwnia is what Christ exercised divinely with humanity, by grace, through his work in his ministry, on the cross, and in his resurrection. It is how we commune with each other, and worship God in Spirit and Truth.

Through a local church body, we live out, and enact the Gospel and participate the actual in-breaking of the Kingdom of God here on earth. The local church is people, and people are flawed. What God has done, is doing, and will continue to do, is not.

This whole concept is all summed up nicely in the Apostles Creed, in which followers of Christ unite in spirit and truth. Many of us may not know the creeds, or declare them together with other Christians. But, this particular creed, well-established in the 300s A.D. (C.E.), and is the/a manifesto (see ref. link) of the Bride. It is a speak-act and agreement of followers of the divine Father, Son, and Spirit, for a way of living and being; and understanding the world.

To take this creed fully to heart will expand your idea of church, unify you with Christians of the last 2,000+ years, and may even help you forebear with the frailties of  local church you attend, here and now.

From the Book of Common Prayer –

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
The holy Catholick Church;
The Communion of Saints;
The Forgiveness of sins;
The Resurrection of the body,
And the Life everlasting.

Your comments are welcome.