“The soul, then, rejoicing at having passed along this narrow road whence so many blessings have come to it, speaks after this manner.”
–St. John of the Cross, “Prologue” to the Dark Night of the Soul (p. 17).
The spiritual journey is just that—a journey to inner enlightenment in the Presence and enjoyment of God—the destination. The journey takes a beginner, and forms him or her through a necessarily long chastening path; a narrow, pain-ridden road where the disciple necessarily scowls. Yet, they grow to love and even yearn for its harrowed blessings. The test for the would-be saint is to happily arrive at God’s will, no matter the personal discomfort or pain—these are essentially irrelevant, as God is magnified. It’s stimulus that’s all—stimuli to react and respond to according to the will of God, who has his way completely with them.
This is the destination arrived at, for the greater part; for in that is faithful and cheerful service, once one has finally arrived. There is no shirking of the parts of the journey; God necessarily requires all the same sacrifices. None are exempt and no steps are passed over. In this way, the journey is one to perfection—though many worldly people will be held up in that; it is a stumbling block to these, thinking ‘spiritual progress’ the key i.e. perfection as an impossible state to reach.
He’s not a crass God who requires absolute perfection. But, perfection is both expected and required; we aspire to perfection, not progress, for compromise is always the inevitable place of progress. Commitment is, however, the place of perfection, unbending commitment—intent. We don’t discuss perfection in the same way as we ordinarily would in worldly terms. Perfection in this spiritual sense is not a metric-nominal thing. It cannot be considered one hundred percent. It just is “perfection” of intent, a modus operandi, if you will. And the dark night gets us there—that narrow road. It’s the qualifying journey for any true minister of God, for how could one truly know and espouse God adequately without having met him in their own dark night?
This version of perfection is the continual moment-by-moment (as far as humanly possible) walking in step with God. It is breathe prayer. It is a state of a more-or-less continual Presence of God. To these there is an instinctual foreignness regarding idol worship; to be devoted to things other than the godly is totally foreign, though interests still pertain within the realms of God’s blessings. God is never far away, and neither is the narrow way and road. The craft of discipleship is hence one of complete, ongoing sanctification. Growth and spiritual excellence, in that paradoxical pit of humility, is the path.
The dark night is about death preceding life—death to the desire of all “things” and death to self, such that God would extract all possible life out of the soul entrenched and ensconced in him, having previously expunged the pathetic effects of the world, the Devil and the flesh.
And once this God-anointed person has passed along the narrow road for a good amount of time, having served their apprenticeship in the Divine, they know the reason, the rationale, the promises and the victory—they know them personally. They’ll never be carnal again, God-willing, for Perfection has them. They can be no other way and they forage desperately for the narrow way for the rest of their days.
© 2009 S. J. Wickham.
Reference: Saint John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul (3rd Revised Ed.) (trans. E. Allison Peers) (Garden City, New York: Image Books / Doubleday & Co, Inc., 1959).