November 2007


A good friend of mine passed on a message from Mark Yaconelli (Mike Yaconelli’s son) from one of this year’s National Youth Worker’s Conventions titled, The Dark Night of the Soul – When God is absent.  There were several compelling reasons that I would interrupt my weekly listening schedule and focus in on some other source:

1.     I’ve never listened to Mark speak.  I am a huge fan of his Dad’s thoughts.
2.     My friend told me that this message ranked in his top 5 messages of all times.
3.     My friend told me that this message described exactly where he is at.
4.     And the title “Dark Night of the Soul” sounds very indie-rock and enticing.

So, I’ve now listened to the message three times straight through and reviewed several sections a couple of more times.  I’ve also spent a couple of hours looking at some research on this subject from Mark’s references and outside sources.  I am compelled to take some time and convey my thoughts on as I too resonate with this idea. 

Let me give you some details and highlights from Mark’s talk and then I’ll tell you why I am able to relate to what he describes.
Mark opens his time with a quote from the writings of Mother Teresa in the book Mother Teresa Come Be My Light:

“There is so much contradiction in my soul.  Such deep longing for God.  So deep that it is painful.   A continual suffering.  And yet, I’m not wanted by God.  I feel repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal.  The souls of others hold no attraction to me.   Heaven means nothing.  To me it looks like an empty place.   The thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God persists.  Pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything.   Pray for me for within me everything is icy cold.   It is only that blind faith that carries me through for in reality, to me, all is darkness.   God is destroying everything in me.   There is such a terrible darkness within me as if everything was dead.  The silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, that I listen and I do not hear.”

This was written by Mother Teresa as she was in the middle of doing wonderful things for God.  You and I would have looked at her and had no question about her love and devotion for God.  We would have seen the ways that God was using her to impact a community and shine His light upon them.  And yet, she stood in the midst of wonderful things and questioned her own motives, her beliefs and her faith all at the same time while holding on to nothing but her motives, beliefs and faith.  I’m sorry if that’s not clear to you, but I’m not sure there’s any other way to say it.  It would be like holding a ball in your hand, doubting that the thing in your hand was a ball, but continuing to call it a ball and refusing to put it down. 

The Dark Night of the Soul comes from a writing by St John of the Cross and has a book of the same title that goes through each line explaining what is being said.  But the concept is basically that God takes some people into this place where they feel so completely alone as a way to strip away individual perceptions and allow them to more clearly see God.  Typically the things that used to take someone into the presence of God become mundane, forced and seemingly unauthentic.  In the examples I’ve looked at, this includes prayer, meditation and even works of service.  The writings from St John of the Cross suggest that it’s only very spiritual or spiritually mature people that would be taken into this dark place.  And the worst part about it, there is no warning sign going in and no clear guide to getting out.  God takes a person there when He wants and allows them to walk out of the darkness when He’s ready.  The person suffering in the darkness is left without having control.

Scripture gives us a few examples of people that were in a similar place.  Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 1:8-9
8      All things are full of weariness;
          a man cannot utter it;
     the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
          nor the ear filled with hearing.
9      What has been is what will be,
          and what has been done is what will be done,
          and there is nothing new under the sun.

And David in Psalm 22
1      My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
          Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
2      O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
          and by night, but I find no rest.
3      Yet you are holy,
          enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4      In you our fathers trusted;
          they trusted, and you delivered them.
5      To you they cried and were rescued;
          in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6      But I am a worm and not a man,
          scorned by mankind and despised by the people.

Both of these men were troubled and questioning their distance from God while acknowledging He was still there with them. 

In doing some searching about this Dark Night of the Soul concept, I found it accepted both as a spiritual and a mystical venture that people are allowed to travel through in an attempt to more clearly see God (or become more enlightened as a mystic might suggest).  I’m not advocating the similarities between a spiritual and/or mystical experience or existence, but simply pointing out that even those that are “spiritual” but not Christ-followers have been taken down this path.  This leads me to think that a person could be led into the darkness and God would allow them to walk out of that darkness even though they still did not find Him within the experience. 

Jesus, in John 6:44 says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. “  So, maybe “spiritual” people are led into the darkness to find what they are really looking for in an attempt by God to be led to the feet of Jesus.  But after some time that is long enough, God leads them out even though they did not find Christ within the darkness. 

I’ll acknowledge that my understanding of the Dark Night of the Soul is a very new concept to me.  And maybe St John of the Cross is rolling over in his grave at my understanding and conclusions.  Maybe I’m completely off base.  But, I come to these conclusions in light of having spent a little more than four years in a dark night of my own soul. 

I walked out of a church plant in 2002 after realizing that I had been walking into this darkness for some time.  Unlike Mother Teresa, the good works that were being done in my presence sustained me and my shallow understanding of God to the point where I didn’t even realize how dark it had gotten.  Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  I wasn’t involved in some sin that was coming between God and me, my wife and me or my community and me – I looked around and was alone in a room full of people that loved me.  And much like a dog about to die, I retreated into seclusion. 

Mark, in his talk, makes it clear that this is exactly what I should not have done.  I needed to remain under the leadership of Godly people that could help me walk through this darkness and keep me moving when I was ready to give up.  But even if I knew that then, I’m still not sure that I wouldn’t have run away.  I was scared, alone, unsure of why… I felt abandoned by the God that I was pouring out my life for. 

Anyway, for four years I journeyed and looked for Christian experiences or methods that would lead me back into that “feeling” of being in the presence of God.  And there were a few moments during those years that I thought I was moving into the light, but like a camp experience, that “feeling” would fade over a few short days and again it would be dark.  A little more than a year ago, I came to the spot where I was ready to throw in the towel.  If God was still there, He was going to have to show up or I was ready to quit looking inside of a community of faith (or church). 

I had taken the time that I used to spend in church programs and became involved in a community event and found that God was at work.  It was like I was standing a few yards into some dense woods.  If I looked towards the community event, there was light.  If I looked towards the church, it was that same darkness.  I wanted to run into the light, but everything I had been taught and knew about God’s desire for me to be part of a community of faith kept me from scrapping the whole deal and running out into the light. 

I made one final attempt.  I left the church where I was attending and tried a small little church that appeared to want to impact their community in new ways.  They were in great turmoil when I first visited, but for me, all I saw and felt was the presence of God.  This church was nothing like where I had come from or been raised in, but instantly it was home.  Maybe this is what the Levite priests felt when they walked into the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament.  I was in the presence of God.  Oh, did it feel good!

I feel as if I’ve been allowed to walk out of that dark place, and acknowledge just how thankful I am not to be in that place any longer.  My fear, much like a cancer patient in remission, is that one day I’ll again be taken to that dark night.  Or maybe even worse, maybe I was there long enough and I missed what God was trying to show me.  Today, I stand in the light and know that the God I serve loves me more than I love Him.  And I’m not alone…

– mark

Advertisements

rewind poster

The final Ascension of 2007 will be tomorrow night at San Pablo Baptist Church (3044 San Pablo Road Jacksonville, Florida 32224) Friday, November 16, 2007.  The doors open at 7pm.  This Ascension is titled “Rewind” and Manny and I be rewinding through this past year and putting one last action step to the year.  The band is pulling out a few of the songs from this year and introducing a preview of next year as well. 

 If you’re unfamiliar with Ascension, we’re a group of people that take a concert-environment worship experience into churches around the Northeast Florida, Southeast Georgia area on a monthly basis.  Come check us out and then get on the schedule to host an event in your neck of the woods.  You can learn more by checking out our MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/ascensionworship

– mark