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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

On the Dark Night, Part 25

The question of memory has haunted me when I have been trying to understand the Dark Night of the Soul. Memory is important to the Catholic. St. Ignatius guides one through memory, to understanding, and then to the will in his Spiritual Exercises. But, in the writings of SS. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, it seems that memory is to be avoided and the past completely set aside in the new life which God is demanding in the purification of both the senses and the soul.

God has given me an incredible memory. When I remember, however, I am brought into the past. What God wants is to transform memory into something transcendent. The shadows of memory are to be turned into light.

I did not know what this meant until I was discussing the movements of the Dark Night with a friend who has been through this state. He gave me an insight from his own journey which helped me unravel this mystery of memory.

My perplexing question rested on memories of having an experience of human love. To remember such love seemed to me to be taking me away from both the present, and stopping me from moving into the purification of the senses and the soul. One never forgets people one has loved.

Then, my friend said two things which put the entire dilemma of memory into perspective. The first is that memory is not to be forgotten.

Memory is not to be forgotten, but transcended and transformed into something else. This something else is pure love, without expectation and with suffering. The memory is to lead to understanding, and Mr. Richert states it perfectly: Through understanding, we see the world and our life within it in the larger context of the eternal law and the relation of our souls to God.

Suddenly, one is no longer in the past, but in the present, in a great mystery of love and suffering. Memory holds one back from this intense love unless it is changed into the love of the moment, God's Love. The suffering is both the absence of human love, but the transcendence of the Love of God.

To break out of the chain of memory, one must be willing to face truth, loss, love, suffering.

This is the transcendence, leading to the now and the much bigger picture of eternity. All things remembered fall into a great mystery wherein all one can know is that events which have happened and people which have been met and loved are part of a huge plan of God. One may not see that plan fulfilled on earth, but one is absolutely sure one will understand fully in heaven. In the meantime, one rests in the light of God's Will. 

The will in enlightened to let go of all and place all in God's Perfect Plan. Perhaps the memory is a shaft of light in one's darkness which haunts one. Suddenly, one see that light as not merely a small piece of grace, a small piece of God's Life, but an entire lightness which illumines the intellect, the heart, the soul. 

What one wills is to live in the mystery of God totally. At this stage, one does not even know God in the same manner as before, as He is revealing Himself in Darkness, in mystery. I share John of the Cross's poem again below.

All of this experience and knowledge of God happens if one is willing to suffer. The suffering is the loss of what is real in memory, but becomes real in the now, not as memory but as the present moment, and seen as part of the light of God Himself.  God lets us experience and know Him, even for a few moments. 

We are not in control of God coming to us in the Dark Night, where memory melts into light. All is grace.

I am so glad my friend explained that memory is not to be forgotten or pushed down, but transformed into a random harvest completely controlled by the Will of God.

Another phrase which could be used is absolute sacrificial love, no longer a burden but a way of being, of seeing, of acting. Memory opens the door to this light, and with understanding, one can now will to desire only God and nothing else. Memory, understanding and will lead one directly to God.

The second thing which my friend unravelled was that one cannot pretend to know what God is doing with one's memory, understanding and will. As long as the willingness is there, God will guide one, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. 

He said it is as if the breath of God was felt on one's neck. I could hardly believe that my friend had never read this poem, as he used almost the exact same words as St. John. I highlight those words.

On a dark night

On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings
--oh, happy chance!--
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest. 
In darkness and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised
--oh, happy chance!--
In darkness and in concealment,
My house being now at rest.
In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide,
save that which burned in my heart.
This light guided me
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he
(well I knew who!) was awaiting me
-- A place where none appeared.
Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined
Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!
Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping,
and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.
The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand
He wounded my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.
I remained, lost in oblivion; 
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.