Dark Night of the Soul

St John Of the Cross

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.

There is a dark place my mind can go.  It is a place filled with worry and anxiety.  My thoughts start racing and overwhelm me with the idea that I am not good enough, am going to fail, and have failed too often to ever get another chance.  My heart rate goes up and it is a struggle to remain in control.  These feelings are so strong that I lose sense of myself.   It feels like the walls of the world are closing in around and will suffocate me.  All the while I am paralyzed to move.  The degree to which these feelings are present in my mind vary.  Sometimes they are subtle and lingering in the background and other times, they are an untamed monster.  Whatever the feeling the source seems to be the idea that I am simply not good enough, forgivable or love-able.  There is an internal battle between what I know in my head (I am a capable person who has made a significant impact in the lives of others) with feeling utterly worthless and alone.  Longing for a God who I know is there somewhere but seems distant and unfamiliar.  While it is scary to write this, I want to assure you, and maybe myself, I am not crazy!  I suspect having moments where one is overwhelmed by feelings of panic, fear and isolation is not unique.  Even St. Teresa of Calcutta confessed to her spiritual guide that she had profound moments of loneliness.  Coping can alternate between choosing to exercise (good decision) or eating a Hershey bar (bad decision).  Too often the candy bar wins.  The other day I knew I needed to change the dynamic of my thought process, so I mowed the lawn.  During that time, I had, at least what seemed to me, an insight to dealing with worry.  Live in the moment.   Find God in the moment.

Existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard stated it this way, “Life has its own hidden forces which you can only discover by living.”  The first time God interacts with Moses, he asks, “What is your name?”   God replies, “I am who I am.  Then he added: this is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me.” The word “am” comes from the verb to be.  God identifies himself as being.  The essence of God is to be- to exist – to live.  I interpret the hidden force that Kierkegaard refers to as God! The mystery of God, the hidden force we search for is within us and all around us.  By God’s own definition:  God is existence.  Therefore, God is in us, more than us, and all around us.  We can discover God in our joy, happiness, relationships, memories, experiences, suffering, anxiety, worry, chaos and uncertainty.  All of the created world is an expression of God even if an aspect of that created world causes us anxiety and worry.  God is mysteriously involved.  Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM speaks of the paradox of living in daily life,

Life has its own hidden forces which you can only discover by living.
— Soren Kierkegaard

“A saint is one who somehow voluntarily chooses to trust the daily paradox of life and death as the two sides of everything. We, too, can walk this path of welcoming disappointment and self-doubt, by “suffering” the full truth of reality. Our vocation is a willingness to hold—and transform—the dark side of things instead of reacting against them, denying them, or projecting our anxiety elsewhere. Without such a willingness to hold the very real tension of paradox, most lives end in negativity, blaming, or cynicism.”

If we want to experience God- just be.   By simply existing and taking a step back, we will realize that what caused us worry, anxiety or panic isn’t real.  I am always OK in the moment.  If only I could remember that in the moment!  It is the past and the future that causes worry.  How much do we worry about in the future that ever comes to pass?  What from the past can we change?  Often, what causes us panic or stress is not what is happening at the moment.


In Star Wars Rogue One, Chirrut Imwe, recognizes the presence of God (the force) to which he belongs and with whom he is unified. This is an example of what it means to see God as existence- and it is contagious! When stressed consider this mantra:  "I am one with God and God is one with me."


Scripture scholars tell us that the predominant message of Jesus is the kingdom of God is at hand.  During the time of Jesus, many interpreted this message as God restoring the nation of Israel to its previous glory.  Others saw it as Jesus stating that through him God was present in a new and unique way.  Perhaps in our busy culture, we should interpret this as the presence of God is at hand in this moment.  Jesus was reminding us that God is existence; right here, right now.  One of the most powerful, spiritual and life shaping experiences for me was a mission trip to the Dominican Republic.  The slower pace of the Dominican culture made this experience meaningful.  We took time to be with one another.  Each evening, after teaching vacation bible school each day, we would gather with our families, sit in a circle and tell stories, sing songs, play games.  These were some of the poorest families on the planet who offered us hospitality, were filled with joy and happiness.  When we gathered there was no agenda.  Our only purpose was to be.  This experience reminded me who I was-a child of God.  God’s presence was obvious, profound and overwhelming. 

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Unfortunately, our American culture is not very good at being.  Busyness has become a symbol of importance.  People are overwhelmed by the crazy schedule of their lives.  Carpools for kids, long hours at work, parent meetings, school activities, house chores, and the list goes on.  It seems as though we live a certain heresy that says we need to achieve in order to please God.  It is our very existence that offers glory to God.  In a Brave New World, Aldous Huxley implies if you want to eliminate God from society, make sure people are too busy to have time to reflect.  The busyness of our lives makes it challenging to find God, to find the hidden force that is only discovered by living.     Psalm 46 says:  Be still and know that I am God.  Be.  Just be.  Remember who you are and allow God to delight in you discover the hidden forces of life unfold before your eyes.

Joe Nettesheim, is the Director and Founder of 12plus1, Inc.  He has worked in parish ministry since 1991, serving as a Youth Minister, Adult and Family Minister, Pastoral Associate,  and teacher at both the High School and University level.   He and his wife Maribeth have a blended family of 5 kids, 2 son-in-laws, 6 grand kids and a crazy oaf of a dog, TS Eliot the golden doodle.