Book Review- Dark Nights of the Soul

All of us go through periods of suffering. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, a divorce, a job loss, an illness, a crisis of faith, all of which can crush our spirits and cover our lives in darkness. It’s not only these unpleasant times that will come to define us, it’s also how we respond when these times come. Thomas Moore’s book, Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals. The book title inspired by the 16th Century Spanish mystic and poet John of the Cross’ poem “Dark Night of the Soul.”

At the very beginning, Moore informs us that getting through a dark night of the soul is not for those looking for a quick fix:

“If your main interest in life is health, you may quickly try to overcome the darkness. But if you are looking for meaning, character, and personal substance, you may discover that a dark night has many important gifts for you.”1

Moore adds that we can sense a time of growth and preparation during difficult times:

“Sometimes in your darkness you may sense that something is incubating in you or that you are being prepared for life. You are going somewhere, even though there are no external signs of progress.”2

Moore brilliantly draws upon the struggles of patients in his years of therapy practice and how they navigated through their dark nights. Moore also weaves in the tale of Jonah from the Bible, tales from mythology, and the real life struggles of writers Oscar Wilde, Anne Sexton, Emily Dickinson, and others, who found meaning in the midst of their suffering.

Moore’s theme throughout the book is to guide us in how to properly frame our dark nights, embrace them, and seek to growth from the darkness.

“Think of a dark night as part of organic living. To avoid it would be like choosing only artificial food that never spoils. As a natural person, you are going to feel a wide range of emotions and go through many different kinds of experiences. Over the course of your lifetime, parts of you will grow and blossom, some will rot. To be sad, grieving, struggling, lost, or hopeless is part of natural human life. By riding the wave of your dark night, you are more yourself, moving toward who you are meant to be.”3

Moore touches upon the dark nights that can occur in life, relationships, spirituality, creativity, health, and aging, often using non-clinical methods, to help the reader understand how to get through the dark times. One way to navigate the dark nights, according to Moore, is to develop a philosophy of life, which he defines as:

“A philosophy of life is a bundle of wisdom you have gathered from your reading and experience. It is not a rigid ideology that allows no development and complexity. It’s a living thing, a developing idea about life that belongs to you alone.”4

I know on a personal level that whenever I find myself going through a period of suffering, I question the purpose of said suffering. I contemplate the purpose of my existence and my lot in life. However, Moore puts it succinctly, while drawing upon a them of Stoic philosophy:

“Where you fit in the scheme of things is not your choice. Your job is to deal honestly and generously with the fate given to you. It may be a brief life of sickness. You may be the most ordinary of people. On the other hand, you may be called sometime in your life to make an extraordinary act. Your task is to be prepared for the invitation offered, the chance to define yourself by an important choice.”5

I find Dark Nights of the Soul to be an excellent read and I recommend it to anyone facing a difficult time in your life.

1Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals.New York: Gotham Books (2004): xiii.

2Ibid, 4.

3Ibid, 7.

4Ibid, 32.

5Ibid, 298.

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My Compounded Grief

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By Michael W. Raley

I thought I could stay a step ahead of my grief,

But it ran me down.

Grief was the ferocious lion

And I was the helpless gazelle.

Grief has permeated every area of my life,

Even to the core of my identity.

My grief is compounded by the weight

Of depression and anxiety,

Which are enough on their own.

I pray desperately for a light

To pierce through this dark night of my soul,

However, the darkness remains.

The harder I push through,

The tougher the resistance.

The greater my cries,

The more resounding the silence.

 

The Ever Encroaching Reality

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By Michael W. Raley

Things weren’t supposed to turn out this way.

Yet, I find myself dealing with the fallout

Of my life to this point.

I am fighting for sanity and survival,

While God remains silent.

My prayers bounce off the walls and ceiling.

I face another day without help from on high.

My spirit is laid low and my mind is clouded

To the point I can’t think straight.

I am hesitant to trust my decision making process

Because a few of my choices led me to this place.

There are positives, but I must remain focused

On the ever encroaching reality of today.

 

The Introverted Christian

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I am an introvert and I am okay with it. I am by nature a shy, quiet, and reserved person until I become comfortable with a person, a group, or a social situation. I prefer a quiet Friday night at home or the solitude of a bookstore as opposed to some loud bar or club. However, the “extroverted world” has tried to make it out like there’s something wrong with me or the millions, possibly billions out there like me.

“You have to look out for the quiet ones.”

“Why are you so quiet?”

“You need to come out of your shell.”

“You don’t talk much.”

My introversion not only comes in conflict with everyday life, but also in the business and the fundamental evangelical church worlds. I have been a manager, I have preached sermons, I’ve volunteered to coach a church league basketball team, I went on a mission trip and fulfilled The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), but people were still standoffish and not accepting of me.

The place where I struggled the most with my introversion was the church. In my early twenties up to my mid-thirties, my now ex-wife and I attended what is known as a Charismatic church, which believes that the gifts of the New Testament (healing, speaking in tongues,casting out demons, etc.) are still in effect today. If you are unfamiliar with the Charismatic church, it’s along the lines of the Pentecostal/Assemblies of God denominations.

Worship in these “Full Gospel” type of churches can get rowdy, as people jump up and down, wave flags, run around the sanctuary, raise their hands, and so on and so forth. However, I was always very reserved in my demeanor, choosing to worship God on my own terms. I’m not a hooting and hollering person, it’s not who I am. With my old church being around 300 people, others took notice of my demeanor and I received “churchified” statements concerning my introverted nature:

“You got a spirit of fear.”

“You need to be bold.”

“Quit resisting the Spirit.”

Now that I have the advantage of looking back and perspective, I know what I should have said: “If God knew me before He created me (Jeremiah 1:5), wouldn’t He know that I was going to be this way?”Or maybe I should’ve pointed out that Jesus, Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel, and others in Scripture sought out God in solitude and in their own ways. If they didn’t follow the crowd in seeking God, why do I have to? Also, if God accepts you as you are, wouldn’t that include a quiet nature as well?

Please don’t misinterpret, I am not speaking out of bitterness or putting anyone down. I am simply sharing my struggle with who I am. I spent a lot of years worried that there was something wrong with me, like I would not be fully accepted by God or anyone else. I don’t want you to face that same struggle.

As of this post, I am forty-two, divorced, starting over with God in a much larger church, and I am coming to a place of accepting myself. I am who I am. I prefer to share my faith by embodying my faith; I seek to build relationships as opposed to threatening with hell fire. It took me a long, long, time, but I have finally accepted myself just as I am. It may be a contradiction in terms, but I am an introverted Christian. God bless you.

Learning to Live in Grace

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Faith and grace often rise up during our lowest times. My walk with Christ has enabled me to overcome and work through very dark and difficult situations, such as sickness, family issues, mental health, career and financial struggles, and the dissolution of my marriage, all of which have taken a physical, mental, and spiritual toll. I haven’t been perfect in my faith or responses, but I am learning to live in grace.

My church is doing a series called “90 Days with Jesus,” where Monday through Saturday, we read one chapter of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I am halfway through Mark, which is just action packed with miracles and powerful teachings from start to finish. What has always struck me about the gospels is how a person’s lifetime of physical or emotional suffering came to an instantaneous end when they encountered Jesus. However, if many of us were to be honest, we’ve read these stories and petition God as to why He’s never healed us or a loved one of an affliction, why He’s not listening to our prayers, we wonder where are you, God?

God’s grace provides us with the strength we need to face our daily difficulties. Grace and faith should be realistic-not every situation is going to end in a miracle. There will be dark times, there will be struggles, but we must remember to rely on God’s strength to carry us through those times.

The Apostle Paul faced what he called “a thorn in the flesh,” which was a constant struggle in his life. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talked about his struggle and how on three different occasions he prayed God would take it away, but God did not. Some people  would argue Paul was physically sick, others would state Paul’s thorn was the constant persecution he faced. I personally lean toward the persecutions as his thorn. Even spiritual giants such as Paul had their struggles and that should comfort us. We must remember that God is working to perfect our character and prepare us for long-term growth, even if it comes at the expense of our perceived short-term comfort, as Paul wrote:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to  torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.  And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NASB).

So as we go about our day and our lives, let us remember that during the weakest moments, God’s grace is to be our strength. We must change our mindset concerning our suffering and difficulties and look for God’s guidance and direction. As we look toward God, our faith will increase. God bless you all.

The Ghosts of Decisions Past

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By Michael W. Raley

Haunted by the ghosts of decisions past,

My life of late has been filled with regret

From one fateful choice,

Which set off a chain of events

I cannot undo.

I saw the problem on the horizon,

But I chose to look the other way.

My instincts warned me,

But I refused to listen.

I now find myself here,

Trying to rebuild a shattered life,

Attempting to climb out of this bottomless pit.

I now ponder how I can forgive myself

For what has happened,

Forgive myself for the series of failures

My life has become.

The Rising and the Wonder

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By Michael W. Raley

Dare I say that hope is rising in my spirit?

For the first time in a long time,

I am living with a sense of wonder-

Wonder of God, wonder of life, and the possibility of love.

I recognize the new opportunity,

However, I am slightly guarded, yet optimistic.

I never thought I would be here,

Especially after all of the hopeless and dark days.

Today is an opportunity for a reset

And I will embrace this moment.