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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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.

 

This Unexpected Second Chance

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By Michael W. Raley

I never thought I would’ve ended up here,

After all the hard work, sacrifice, tears,

The late nights, the prayers, and conquering the fears.

I gave you everything I had, even my youthful years.

I now find myself in middle age,

Getting ready to turn the page

On a chapter I didn’t plan to write,

Like an unexpected fog rolling in on a clear night.

However, I am learning to embrace this unexpected second chance,

Even if it was born of the most unpleasant circumstance.

My heart and spirit for a time were broken and frail,

I am now determined to clear my path and blaze a trail.

 

 

 

 

A Year of Restoration

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As 2018 ended and 2019 began, the word restoration kept springing to mind. To restore something whether it be a relationship, physical health, or house, simply means to bring an item back to its original state. Restoration is my word for the year as I seek to rebuild my relationship with God and my life.

Restoration in the Bible, like our word in English, can mean many things, such as the restoration brought about by prophecy, healing, the restoration of the Temple, and the restoration of the merciful/righteous. My focus on restoration will be the aspect of returning to God after a period of sin and trials.

2019 will mark twenty years since I first accepted Christ, and it has been a wild ride. I have faced many trials over the course of these years, which have often led to me questioning God’s plan, my decision making, leaving church, going back to church, and so on and so forth. I truly admire those who have spent their lives serving God without reservation or hesitation. I would like to get to that point and stay there.

This year I am working on restoring my relationship with God, while continuing to grow as an individual. There are numerous verses, Old and New Testament, concerning coming back to God after sin and trials. I would like to share a few of them.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” -1 Peter 5:10 (NIV).

“And when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I’ve commanded you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where He scattered you.” -Deuteronomy 30:2-3 (NIV).

“Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” -Psalm 80, verses 3, 7, and 10 (NIV).

As we go forward into this year, let us be mindful of God’s grace. No matter what we’ve gone through, even if the situation pushed us away from God, we can always come back to Him. God bless.

The Loneliness Strikes at Night

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By Michael W. Raley

The loneliness strikes at night,

Right before time to go to sleep.

I don’t want to be alone,

So I try to put off the inevitable.

I stay up, fighting the loneliness until I’m exhausted,

Before finally going to sleep.

The next battle is trying to stay asleep,

As I toss and turn in weariness.

I wake up just as exhausted

As when I went to bed.

This house is just too big and too quiet

Without you here.

I’m over the heartbreak,

I have yet to adjust to sleeping alone.

Where I used to reach out and hold you,

I now grasp at the empty space.

That Used Feeling

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How do you get over the feeling of being used?

After you devoted years of your life, time, energy, money, a listening ear, friendship, the other party- the spouse who has filed for divorce, the downsizing employer, the friend who betrayed you- inform you that your services are no longer needed. Where do you go from there?

When it comes to matters of business, such as being laid off or being forced into early retirement, that’s just the reality of the business world. To quote from the classic movie, The Godfather, “It’s not personal, it’s strictly business.”

However, when it comes to interpersonal relationships- marriage, long-term dating, friendship, family, how do you get over that feeling of being used when the relationship sours? How can you build trust with anyone else? As the finalization of my divorce looms, I’ve had to battle this feeling of being used. I know that’s not truly the case and deep down, I am battling a false perception, which I must overcome. False perception or not, my heart still stings.

As I write this, I am forty-one years old and twenty of those years- two years of dating and eighteen of marriage have been intertwined with someone else. Two lives became one and now they are two separate lives. I know I did everything I could to make it work and only reluctantly agreed to a divorce, but the hurt remains. These twenty years weren’t all bad, as there are many great memories, laughs, and good times, yet here I am alone.

I know that divorce is a process. I have made strides and I am reconnecting with God. My family has also been a great source of strength during this time. I know as the time passes, I will right my perceptions. This shock wave will subside and I will move on with my life. This situation has truly rocked me to the core. I never thought I would be here.

 

Love’s Regret

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By Michael W. Raley

How could I have missed the signs

When they were in front of me the whole time?

Was I in denial and refused

To believe the real truth about you?

My heart has ached over this pain

And my body’s energy has been drained

Because this decision has cost me years,

Many restless nights, anxiety, and tears.

I wanted to believe that I made the right choice

As I drowned out the doubts of my inner voice.

This one time I ignored reason and went with emotion

While ignoring the red flags and commotion

Has cost me dearly,

For my soul is broken and weary.

You are gone and life has been turned upside down,

As you are on the other side of town.

I will fall in love again,

I just don’t know when.

Nevertheless, the work begins on rebuilding my spirit,

The inner me, who will escape from this pit.