|When many of us think about roots, we picture the life-giving tendrils of plants and trees that reach into the earth for nourishment. Whether they delve deeper or spread wider as the plant matures, we can’t see them grow. These roots grow out of sight.
In our spiritual journeys, we sometimes go through grow-spurts of joy and fullness, but most often there are long periods when life seems static and dry. And in particularly challenging times, it might feel like our very roots are shriveling up, and we’re starving for any kind of consolation from God.
The 16th-century mystic John of the Cross called these times dark nights of the soul. He himself endured one in 1578, when he was locked in a windowless prison cell for eight months. Fellow friars from his Carmelite order thought he was too revolutionary in his attempted reforms, so they locked him away. It was during this time of literal darkness that he went through a spiritual purgation that left him bereft and unmoored, yet ultimately yielded a closer union with God.
Writing about it afterward, he gave instructions for those experiencing a similar feeling of rootlessness:
- Abandon the desire for possessions, which are ultimately distractions, because as long as we strive for them we’re relying on our own efforts and blocking God’s graceful provision.
- Trust our faith above intellect, because intellect relies on that which can be explained, and God’s action ultimately cannot be explained.
- Remember that a dark night ends in a closer union with God.
And why did John call it the dark night? Because when we release our coping mechanisms and attempts at explanations, our accustomed way of seeing the world falls away, like the scales that fell from Paul’s eyes. And God is so much bigger than what we think we can see.
So this Lent, remember that while God certainly works in the light, often our greatest growth happens in the dark—those hidden places where our spiritual roots deepen and mature. God bless you in your spiritual journey.