A comment on Bahá’í Forums the other day caught by attention and got me thinking. The post read: “The Dark Night of the Soul is a phase which people who have come to spiritual maturity go through, when they feel utterly forsaken by God, absolutely miserable, with no “nice feelings”, no comfort, no pleasure from faith or good works. It is complete, excruciating spiritual, emotional and mental agony”.
I’ve certainly been there several times and I’m sure many of you have too!
Life frequently goes in directions that aren’t pleasing to us, but Bahá’u’lláh tells us it shouldn’t matter:
If, however, for a few days, in compliance with God’s all-encompassing wisdom, outward affairs should run their course contrary to one’s cherished desire, this is of no consequence and should not matter. (Bahá’u’lláh, Fire and Light, p. 10)
He promises better days ahead, both in this world and the next:
O my servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will no doubt attain. (Bahá’u’lláh, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 69)
Nothing lasts forever. Everything in nature has its own cycle. The seasons are a good example. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains each:
At one time it is the season of spring; at another it is the season of autumn; and again it is the season of summer or the season of winter. In the spring there are the clouds which send down the precious rain, the musk-scented breezes and life-giving zephyrs; the air is perfectly temperate, the rain falls, the sun shines, the fecundating wind wafts the clouds, the world is renewed, and the breath of life appears in plants, in animals and in men. Earthly beings pass from one condition to another. All things are clothed in new garments, and the black earth is covered with herbage; mountains and plains are adorned with verdure; trees bear leaves and blossoms; gardens bring forth flowers and fragrant herbs. The world becomes another world, and it attains to a life-giving spirit. The earth was a lifeless body; it finds a new spirit, and produces endless beauty, grace and freshness. Thus the spring is the cause of new life and infuses a new spirit.
Afterward comes the summer, when the heat increases, and growth and development attain their greatest power. The energy of life in the vegetable kingdom reaches to the degree of perfection, the fruit appears, and the time of harvest ripens; a seed has become a sheaf, and the food is stored for winter.
Afterward comes tumultuous autumn when unwholesome and sterile winds blow; it is the season of sickness, when all things are withered, and the balmy air is vitiated. The breezes of spring are changed to autumn winds; the fertile green trees have become withered and bare; flowers and fragrant herbs fade away; the beautiful garden becomes a dustheap.
Following this comes the season of winter, with cold and tempests. It snows, rains, hails, storms, thunders and lightens, freezes and congeals; all plants die, and animals languish and are wretched.
When this state is reached, again a new life-giving spring returns, and the cycle is renewed. The season of spring with its hosts of freshness and beauty spreads its tent on the plains and mountains with great pomp and magnificence. A second time the form of the creatures is renewed, and the creation of beings begins afresh; bodies grow and develop, the plains and wildernesses become green and fertile, trees bring forth blossoms, and the spring of last year returns in the utmost fullness and glory. Such is, and such ought to be, the cycle and succession of existence. Such is the cycle and revolution of the material world. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 73-74)
We love spring, summer and even the early parts of fall, but when we’re in winter, most of us find it difficult, if not impossible to believe that spring will follow. Winter feels so dark and cold, it’s hard to imagine feeling good again. The dark night of the soul is like winter, with all its attendant death and relentless tests.
Without the proper attitude, it’s easy to slide into depression and we become weak and unable to think clearly:
But when sadness visits us we become weak, our strength leaves us, our comprehension is dim and our intelligence veiled. The actualities of life seem to elude our grasp, the eyes of our spirits fail to discover the sacred mysteries, and we become even as dead beings. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 109)
It’s important that we understand the purpose of tests and to know that God has sent them to us for the perfection of our souls.
You are encouraged to continue to keep in mind the spiritual dimension of your struggles. We are assured by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the following words: “The more difficulties one sees in the world the more perfect one becomes. The more you plough and dig the ground the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of a tree the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen the steel by grinding the better it cuts. Therefore, the more sorrows one sees the more perfect one becomes. That is why, in all times, the Prophets of God have had tribulations and difficulties to withstand. The more often the captain of a ship is in the tempest and difficult sailing the greater his knowledge becomes. Therefore I am happy that you have had great tribulations and difficulties… Strange it is that I love you and still I am happy that you have sorrows. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. XIV, No. 2, p. 41)
We’re not alone in our suffering. Even the Prophets of God suffered:
As we suffer these misfortunes we must remember that the Prophets of God Themselves were not immune from these things which men suffer. They knew sorrow, illness and pain too. They rose above these things through Their spirits, and that is what we must try and do too, when afflicted. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 297)
In the Tablet of Ahmad, we’re asked to:
Remember My days during thy days, and My distress and banishment in this remote prison. (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Prayers, p. 210)
One way to remember is to consider that Bahá’u’lláh was clearly having His own “dark night of the soul” when He wrote the Fire Tablet, pouring out His pain to God. One of the opening lines is:
Those who are near unto Thee have been abandoned in the darkness of desolation: Where is the shining of the morn of Thy reunion, O Desire of the worlds? (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Prayers, p. 213)
In the middle of your “dark night” I’m sure you too feel abandoned in the “darkness of desolation”!
The Dark Night separates the wheat from the chaff. Those who cannot endure it, may lose faith altogether.
Many of those who drift away from the Cause do so for the reason that they had ceased to go on developing. They became complacent, or indifferent, and consequently ceased to draw the spiritual strength and vitality from the Cause which they should have. Sometimes, of course, people fail because of a test they just do not meet. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)
It’s easy to say we believe, but much harder to prove it:
It is easy to approach the Kingdom of Heaven, but hard to stand firm and staunch within it, for the tests are rigorous, and heavy to bear. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 274)
So what will get us through these tests?
- Trust God and the process:
Whatever hath befallen you, hath been for the sake of God. This is the truth, and in this there is no doubt. You should, therefore, leave all your affairs in His Hands, place your trust in Him, and rely upon Him. He will assuredly not forsake you. In this, likewise, there is no doubt. No father will surrender his sons to devouring beasts; no shepherd will leave his flock to ravening wolves. He will most certainly do his utmost to protect his own. If, however, for a few days, in compliance with God’s all-encompassing wisdom, outward affairs should run their course contrary to one’s cherished desire, this is of no consequence and should not matter. (Baha’u’llah, Fire and Light, p. 10)
- Be patient and composed, trusting in God’s grace:
When calamity striketh, be ye patient and composed. However afflictive your sufferings may be, stay ye undisturbed, and with perfect confidence in the abounding grace of God, brave ye the tempest of tribulations and fiery ordeals. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 73)
- Grin and bear it is God’s advice to Bahá’u’lláh in the Fire Tablet!
Thou wert created to bear and endure, O Patience of the worlds. (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Prayers, p. 218)
- Turn towards God and cling to the Writings:
Our intent is that all the friends should fix their gaze on the Supreme Horizon, and cling to that which hath been revealed in the Tablets. (Bahá’u’lláh, Fire and Light, p. 10)
- Understand that it’s not forever and we will emerge more spiritual and closer to God.
The troubles of this world pass, and what we have left is what we have made of our souls; so it is to this we must look—to becoming more spiritual, drawing nearer to God, no matter what our human minds and bodies go through. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 297)
The post concludes: “At the end of the experience the person is purified from all attachments to emotion, sense, feeling and thoughts. It is the ultimate state of union with God wherein they rest in Him devoid of any “great feelings” or pleasures or sense perceptions or emotions in a state of imperturbable Nothingness.” Indeed Bahá’u’lláh tells us:
After scaling the high summits of wonderment, the wayfarer cometh to the valley of true poverty and absolute nothingness. This station is the dying from self and the living in God, the being poor in self and rich in the Desired One. (Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 35)
Surely seeing the end in the beginning, will make going through it all worthwhile!
What helped you get through your own “dark night”? Post your comments here: