Oscura – Dark Night of the Soul
When we speak of darkness today, we are often referring to something sinister, as in ‘powers of darkness’ or the ‘dark side.’ This is not what Teresa (of Avila) or John (of the Cross) meant when they used the Spanish word for dark, ‘oscura’. For them it simply means ‘obscure’. In the same way that things are difficult to see at night, the deepest relationship between God and person is hidden from our conscious awareness….In oscuras things are hidden. Gerald May – Dark Night of the Soul
I’ve never been that excited about being in the dark, especially when alone. As a girl I was quite scared of the dark and especially of the darkness underneath my bed. What might lurk there? I would often leap into my bed from a distance away to avoid the shadows taunting me from underneath. One night I forgot to leap and stood close to my bed before tucking in. That was the night my older brother decided to play a joke on me and hide underneath my bed and grab my ankle!! You cannot believe the velocity of the scream that erupted from my mouth. There WAS a monster under the bed. And…it was my brother! My reaction was so severe that my dear brother felt remorse for a good long while.
Needless to say, darkness wasn’t something that appealed to me. Shadowed places. Murky places. This translated also into the metaphorical places of darkness in an adult life. I wanted to see. I wanted to understand. I wanted things to be clear. I wanted to know. Places that were unclear, foggy, mysterious, unknowable were greatly uncomfortable and to be avoided. However, as you all know, it is impossible to avoid the shadows forever. Shadows and hidden places of obscurity are a part of our existence and the more we avoid them, the larger they grow.
When I was in the midst of my spiritual and personal crisis 20 years ago I had my first shadow dream. I dreamt of a shadow intruder in my home. It was a strange experience, dreaming of a shadow. To my surprise, when I explained it to my spiritual director, she guided me towards Jungian psychology which held a great understanding for facing our shadow. This was the beginning of looking towards rather than running away from my shadow.
What were the places of shadow in my life? There were many if I was honest. Places of unknowing, places of uncertainty, places of ambiguity and confusion. I began to understand that these were not places to avoid but rather places in my life to become aware of and then face. I learned that facing them didn’t make them go away or bring me any clarity, but I could be present to them. It was like facing a large lake and standing beside it. The large lake held hidden, obscure things I didn’t know or understand. Instead of running away, I was invited to just be present to the lake. In time, a boat would come sailing in or a fish would jump ….things would shift and more understanding would come. Or direction for the next step would emerge.
To stand and just be present doesn’t mean one is passive. Rather, it is the posture of active attentiveness. One lets go of striving and trying to figure things out with the mind. In places of oscura, the mind simply cannot ‘understand’ or solve the problem like a mathematical equation. It is like we are invited to become aware of a different kind of knowing, a soul knowing that arises from a very deep part of oneself out of this places of stillness and active attentiveness.
In this posture of stillness, there is a yielding of the ego that has to happen. This isn’t that much fun! I let go of figuring this out myself. WHAAAAA! Letting go of control and opening to grace. That is the POSSIBILITY that exists when one steps up to the lake of unknowing. We don’t grab grace. We open to it. It arises, blossoms, emerges as a great surprise. Always feels like a paradox. What? I just let go! And then – boom! This gift wafts in through the breeze. A gift of tender grace in the darkness of stillness and waiting by the lake.
This is where I go again and again. I just love the word oscura. It helps me in these times. To just admit the shadow, the unknowing, the confusion. ‘Oh yes, this is a place of obscurity. Another place of unknowing. Can I rest here? And just hang out? Can I yield here?’ There is an awareness now, that if I yield once again to this journey to the lake and letting go of trying to understand, and opening to stillness…..that once again I will open to the possibility of a greater truth, a greater understanding and perhaps taste once again the elusive surprise of grace.
Tonight, March 26, 2017 there is an evening of Sung Prayers with this as our theme: yielding in times of Obscurity. If this calls to you, please join in. Info here.