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CAMPBELL RAYMENT: Facing the ‘dark night of the soul’

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Often in the face of challenges we will become frantic to find a solution. “Grasping at straws” until the last straw that proverbially “breaks the camel’s back” and spirals us into a dark abyss.

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St. John of the Cross calls this “The Dark Night of the Soul.” He tells us when we enter this abyss that:

What we need most

in order to make progress

is to be silent

before this great God

with our appetite

and with our tongue,

for the language

he best hears

is silent love.

—John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love, trans. Mirabai Starr

To be still, to be silent, to be, is not what we want, nor is it encouraged by society. We want to just act, to do anything to bring about change quickly so we do not feel the angst and worry.

Yet that frantic activity, frazzled exertion, fractured thinking, and way of being only increases our anxiety when our plans do not create a relief or solve our dilemma.

We continue in vain with frantic actions that lead to further turmoil, and deep within our soul we feel that we have lost our way and grow weary.

Mirabai Starr translates from John’s classic work Dark Night of the Soul what we truly need to do:

“Instead, the soul must surrender into peace and quietude, even if she is convinced that she is doing nothing and wasting time. Simple patience and perseverance in a state of formless prayerfulness, while doing nothing, accomplishes great things.

“All that is truly required is to take a break from ideas and tame the “wild mustang mind” that races to find the next solution.

“It is time to unencumber the soul, awaken it, with loving attentiveness to inner silence. “To quiet the mind and be, be present for the soul.

Yes, the mind may continue to angst that you are wasting time. Wondering if it might be better to be doing something else, anything else!

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Mirabai continues:

“The best thing for the soul to do is to pay no attention to the fact that the actions of her faculties are slipping away. She needs to get out of the way. In peaceful plentitude, let her now say “yes” to the infused contemplation God is bestowing upon her. Contemplation is nothing other than a secret, peaceful, loving inflow of God. If given room, it will fire the soul in the spirit of love.”

I must admit that this is a great scenario for the scripture, “Physician heal thyself.” I must admit that I do not find it easy to be quiet within, to quit troubling myself with overthinking, to really and truly turn toward God in openness, attentiveness, and without agitation.

Yet I have found the key is to feel this agitation yet bear it calmly. To find ways to be present, grounded, connected, and open in the chaos.

It is in this way that we can go to prayer, to go within, connect with our Essence, and know as Julian of Norwich tells us, “In all manner of things, all will be well.” Not perfect, not perhaps as we desire, but all is “truly well with my soul” with what is in this moment.

There are two ways that I find inner calm in challenging times. First, you know well the A.P.B. of Inner Harmony. Creating Awareness, Pause, and Breathe.

The second is a deeper connection. It takes me about five to seven minutes a day. It is using Malachi’s Circle of Hope prayer wheels, adapted from the Chartres labyrinth, to stay “unwavering in prayer for unshakeable hope.”

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At Trinity United Church, on May 26 at 7 p.m., we will be unfolding my canvas labyrinth. This will be the first time in 20 years for it to return to Trinity.

On that evening I will share with you a practice that can quiet the mind, decrease anxiety and stress, and awaken the soul.

We will gather as an inclusive loving community, creating connection, and unbridled hope within the open canvas of the labyrinth, a pathway of prayer, a sacred place of possibility.

Until next time my friends breathe deep the breath of God and be present, grounded, and loving to all our relations united as one. Many blessings my friends.

John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, trans. Mirabai Starr (New York: Riverhead Books, 2002), 67, 68–69, 70.

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