saint sarah: nocturnal saints
I traveled a lot during the spring of 2015. I stayed at more hotels, drove more rental cars, flew more miles than I can remember. I loved speaking at events and having the opportunity to talk to people afterwards. Human connection was like a lifeline in the Darkness. And it gave me joy to be able to use my story and my gifts to help others feel like they weren't alone in whatever Darkness they were in.
In June I flew to Germany and stayed at The Art Factory as the writer-in-residence for a month. I was supposed to be writing my second book. My editor asked what I wanted to write about. I told her I wanted to write about Darkness.
I called the book, Let There Be Night.
After all, God created the darkness. Even before The Fall, night and dark existed. God created sleep. God even created human gestation, which happens in 40 weeks of darkness. One week for each day of the flood. One week for each year the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. One week for each day Jesus was tempted in the wilderness.
If God created the darkness, and if that darkness was not only necessary but good, then how did darkness become a metaphor for pain, depravation, emptiness, loneliness and abandonment? Why did I keep saying it was "dark inside my head" as the best way of explaining my experience?
I was also asking why this Darkness had descended on me, and how long it would last.
No matter how many people I unburdened myself to, how many hours I spent praying and journaling, how much I read, how hard I worked to connect with God -- no matter what I did, the darkness didn't change. It didn't lift.
My list of saints who had experienced similar seasons of Darkness kept growing. It seemed that the most saintly saints were the ones who lived in the Dark the longest.
During the month I was at The Art Factory, I e-mailed back and forth with a friend who was a college chaplain and a trained spiritual director.
I told him about the past two years. I told him what I was learning about the classic idea of the Dark Night of the Soul. And I told him my working theory: that some saints are created to be nocturnal. Just like there are nocturnal animals whose sleep cycles are opposite of "normal" animals, and they come to life when the rest of creation is falling asleep, maybe some saints' souls were made to glean the most wisdom in utter soul Darkness.
"Maybe," my friend said.
He told me that in his experience, there are two main reasons why people experience the Dark Night. The first reason is that the darkness takes away all our feeble understandings, explanations and senses -- in order to prepare us for a deeper level of understanding and intimacy with Divine Love.
The second reason why people experience the Dark Night, he said, was because there were places they hadn't let Love go.
The instant I read his words, I intuitively knew that I was in the Dark for the second reason. There were places I hadn't allowed Love to go.
And my Santa Barbara spiritual director wasn't wrong after all.
The root of my Darkness really was a lack of intimacy -- though it wasn't lack of intimacy with a man; it was lack of intimacy with God.
There were places in my soul where, knowingly or unknowingly, I'd resisted Love. I'd been afraid to be completely vulnerable, to open myself up to Love with no expectations, qualifications or stipulations.
And maybe the first step was just to have the honesty and the courage to sit with that truth -- that I was suffering from lack of intimacy with Divine Love.
I needed to feel the full depth of the void, to feel the deep ache for what (or who) my heart was missing.
In the words of Hafiz, one of my favorite Sufi poets,
The fish needs to say,
“Something ain’t right about this
Camel ride –