Union with God means friendship, and „night” means an effort of subordinating to this love.

John of the Cross – versatile expert of things light and dark

Saint John of the Cross considers human life holistically. His writings put emphasis on both spaces of human experience: light one and dark one. But because of the teachings he left, he is considered more as a teacher of walking through the darkness, expert in experience of darkness in faith, emptiness in hope and powerlessness in love. Maybe that’s why he seems more accesible in this „negative” perspective, because he speaks about the climate that, in most part, fills our lives.

Why when he explains human journey through the nights, he makes different schemes? Why does he speak about the night of senses and the night of spirit; about active night and passive night?

Saint John makes difference between the night of senses and the night of spirit, because it results from his way of seeing the structure of a person. He sees in every peron its outside – body, senses, feelings, lust (desordained desires), imagination and reason depending on senses. Functioning of this exterior sphere in concrete  attitudes could be expressed in modern statements like „this I like, that I like not”, „this I want, that I want not”.

Next, John speaks about interior sphere. This is the space of the will which governs love and which teaches how to love God and neighbor – „want him” – repeat „it’s good you’re here”.

Apart from interior and exterior sphere, according to John there is still the sphere of spirit – the center where God alone dwells and where every person is the image of God. Here each person is familiar with God independently of his spiritual progress, situation of sin. It is an immaculate space – „holy land”. God is the center of every person and that’s why its interior is always the same, unchangeable ‘ it’s God himself!

This triple division: body, soul and spirit is present already in the Bible, in the letters of Saint Paul where we read: „May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Tes 5:23). Spirituality of Carmel through its saints has discovered this supernatural, confirmed by the Holy Scriptures, triple division.  Unfortunately, our daily routine makes us stay focused only on what is exterior, forgetting completely about the God’s division – triple structure of human being.

A modern person trusts more in doctor and psychotherapist than in God who lives in himself. A modern person tries to heal through medication, newest psychotherapies, forgetting about the One who shows him who he really is and where he is headed for. Of course we cannot denied the knowledge which God gave us to make good use of, but it’s not this or that medicine, this or that therapy, what saves a man. Only God saves. Only God gives an answer to the meaning of human life.

Father Wilfrid Stnissen OCD writes: „Distinction between soul and spirit is a fundamental thing. Unfortunately, psychology and theology disregard this distinction. Maybe theologians and psychologists should learn more from mystics. A man cannot be completely free in spite of all known psychological treatments, if he cannot find himself and root himself in his spirit. The spirit is this space where God dwells and where we are his image, where we truly are who we are”.

Therefore, a man is composed of many levels, and each one of these levels can prevail over the others, and the night – the effort aims to integrate a person, to return him to unity amidst variety. It doesn’t mean getting rid of variety, but returning to the unity – for which variety is a must. Therefore everything you possess, what you experience, is essential, but it has to have its meaning. Every one of your experience, even the worst, has its meaning. Your difficult character has its meaning. Your tangled story has its meaning. It’s not a punishment for the choices you have made, but an opportunity to grow and challenge for maturity.

Night-effort of life has to give you strength, courage, so that when God finally will show you who you are, you may take it all: both your curvatures and constant egoism, and your trials of giving yourself out. Thanks to the night you are to get convinced that you are far from being ideal and that you want to achieve it. The first step to change your present reality is to enter in it. And noticing its misery, choosing it again.

Today often times and quickly you get frustrated, give up at the beginning repeating that it’s so hard or saying that you are down, and any form of sadness and discouragement you call depression. I want to tell you with a little bit of humor, that not so long ago I’ve heard about two interesting types of depression: before vacation and after vacation. It it is so, it’s better not to have vacation, so to avoid at least one of these two…

To not belittle this topic it’s good to know that an effort is a necessary part, discouragement will appear any time on your journey, your past will be a burden, but you need to remember that the measure of human maturity is the number of well-lived crisis, and the measure of wisdom, the experience born from mistakes. Remember: don’t ask „why?” but „what for?”

Good luck!


Fr. Mariusz Wójtowicz OCD