Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Dark night

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the Jan. 14, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky While on an errand last week my trek took me through the rural parts of Spokane County. Driving through a patchwork of potholes and barren country roads was quite a trial.

It was a trial of sorts for me, too. The deluge of last year’s heavenly fluff was noticeable by not even a hint of its once-engulfing presence. The frost pack had fallen from naked, barren tree limbs, and matted prairie grass lay pressed against a cold-chested Earth. Even the evergreens looked tired from their efforts at staying perked against foggy and sunless skies. I’d swear I heard the cows in their slurpy pasture mumbling something about the inclement weather.

The phrase “dark night” might very well describe these recent weeks. It appears that all there is to do is sit around and wait for spring eventually to arrive. Our speech betrays us as we plead for the joy of sunshine and freshness. (Of course, we do just the opposite in the heat of summer!)

We really do tend to believe that winter somehow is cursed with darkness, lifelessness and even death. We are convinced from the evidence of death that surrounds us and look for something different – something more alive. We pine for the blessings of summer past or long for the spring to come. A landscape artist friend of mine, however, provides a word of encouragement: He assures me that it is precisely in the dark, seemingly dead days of winter that the most growth and development takes place in trees, shrubs, grasses and the like. Dormancy is only a matter of surface appearance, he chortles.

If that be the case, there is a welcome lesson in spirituality to be gleaned from the months of winter. In the course of ordinary experience much of what we might term our spiritual lives is akin to the dead of winter. That touch of God or the brilliance of grace which sparked the past becomes more distant with time. The freshness of knowing God personally seems a remote hope, and an unfulfilled hunger of the heart.

Our arms stretch out in prayer, empty of fruit and foliage. Words of praise freeze in our hearts. Motivation is stifled by matted memories of the past and the hopelessness of the present. “Why isn’t God real anymore?” we might moan. “Why won’t God do something to catch my attention?”

The evidence is clear, is it not? God is dead – or at least we are. Nothing happening. The long wait of winter. The long wait for something else. We believe the evidence and look elsewhere – the past or the future – for the hand of God.

Most of us are spared the agony of a true dark night of the soul, but I would surmise that each of us occasionally must live through the apparently lifeless winter of spirituality. Despite appearances, such a winter is not a time of death. Paradoxically, it is a time of life. Rather than confirming us in our longing for the past or our pining for the future, God summons us to cherish the moment, the “now” of life. Yes, even the moment of apparent darkness and death. We are called to trust that foundations are being laid, roots being nourished and extended, values clarified, motivations purified, convictions tested.

We tend to avoid these times of winter in our spirituality. (After all, who likes to suffer?) In so doing we perhaps avoid the most productive part of our spiritual lives. And to that extent we choose to live in the memories of the past or the expectation of the future. Not in what is (painfully) real. God calls us to be lovers of winter, to engage ourselves in the deep, quiet, uneventful part of our spiritual life – despite appearances.

(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)

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