Monday, November 28, 2005

3:00 a.m. & the Dark Night of the Soul

Back in October I wrote of awakening from a dream in which I felt as if something was coming down on me and smothering me. I was terrified. Last night I awakened again, but this time with feelings of emptiness and forlornness. If I was dreaming, I don’t remember the dream. I do remember the journal entry I made and the shock I received when I opened my journal.

Last Sunday Punkmom made a comment to my blog entry entitled Two Days of Reflecting. She wrote:

This is a difficult time of year. I'm glad you are writing about your reflections. Sometimes being off center is just what we need to bring us back to center, even if it takes longer than we hope or expect.

Her words reminded me that I need to write—to journal—in order to maintain my spiritual and emotional balance. I have been keeping a spiritual journal for many years in those “blank” books one can buy; I now have more than 19 of them filled.

What I find bizarre is that, when I experience extreme stress, journaling is one of the first spiritual disciplines I stop practicing. For example, my father died of massive strokes in 1983 within 48 hours of his return to Louisville from a visit to my family and me at Eden Seminary in St. Louis. It was a traumatic time for me and my family. We left the seminary and returned home for my father’s funeral. We when returned I put deep grief for my father aside as I continued the intensely demanding seminary studies.

For the next few months, I remained emotionally and spiritually uncentered. I felt overwhelmed by my studies and by life in general. Then, during the January short term as I was taking an intense course (the equivalent of 2 semesters in 30 days) in Hebrew, I completely fell apart while translating a Psalm from Hebrew into English. I began crying and could not stop crying. This happened in the wee hours of the morning and I had no one to whom to turn for help. So I sat at my desk until daylight and then sought out the professor who was teaching Hebrew, a friend named John Bracke .

John and I spoke of many things that morning. Eventually we talked of the grieving of my father's deah that I has set aside/postponed. At one point he asked how I had addressed my father’s death in my journal. My mind was a blank—I could not remember journaling about my father’s death!

When I later returned to the dormitory rooms my family shared, I opened the in-progress volume of my journal. I was shocked! The last entry I had made was in October, the night before my father died! I had not opened or written in my journal since that moment.

The great prose/poem by St. John of the Cross, which is sometimes called the Dark Night of the Soul , is about experiencing doubt and spiritual emptiness and aloneness that is, I believe, a necessary part of growing to spiritual maturity. For me, this work by Saint John of the Cross is one of my guides to spiritual maturity. From it I have personally ascertained that between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. is when I often find the night the darkest.

When, at about 3:00 a.m. this morning, I encountered F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words—In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning, day after day—I opened my in-progress journal and was shocked! The last entry I had made was over a year ago, just before Candy and I made a journey together to New Mexico and Arizona.

By 6:00 a.m. this morning I had concluded that I have been experiencing that “dark night” for more than a year. I also realized that Fitzgerald was correct: for me during this past year it has often been as if it is three o’clock in the morning every hour.

~To be continued


  1. Nick,
    I am honored that you would quote me! I, too, often stop writing during the times I need to be writing the most. You quote Fitzgerald, who happens to be one of my favorites, and his quote rings true for me right now as well.
    During my most trying times, those hours of darkness seem to open up my heart, soul, and mind and let all the demons, both present and past, into my world. I hope you will continue to write--and please know that you have support!
    My prayers are surrounding you...

  2. One last thing--I often find I stop writing as a means of escaping whatever pain it is I'm experiencing. Sometimes by forcing the words to flow, it forces me to deal with my pain.

  3. It's hard to start sometimes, but you just have to make yourself begin, and you know it will tumble out of you. I do that, and once I make myself start, sometimes it's mighty difficult to stop. :)
    But it's always helpful.

  4. Punkmom: It is my pleasure and honor to quote you. Thank you for your words. Not only is it the time of the year, but external stresses seem to be mounting on me fast. New and old demons seem to be attacking me at a rate that I have never experienced before. I pray that God is opening something new for me; I also pray that I will survive.

    Bucky: Yes, it is hard to begin. For me, spiritual journaling is where I let it all hang out, much more than blogging. When stress or events get to the point of severe depression, as they are at the moment, I forget journaling and simply want to cry or sleep. Journaling help me put things back into perspective.

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