My Dark Night of the Soul

By Sue Pearson

With the barest pause, she gave me a look, but in that nanosecond of silence, a seed of doubt was planted. My girlfriend and I were having lunch, catching up with one another as we had on a regular basis throughout our forty-year friendship. We had supported each other through boyfriend breakups, marriage breakdowns, and career upheavals in all that time. She knew many of the difficulties I faced in my long marriage, but I think we both felt my husband was, at the very least, a loyal partner.

“I think we’ve finally arrived at a place of acceptance. He has his activities and I have mine. It’s OK with me when he says he likes to hike alone. I’m happy that he’s found something he likes to do,” I told her.

She stared at me for a fraction of a second. “OK,” she said.

The next morning my husband of twenty-four years told me he was going on an all-day hike in the mountains…alone. OK. Then he got on his treadmill for his usual hour workout. Why? Then he was smiling and getting ready to leave. Too happy. Then I looked at his shoes. Regular shoes. Not hiking boots. Something is not right.

When he left, I sat at my desk for a long time. That seed of doubt was beginning to grow. My husband always had an explanation for everything anytime I raised questions. Over all of those years, I had come to doubt myself and dismiss any feeling I had that things were amiss in my marriage. But not this day. I kept asking myself, “Do you want to know? Or do you not want to know.” After quite a while, I decided the truth was what I wanted, even if the truth was going to lead to a crisis. God would help me through this.

I went to my husband’s desk in our bedroom and sat down in front of his laptop. His emails might lead me to the truth. But I didn’t know his password to bring up his account. He was very careful about security. I cannot say how I was able to get into his first email account or the other one I hadn’t even known about. But here I was looking at his files. There was barely anything there in the current emails and nothing but routine communications, with no hint of anything suspicious. I could have quit there, but I didn’t. I opened his “Sent” file. Over and over again, messages from women about meeting places, about sexual activity, about the fun of their affairs together. I was shocked. Not one woman but many. Not just where to meet today, but years of secrets with so many women. I had trusted this man and believed all that he said he was: honest, faithful, compassionate, charitable. He was also highly critical of me and too often mean-spirited. I passed it off as his perfectionist nature and tried hard to ignore his behavior. Now, as I faced the truth about my husband, I knew he had made up a story about himself that he wanted me and others to believe. It was all a lie. He was not honest, not faithful, not any of those things he said he was. I told myself I needed time to come up with a plan to confront him, but other forces took over. I woke him in the middle of the night and told him I knew about his affairs. There followed hours of ugliness on his part and mine. I had never experienced a rage so deep within myself. My husband admitted the affairs, though I don’t think he was aware of all that I had discovered. Near morning I said I would go stay in the guest house on our property. I couldn’t stand another minute of being in this bedroom I shared with a man I no longer knew.

The first night in the guest house, I cried a little. The second night, I wailed. The third night, a guttural, deep, primitive sound spewed out of my mouth and emptied my soul. I was shaken to my core. The fourth night, I told God that though I didn’t feel His presence, I knew He was somewhere. I said, “God, would You tell me if I am going to die from this pain. I am in such a dark place. And if I’m not going to die, then could I just rest some. I’m not sleeping. I just can’t escape this nightmare.” And finally, “If You answer me, would You show me Your light, so I know it’s You?”

I got in bed and put on headphones to listen to music. The song that played was “The Dark Night of the Soul,” by Loreena McKennitt. She had put to music what St. John of the Cross wrote from a Spanish prison cell in the sixteenth century. As Loreena sang the lyrics, I absorbed the truth of St. John’s poem, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” I began to feel that God would find me not where I had made up a way to feel His presence, but where He truly was, in the great “I Am.” And I offered in return, “Here I am Lord.”

“Oh night thou was my guide
Oh night more loving than the rising sun
Oh night that joined the lover
To the beloved one
Transforming each of them into the other
(from “The Dark Night Of The Soul,” by Loreena McKennitt)

Miraculously, God met me where I did not expect to find Him. I had always thought God was somewhere outside, beyond the clouds, up in heaven. But this night, God revealed He was joined with me deep within my mind. He answered in my stillness because of the sincerity and intensity of my call to Him. I had not numbed myself with drugs or alcohol. I waited in the pain that felt like a prison with no escape. But God showed me the way out. It was within.

St. John had written of the same experience in his prison cell.

“I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.”

When the song ended, I was filled with God’s true presence, not outside myself, but deep within. It’s near impossible to describe in words what was being communicated, but I could feel God telling me how wonderful I was, how awesome, a wholly innocent, beautiful spirit. I felt His deep love and appreciation and gratitude for me. And I returned this love to Him. There we were together as One. The exchange was so playful and filled with joy. God did not acknowledge my pain. It became clear that my pain had come from my thoughts alone. No one had done anything to me. Betrayal and humiliation were just my thoughts, nothing more. I was the one who invited darkness to bring me pain. And the light shined away the darkness in this dark night of my soul.

God showed me my divine holiness. I fell in love with Him and fell in love with myself. Love completely displaced the darkness where fear had resided. In these moments, I knew God had delivered an answer to one of my questions: I would not die. Love would show me the way to healing. I would be OK. Then the next answer: I slept, deeply, soundly, dreamlessly. I had no sense of time, day or night, just a deep rest. I had asked God for that too. What awakened me was the strongest, cleanest, purest light imaginable pouring through the slats of closed window blinds in my room. I awoke from the strength of this light. As I sat up in bed and thought about what this dark night had brought me to, I knew that my third request had been answered. “Would You show me Your light so I know it’s You?” Thank You, God. I will get through whatever is ahead with Your love guiding the way.

My dark night transformed me. In the days ahead, it was clear my husband could not let go of his behavior patterns. He told me to find a marriage counselor but refused to go with me. Since God had shown me how fully worthy I was, how could I stay with someone who still turned his back on love? We were worlds apart.

I got a divorce and moved to another community. God had demonstrated that His love healed all hurts. Now it was up to me to do the work He wants all of us to do in this journey we take on earth. I had to find a way to release all barriers to love, and my bitterness at my former spouse was one of those. I realized that in carrying this burden of anger, I was hurting myself. I needed a way to find compassion for him and for myself. After all, I was the one who had agreed to play the victim. Once I saw my part in this sad play we had undertaken together, I was able to forgive us both. The roles we had played were of this world, but I had experienced another where only truth abided. We are all children of God, which means we are each worthy and innocent. We have not sinned. We have just made mistakes.

Forgiveness is the key to happiness.
I would awaken from the dream that I
am mortal, fallible, and full of sin,
and know I am the perfect Son of God.” (W-121.13:3-4)