It’s a significant quirk of history that St. Teresa of Avila died on the night of 4 – 15 October 1582. That’s a long night brought about by the implementation of the Gregorian calendar (which we still use today) replacing the Julian calendar and requiring that 10 days be eliminated from the calendar. This happened on that long night of 4-15 October 1582, the night on which Teresa died.
The reason this is significant is that much of Teresa’s experience and teaching is about the long and “dark night” she experienced in her relationship with God. You’ve probably heard the expression dark night of the soul and this is where it comes from.
Teresa of Avila and her contemporary and friend St. John of the Cross both wrote of this personal experience of dark night as did several others including St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta. But they also reported that this darkness was simply an absence of the felt experience of God, not an absence of the actual experience of God who remained present in every moment in every darkness.
I suppose it’s a bit like the child who is afraid of the dark and needs a light on in the hallway to bring on sleep. But a child will soon realise that the night-light doesn’t change the reality of the presence of the parents who ensure that the house is safe and secure for the entire family. The house is no more or less secure if the light is on.
The one who is growing in faith notices that the physical bodily senses which perceive light, touch, taste, smell and sound are limited communicators of the life of the heart. The emotional and therefore spiritual life of a person requires more fully matured senses, not childish undeveloped senses like the psalmist’s idols who “have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see, ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. hands, but cannot feel.” Psalm 115.
Too often we reduce faith to feelings. We might even comment (or feel) that our faith is weak. But the one who longs for a deeper feeling of faith is already a person of great faith.
There are times when I might feel great because all is going well for me. But very often my worldly success works as an anaesthetic hiding my inner struggle from my consciousness.
There are other times when we are fully engaged with the breadth and depth of human life and this feels terrible. But at a deeper level we know we are in relationship with God and others. The former superficial success is an existence that leads nowhere. The latter, while full of every experience and emotion, is a life that discovers life, light and love in the darkness.
It is this depth of intimacy that is our hearts desire for life both now and eternally.