There is still much active work or effort of will and understanding and endurance in this ‘dark night of sense,’ which is more or less of a correction of desires, cleaning up the act, getting more respectful and humble before the divine, and so on. For some traditional religious persons, St. John says that this is as far as they can go without falling off the path. They can tolerate some aridity and ebbing of their spiritual experiences, but only to a point, and God accommodates them.
The ‘night of spirit’, on the other hand, while a continuation of the first night of the sense, is entirely a passive infusion of grace, what he calls infused contemplation. It is characterized as a deep purification to the very roots of the ‘old man,’ often seeming like a ‘cruel spiritual death,’ including in general stripping away of all supports or anything the ego can rely on for certainty – or even for breath!
The descriptions he gives go so far as to be ‘horrible and awful’ with extremes of deep pain in body, mind, and soul. The quotes are fairly harrowing and hair-raising. One can easily see this night is much more than just a period of despair and depression, although those are certainly there. But this also is said to only come to souls strong enough to handle it, who have the requisite faith and/or background – or who have ‘signed on for the trip.’
Read the full article by Peter Holleran, here.