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The book is a great study tool and/or intro to topics in Spiritual growth.
Where the book really shines is in destroying the image of the dark night of the soul as a bad experience that’s only pain and nothing else. May does a great job of explaining how the dark night helps us and is essential for Spiritual growth.


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Hello Readers, hope all’s well. Today I present another Christian book for The Christian Book Corner. Today’s book is The Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May.

Today’s post is a proper review, since the book is a modern title. In The Christian Book Corner #8: Interior Castle I made a distinction for the first time between a book review and a “book report.”

It doesn’t sit right with me at all to “review” classic works of Christian writing like Augustine or Teresa of Avila. Who am I to “review” those authors and their writings??!! I can’t review them, but I can do “book reports” on them in The Christian Book Corner. That sits fine with me.

But today on Part 9 of The Christian Book Corner I’ve found where the line is for reviews. I feel fine about reviewing books from the twentieth or twenty-first centuries. To me, anything before the twentieth century is too far removed from today’s context that it can’t be properly “reviewed” anymore. Life is so different now, those earlier books were basically written in another world.

Since no one knows what the future holds, as long as LORD Jesus doesn’t return soon it’s possible that the 19/20th century books I review in this series will become timeless, unassailable Christian classics in the future. But they haven’t reached that status yet, so I will happily continue reviewing away.

Anyway, now that I’ve got that out of the way. What’s up with The Dark Night of the Soul??

What’s in the Book

The Dark Night of the Soul is a book about the dark night of the soul, as in, the (often) painful seasons of loss, doubt, loneliness, and Spiritual growth that we all go through on our Spiritual journey in Christ.

I know this will get very confusing as I go on, so let’s clarify this right now. The Dark Night of the Soul (capitalized, italics) refers to today’s book by Gerald May, but the dark night of the soul (lowercase, no italics) refers to the concept first named by John of the Cross.

The dark night of the soul is a concept named by John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic Catholic monk from the sixteenth century. He wrote extensive commentary on his poem, explaining most of it (the last of his commentary is lost forever), so all this together creates his book Dark Night of the Soul.

John of the Cross was a student of Teresa of Avila, whose book Interior Castle I introduced in the previous Book Corner post, Part 8. It’s fitting that I happened to read this book after reading hers, as this book is an excellent summary of Teresa, her writings, and her Spirituality. John may have named the concept of the dark night and written about it, but he was so heavily influenced by Teresa that we can’t mention him without mentioning her.

I can’t stress enough how this book is such an excellent summary of Teresa and John’s writing. In seven chapters, The Dark Night of the Soul explains the complicated topic of the dark night of the soul in a way that’s easy to understand. This book is an invaluable overview of the concept, its process, and its effects.

So what is the dark night of the soul exactly then?? WOWWWWWWWWW …….. THAT’S AN ENORMOUS TOPIC OF ITS OWN AND DEFINITELY NOT SOMETHING I CAN FIT INTO A BOOK REVIEW!!!

I may write about the dark night of the soul in future posts. But if you want an explanation now, you can check out this book by Gerald May or check out the original writers—John and Teresa.

But I would sum it up like I did above. These are the (often) painful seasons of loss, doubt, loneliness, and Spiritual growth that we all go through on our Spiritual journey in Christ. Anyone who’s followed Christ for some time will have experienced this at some point.

When we first get Saved and start our Christian Walk, everything seems great. We’re happy and optimistic, life is good, and it seems like our problems will soon be behind us. By far most important of all, we feel God’s presence in our lives and feel connected with Him. We feel His guidance, His protection, His love. We feel connected in a relationship with Him, that He hears our prayers and listens to us. And so we feel loved, valued, and connected.

But these early feelings will at some point turn to something else. One day, we won’t feel the connection with God so strongly. We’ll feel abandoned, or like we’ve done something wrong to make God turn away from us. It’ll feel like our prayers aren’t working or being heard, so we just pray harder. Our Faith wavers, like our Faith is a drained battery. We suffer major losses in life (like a death or illness in the family) and wonder why God would allow that. Our whole world is shaken. Everything looks dark, and we feel cut off from God too. Life is painful, and dark.

This is a dark night of the soul experience. Because of the pain, most people view these experiences as negative. But in The Dark Night of the Soul, Gerald May explains in seven chapters how these experiences are actually helpful for us, and a critical part of our growth.

The losses we suffer, no matter what or who it is, remove our attachments to things of this world other than God. Once these are removed, we can experience God and His healing on a new level. And though our connection with God seems lost, that’s not true either.

When we come through the dark night and God makes His presence felt again, we will look back and see how God was with us the whole time. How the connection was always there, but God was teaching us the right way to view and use that connection. And also teaching us to have Faith in the dark, without that connection. This ties in to one of John of the Cross’s best metaphors, one of God being a Father teaching His children to walk.

God doesn’t leave us alone in the dark night or any other time. But like a Father teaching a child to walk, He does make us stand up on our own to take our first baby steps, and he lets us stumble too. We’ll never learn to walk (much less run) on our own if we aren’t made to take our first unassisted steps, as clumsy as they may be. And stumbling is part of the learning process for a baby to walk, even if it hurts. The Father is always there, watching over the child. The Father won’t let the child walk into traffic or walk off a cliff or anything like that. But He will let the child stumble and trip, because He has to.

If we don’t go through the painful purgation of the dark night, when we lose the things keeping us attached to anything else but God, we will forever be babies on this Spiritual path in Christ. And God has higher standards for us, because He knows what’s best for us all, in the end.

I can’t explain a topic as complex as the dark night in such a short time. It’s too intricate for that. For an excellent explanation though, check out this book, The Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May. May does a great job of walking through the different aspects of the night, and explaining how its not a negative thing for us, no matter how painful.

(4) Remove the dross from the silver,
and a vessel will come out for the refiner.

Proverbs 25:4 (CEB)

But like I said, the dark night of the soul itself is an ENORMOUS topic, and not one that belongs stuffed inside a book review. If you want to know more about it, and you want something that’s easy to read, The Dark Night of the Soul is a great choice to start with.

Not the Whole Story

But what makes this book so easy to read is also one of its weaknesses. Besides having very big margins and not so many words on the page, The Dark Night of the Soul also doesn’t go in-depth into the topics it covers.

The writings of both Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross have been analyzed, studied, and commented by many scholars and authors over the centuries. There’s a lot there, as they say. Which means their writings are complex and full of meaning. But The Dark Night of the Soul introduces aspects of Teresa and John’s theology and Spirituality, one after another, without much analysis or commentary.

When this issue is at its worst, the text gives a feel of: “Teresa says this about (X), and John says that. And they basically mean this. OK, moving on ….” At its worst, it feels like we’re only being told of the complex parts of Teresa and John’s Spirituality, but they’re not being explained in full.

The lack of depth creates the feeling of this being an overview’ book. There’s nothing wrong with an ‘overview’ book if that’s what you’re looking for. (Indeed, the book is easy and pleasant to read like I said, which should appeal to many readers.) But if you want something more you could be disappointed with The Dark Night of the Soul.

This ‘overview’ feeling is more noticeable in some chapters than in others. Chapter Four, for example, is about prayer and contemplation. Well Teresa in particular had much to say about prayer—she wrote entire books on the topic. Books full of meaning that must be studied closely. Teresa definitely wrote more than what fits in a thirty-page chapter. But in The Dark Night of the Soul, a thirty-page chapter is what we get.

May explains one of Teresa’s most famous metaphors about prayer, the Interior Garden. But each part of the Garden receives a brief write-up of a page or two. That short page or two only scratches the surface of Teresa’s content, and the same goes for John of the Cross. So as a result … this book only scratches the surface of what Teresa and John have to say about the Dark Night of the Soul itself.

There’s a lot to study and analyze in the writings of these medieval Spanish mystics. If you want to learn these writers, it’s not enough to scratch the surface of the surface. Again, if you’re only looking for an overview book on Teresa and John’s Spirituality then I suppose it’s OK. But if you want to really know what these medieval authors have to say, then you should read the source texts. You should read books by Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.

That goes double or triple if you want to know about the dark night of the soul itself. If learning that is your goal, this book is nice, but it’s not enough.

That’s the bottom line: This book is a starting point for learning about the dark night of the soul, but it’s not the whole story.

Last, my conscience says I must mention that there are a few statements here and there that are suspect. Statements that almost lean toward New Age or Buddhist beliefs. But they’re very few and far between, only a few within the book. I’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt, but still had to mention it anyway.

The Final Word

Should you read The Dark Night of the Soul??

It’s a very useful summary/overview/study of the ideas of two influential medieval Christian writers, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. It’s a nice and very easy-to-read overview of the concept of the dark night of the soul, a fundamental part of Spiritual growth.

This book was very helpful to me for nicely explaining the concept of the dark night of the soul and the Spiritual growth it brings (and how). It’s a well-organized synopsis of complex Spiritual concepts. The book is a great study tool and/or intro to topics in Spiritual growth.
Where the book really shines is in destroying the image of the dark night of the soul as a bad experience that’s only pain and nothing else. May does a great job of explaining how the dark night helps us and is essential for Spiritual growth.

And yet, I can’t help but feel that these strong points of the book also become its weak points. By the time I was done, I felt like the book was an overview, a rundown, a summary, an intro. May does a great job of explaining Teresa and John in a way we can understand, but then he doesn’t add much to that. This makes the book read like “Teresa and John: The CliffsNotes Edition.”

The result is that, right or wrong, this book didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I may refer to it again if I write something about Teresa or John or the dark night of the soul. Or when I read more of John and Teresa’s work in the future, I might have The Dark Night of the Soul by my side as a study aid.

But that’s about it. I don’t see myself referring to or studying The Dark Night of the Soul beyond that. Which means for me the book was, sadly, “semi-forgettable.” I would never by any means say that reading this book harmed my Spiritual growth, because that’s not the case. It was a worthwhile read, but I don’t know that it contributed much to my Spiritual growth in the end. But hey, time will tell for sure, and maybe it helped me more than I know right now. That would be a very dark night kind of thing to happen.

So once again if you’re looking for an overview to Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, or the dark night of the soul, then this is the book you want. But if you aren’t interested in those topics, you won’t find much for you here.

The Dark Night of the Soul

by Gerald May. HarperOne, 2004.

Buy The Dark Night of the Soul on Amazon (This is an affiliate link. I receive a small commission if you buy through this link.)


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Your new best friend in Christ,

99:9

<<<EXALT THE LORD OUR GOD AND WORSHIP AT HIS HOLY HILL; FOR THE LORD OUR GOD IS HOLY>>>


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