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Centering Prayer and the Nights
Q: A few months ago, I seem to have woken up during Centering Prayer in terror over not being able to find God. I had been sensing that this night of the spirit might be coming, but nothing I had read prepared me for the next few months. … It seemed to be that I ended up on one occasion in a place of such deep sorrow that all I could do was cry, and cry, and cry. I was experiencing so many strange and unpleasant physical sensations to my mind and my body; and at the same time I was physically experiencing the death of my body. I finally forced myself into the ER. Long story short...it's becoming a beautiful love story. One question is whether this dark night brings with it a personal experience of our own physical death. And also whether the physical and unpleasant sensations belong to either or both experiences.
A: There are many ways we can explore the dark nights and there are different levels of the dark nights. My good friends Larry Wilson and Diane Harkin say this on their website Contemplativeview.com: “The fruits of the dark night can be described as a deepening of one's longing for God, the freedom from the domination of an emotion, a purification of one’s idea of God, purification of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity from human props and the letting go of the subtle forms of selfishness which hinder growth in Divine Union.” Fr. Thomas Keating also explores the “night of self,” in which the process of kenosis continues and we are purified of our identification with who and what we are beyond the experiences of the night of sense and the night of spirit. (See the chapter, “Is there a Night of Self,” in Reflections on the Unknowable.) Although you experienced the death of your body, you are still physically here. Maybe you were referring to a near-death experience (NDE)? But my sense from your brief description is the self, as you had known it, died, or is dying.
Purification is not limited to our psychology. “The issues are in the tissues,” so the body will always participate in the purification process along with every other level of our personhood.
You end by sharing "Long story short ... it's becoming a beautiful love story." Obviously something positive has resulted in these experiences.
I have a friend who likes to say to the members of his company, “do whatever it takes.” As our consent deepens to surrender to the total love of God, the transformative process moves to the next level. And it is always for the good of ourselves, our relationships and all humanity. Blessings and enjoy. -Fr. Carl