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The Dark Night Beckons…

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Dark Night

As my regular readers will be aware, I am a strong advocate of the idea of the ‘Stages of Faith‘, which is a loose set of ideas describing the way in which some of us humans grow and change in our spiritual lives.

One of the Stages of Faith is of course the ‘Dark Night of the Soul‘, which is where God takes a believer into a place where old ideas and preconceptions are challenged and often deconstructed. Once this period is completed, the believer emerges into a new ‘era’, if you will, of freedom and light in the Spirit. As such, the Dark Night is therefore to be welcomed and, even though it might not always be pleasant, the blessings are nonetheless real.

But the Dark Night is not always, nor indeed is it usually, a ‘one-off’ experience. Several times in a believer’s life, God might need to take that person aside for a discussion and contemplation of that person’s belief systems, attitudes, or whatever.

And I, personally, am beginning to enter another Dark Night. I am recognising the signs. Despite the lovely and sympathetic best wishes of my online friends, however, I actually relish the opportunity, because personal growth in God is one of my primary ongoing objectives. My appetite for new learning is insatiable, and in the Dark Night, we learn more about God, His secrets, and the way things work, than at any other time.

In practical terms, this means that my blog posts may or may not be intermittent from now on. I may not even do my monthly ‘Fiona’ articles on the 25th of each month. I would think also that those articles in which I present my own thoughts and ideas will be rarer, and as part of this Dark Night involves a general staying away from my usual external channels of fresh thoughts and concepts, I might not be getting ideas for blog posts from others all that often either. At the very least, others’ posts will be featuring more than my ‘own’. I have been writing this blog now for almost four years, and my output has been reasonably constant. But I don’t want to give my readers poor-quality articles that are not grounded in my deep convictions and deep thinking; I don’t want to short-change you. But, who knows? Maybe this season in my life might bring forth a torrent of inspiration…well, we’ll just have to wait and see, I guess!

So, there we have it. I am excited to see what God has in store for me over this next season, and I look forward to sharing the fruits of it with my readers in due course. It may take a few weeks, it may take a few years – although I would hope the latter is not the case. I just thought I’d better let you know ‘where I’m at’, because I cherish my readership, both those who comment and those who are the silent listeners; you are all welcome and all part of my journey. And I don’t want you to think I have abandoned you!

Peace and Grace to you all 🙂

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Dark Night – The NPCs

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Dark Night

For an  explanation as to why I have a row of Mormon boys as my header image, please see the footnotes 😉

In my last post, Theophilus*, I described how I feel like I am about to embark on another Dark Night of the Soul. While I could be wrong, of course, I did describe it as such because I felt I recognised the signs of its approach.

In the comments for that post, regular reader Jeremy suggested I try to blog a little on what my thoughts are, which would be helpful and interesting. I think that really is an excellent idea, because that then means that someone with a keen observational mind and an analytical brain (me!) would be making those observations and writing them down for others. The only downside to the idea is that the Dark Night might involve taking time off blogging or even taking time off thinking and observing too much. Sometimes the idea of the Dark Night is to take time off of having any commitments at all, so, subject to those caveats, I will do what I can. And I’m going to make it into a ‘series’ so as to keep the posts indexed in some fashion.

Let me make it clear right from the start that this Dark Night is not some form of depression or other mental illness. It is a normal and healthy part of spiritual growth, and, because I have been through it before, I am genuinely looking forward to the experience itself and also to the fruits it will produce. Granted, I am still heartsick from my loss of Fiona – even though that’s now 28 months ago – but this is a different thing entirely. This is spiritual, not emotional, and going through times like this only serves to highlight the difference.

Now, to my observations.

The primary observation at the present time is this: this particular Dark Night has been-precipitated, as was my first one, as a result of interactions with nasty grey legalistic people, my reactions to them, and the need to change my attitudes in my dealings with them. So, dealing with these people. And I need to spend time away from them. Fortunately, unlike those who have these people in their immediate families, I have the luxury of being able to remove myself from them.

My son refers to these people as NPCs. ‘Non-Player Characters’, you know, like in a video game. Every time you approach one of these in-game characters, they act all familiar and ‘Hey how are you, buddy?’ like they’ve known your game character all his life. If you come back to them in-game after half an hour or so, they say the exact same thing – because of course they are programmed to. And that’s what these people are like; they are programmed with all the ‘right phrases’ that they trot out willy-nilly and – more worryingly – they also have all the same programmed attitudes. It’s almost as if they have no colour; no personality. The NPCs. What a great analogy.

As my readers will know, about twenty years ago, my first Dark Night began, in which I avoided all church things like I would Flat Earthers 😉 Every time I went in a church, it reminded me of why I didn’t! That Dark Night lasted fifteen years as I was detoxed from all the harmful attitudes that my twenty-one years as an Evangelical Fundamentalist had given me.

Five years ago, I had a dramatic re-entry into the ‘things of God’ (although I was never really away from Him per se) and He has carried me through losing Fiona and all kinds of other stuff. And my faith life blossomed.

But recently something in me has just snapped. I have so had enough of the NPCs who take it upon themselves to ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’…whatever happened to ‘mind your own business’? And these people cast such a bad light on my wonderful Jesus and my Father God…and I have to make this observation that at present I feel that if I never go into a church meeting again it will be too soon. That, for me, is a characteristic of a Dark Night experience. In a way, being with other Christians – at least in a large meeting – is such a ‘trigger’ for me that it can be harmful. Also, being Aspergic does not help in this regard; I can think of many places I’d rather be than in a room with lots of people!

I’m not saying that people at my Church are NPCs; they’re not. They are lovely. And I know for a fact that part of what Father is doing with me at the moment is that He’s not asking me to go to Church, so in a way it’s almost as if that lack of Church prompting from Father suggets that He’s the One Who’s leading me into the Dark Night – and that would come as no surprise to me. And in a lot of ways I have been at this point for a long while, not having been to the main Church meeting for about eighteen months, although I was in a housegroup for a while (it recently came to an end; not my fault, I hasten to add!)

Regarding the NPCs, it’s always the same. If there are two possible interpretations of a Scripture, these people would always rather swing towards the ‘bad’ interpretation and call it ‘loving’, rather than swing towards the actually ‘loving’ interpretation. And coming up against this constantly has made it so that I’ve so had enough of them. I am so sick of religious people like these, and as a sad corollary to that, I am avoiding all things to do with faith at all, because there are just so many triggers. I’m staying off Facebook because there are people on there whom I care about but who also have a list of NPC ‘friends’ as long as your arm, who trot out the same programmed crap in response to my friends’ posts again and again. I just need a rest from it all, and that might take fifteen days, or it might take fifteen years again.

To quote my reply to one of my friends on Facebook, whose post was being ripped at by grey** NPC miseries,

But the truth of it is that I have had enough of these people. Completely had enough. From now on, it’s an instant block from me. We are giving dogs what is sacred and they simply turn and tear us to pieces. From now on, my job is to minister to the people whom these nasties would seek to destroy, while ignoring and blocking the nasty ones. These are deadly, grey, dull people who spread a gospel of horror, hate and lies, and I’ve had enough of them. There is enough poison in life in general without people like these, who claim to represent a loving god, from bringing even more toxicity. Enough is enough. Let them wallow in the mud of their shipwrecks.

(And that’s partly where my recent post. ‘Shipwrecks‘, came from)

One such grey person thusly replied to my exhortation to reconsider the doctrine of Hell:

“Don’t need to. Hell is forever. You don’t make the rules. God does. Your job is to obey, not figure out God’s logic.”

Case in point. Cold, grey, dull, lifeless. In fact the voice of the Pharisee is always cold, lifeless, grey, dry, dusty and joyless. By their fruits you shall know them (or in this case, the lack thereof)

Remember:

Dry

Dusty

Grey

Cold

Joyless

Lifeless

Jesus spoke of them as tombs – whitewashed tombs. Lookin’ good on the outside; full of rot and corruption inside. And these are the people who accuse all mankind of being ‘unregenerate sinners…’ for goodness’ sake! If your life looks like that, you need to get it sorted. But then, if your life looks like that, you probably are not reading this because you will have consigned my blog to the heresy pile long ago!

Another key phrase, when given a joke that falls outside the lines of what their group think acceptable, is ‘We don’t think it’s funny’.

Like this one, for example:

“We don’t think it’s funny”, they would say***. Who’s ‘we’? That sort of prohibition only has power when there’s a group of them all agreeing with each other, and presumably nodding sagely, and they find like-minded miseries to sit with.

Even talking to these people is a downer. This is not what the kingdom of God is about! If it’s not righteousness, peace and joy, then it’s not the Kingdom of God.

And I find, as a direct result of my interactions with grey NPCs, that when I’m reading my Bible, my reading voice – you know, the voice that I hear in my head as I read – sounds just like the grey NPCs. And so, unless I feel particularly inspired, I do not go to the Bible all that often. True, when I do get such inspiration, that voice is absent…maybe the lesson there is to not read the Bible unless that voice is absent… This is another of the signs of the Dark Night, and obviously one I have learned from already! 😀

Another thing is that, in some ways, I don’t feel as close to God as I normally do. I know He’s there; I still feel the Spirit burning inside. Or maybe that’s indigestion. And worship means little; once again, I can hardly bear to hear the Songs of Heaven. These are two more of my signs of an impending Dark Night.

I think that one of the main things I am looking for in this Dark Night (although of course Father probably has other plans!) is that I need to learn how to deal with the Grey People. The NPCs. If indeed there is any dealing with them. By ‘dealing with’ them, I mean how I personally deal with the effects of interfacing with them on a theological level. Certainly we’re not going to change them; not that I would want to – that’s not my job! And indeed, this brings me to another point about the NPCs and how to cope with them, and it’s this.

When we criticise the judgemental, their standard response is always [predictably] “Ah, but now you’re judging me!” It seems to be the privilege of the judgemental that, although they started it, still they think we are wrong to point out their judgementalism; that we are ourselves being judgemental in our pronouncements against their judgementalism. I sometimes think that they set these things up just specifically for that purpose. He who accuses first has the upper hand, it seems!

Talk about a no-win situation!

So, how do we solve this conundrum? How do we tell these people what they are doing without ourselves being judgemental, or even giving them the excuse to say that we are being judgemental? Is it even possible?

I’m 56 years old and I am still unaware of an answer. Maybe that’s something I will learn in this Dark Night. But I wouldn’t bank on it.

And please be aware that I am actually not blaming the NPCs; all I am doing is to describe how their actions and my responses/triggers have precipitated this new Dark Night. For others, their own entry into a Dark Night will be highly individual, and indeed probably unique to that person. Also, I have not been forced into this ‘course of action’ by these people, because a) it is not my choice anyway, and b) they are not that powerful. The main thing is my response to their trigger reaction in me; that’s what I need to work on.

This may well read like a rant, and I do not apologise for that. What I need to show, above all else in this series, is honesty. Because it will be of no use to my readers if it’s not honest.

And anyway I am allowed to rant. There are no rules in a Dark Night! 😉

I hope this is helpful.

Peace and Grace to you all.


*Pirated from St. Luke in Acts 1:1 😉

**What’s all this about ‘grey’ people? Well, one of the characteristics of being in a religious cult (which I believe Evangelical Christianity is) is that everyone has to be the same; everyone has to believe the same things, have the same sense of humour (none) and all that sort of thing. Imagine a group of Mormon missionaries lined up for a game of ‘Spot the Difference’ and you’ll get what I mean. And that explains the header image (it’s actually taken from a Broadway show called ‘Book of Mormon’ – and they’re not real Mormons; they’re actors...) 😉

(Not saying Mormons are NPCs; I don’t personally know any so I can’t say. But their missionaries, at least, do all dress the same and will therefore do for the purposes of illustration).

And so, despite each NPC being technically an individual, in terms of faith they are not; there is no colour, no variety, nothing interesting going on. Hence, grey.

[Edit: Apparently, the term ‘NPC’ is nowadays common parlance for people who always say the same, predictable things. Shows how far behind the times I am]

***Clue: YMCA 😉


 

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Dark Night – The View From Here

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Dark Night

I said in the comments to a previous post that I would write as much as I can about the process of Dark Night of the Soul which I am currently in.

First of all, I had to determine whether or not I am actually undergoing what I think I am undergoing. While there is no clearly defined set of parameters to diagnose the Dark Night, I have to say that, personally, this is what it feels like to me, that I am indeed in a Dark Night. I have no interest in church things. The songs of the Kingdom do not hold the same apparent meaning for me that they did only a few weeks ago. And I currently have little interest in developing my own thoughts and ideas on the things of God; I am happy to consider others’ ideas and post them on here, but my own ideas and developing theology are, almost by definition, hidden during the Dark Night.

So, let me begin by saying that I don’t think we should mistake this time for anything resembling true clinical depression or ‘feeling down’. I am not depressed; I have seen that close up in other people, and I know what it looks like, and it’s definitely not that. I’m not even fed-up in any way; life is fun, interesting and entertaining. Lots to do, lots to enjoy, lots to look forward to. Sure, I am going through a tough time in my life at the moment, but I would like to think that this does not affect my spiritual life. That spiritual life held me firm and fast during the trauma of my wife Fiona’s illness and loss, and through the time after that. Since losing Fiona, indeed, my faith has never been stronger. If it can survive that catastrophic loss, it can survive anything!

As I hinted in the previous paragraph, this particular Dark Night has begun at a time when I am finding life to be very difficult. In particular, I am feeling Fiona’s loss extremely strongly; I am going through another phase in the ongoing grieving process. It’s been nearly two and a half years, and I am not through it yet. I probably never will be. Also, My parents have had to go into a nursing home, and that has opened up all kinds of ramifications and thoughts that I have found most disturbing. And in a more minor, yet still disappointing, role, I was ill in the last two months of last year, so I had to ground myself and was unable to fly. This might sound trivial, but flying is my stress-buster, and I find a release in my flying that simply doesn’t happen down here on the ground. Especially galling about that illness was that I was unable to take advantage of the really dark part of the night flying season*, which I love doing so much. I love flying, of course, but night flying holds a special place for me since learning how to fly at night in late 2017. I have in fact managed to fly only about 1.4 hours at night this season, but that’s better than nothing.

And yet, despite all that, I don’t think that this current Dark Night has been actually caused by these things; rather I think these things have happened around the time of an already existing Dark Night. That said, as I have said in a previous article, sometimes a Dark Night can be precipitated by big life changes and/or big – even momentous – events, and I suppose that could have been part of what happened.

I would also say that my faith is still strong; only the other day, I responded to a commenter with an affirmation of my belief and position in God, and that in itself I found profoundly uplifting. Although I do not at this present time feel the constant furnace-hot sense of His presence, I do not doubt that He is there, and part of the Dark Night, for me at least, is to trust that He is indeed there, because that’s where He always has been. I find I can still trust that God is present.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at what I do know I believe. I do not anticipate any of these things to change during this Dark Night, because they are things that have been revealed directly to me by God.

  • I know that God exists, that He loves me, and that He fully approves of me.
  • I know that “it is finished” (John 19:30). I know that there is nothing I need to do, continue to do, achieve or even be that will make me any more acceptable to God than I am already. Conversely, I know that nothing I can do, say, achieve or be that will make me any less acceptable to God.
  • I know that I am a child of God. I know this beyond a shadow of any doubt.
  • I also know that I am ‘in Christ’. This too I know beyond a shadow of any doubt.
  • I know that He is walking with me on this path, because He has done it before and He doesn’t change.

With these things in my mind and my heart, I walk this path with confidence and full security and assurance. My previous experience as a believer and as a child of God justifies me in this confidence, which I am sure is not misplaced.

Without wanting to Scripture-bomb you, let me leave you with some verses which I consider relevant, and which I have found to be true in my own experience:

(Ps 23:4)

(Jude 24)

(Phil 1:6 (KJV))

In my next post in this series, whenever that may be, I will describe some more of the things that I am feeling and thinking in this time.

Until then, Peace and Grace to you.

 


Header picture shows the view on final approach to Exeter’s Runway 26, at night, December 18th, 2017. This truly is an example of the view in the dark!


*The ‘night flying season’, because Exeter Airport (along with many other regional airports) closes at 1900 local time, so this means that there are only a few months of the year where there’s enough hours of darkness to be able to do proper night flying.

Roll on October… 😉

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Oases of Light

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Dark Night

In this Dark Night of the Soul, I am having a lot of interesting insights.

Although at the moment I don’t always feel the burning Presence of God all the time like I usually can, He still gently reminds me – every so often – that He’s still there and still holding my hand.

I think of these reminders as oases of light in the dark valley. Or like pools of lamplight on a dark street, like in the header picture, which I think depicts the concept beautifully.

There are two recent examples in particular which stand out for me.

A couple of mornings ago, I woke up having just been in a dream in which I had been singing the chorus of the Don Francisco song, ‘The Power‘, with my hands lifted high in praise and gratitude. Singing the words, “Praise You, Jesus, for Your Holy Spirit!

In the dream, I knew that the song was just as real to me as it has always been, Dark Night notwithstanding. The dream, and the song within it, served to remind me of my deep knowledge that the Spirit of God lives within me, and that She is the guarantee of my inheritance in the Kingdom, both in the here and now, and in the hereafter too (2Cor 1:22, Eph 1:14). And I could indeed feel the ‘flood of joy’ that Don describes in his song. Ok, it was ‘just a dream’, but it was a dream that I needed and a dream that bore fruit. I have absolutely no doubt that it was from the Lord.

And then today a box of old worship tapes arrived, from a very kind lady who had contacted me through my website ‘Vintage Worship Tapes, with a view to donating some tapes to the ‘ministry’. In the box was a copy of the tape ‘Thank You Lord’, by David J Hadden, whose work I have featured on my blog before. The title track, unsurprisingly called ‘Thank You, Lord‘, I have known for about thirty years, but only today have I heard David’s own version of it. I’ve even previously shared the words for the song, but been unable to publish the audio track until now – because, of course, I didn’t have it! – but today I have made an mp3 track of the song and I share it with you below, along with the lyrics. But the thing is that the song has lifted me up again, on the back of the Don Francisco song and now this David Hadden song, and once again the joy is there and it’s real.

I don’t know if this is the end of the Dark Night or not; certainly it doesn’t feel as decisive as the last time I ’emerged’, five years ago, in February 2014. Here’s what I wrote on that day:

“What a morning. First time voluntarily in a church for fifteen years, and getting thoroughly zapped by God: weeping, laughing, complete acceptance, forgiveness. Wow, wow, wow! Going again tonight hehe

It’s not like that this time! But then I appreciate that each time is going to be different. That said, I don’t feel like everything is sorted yet anyway, so we’ll wait and see. But for those of my readers going through a Dark Night of your own, and for those who simply wanted to get my perspective from within the valley, I thought I would post this today so that you have the information. I think it’s quite fascinating and in some ways this writing of these experiences here on my blog is enabling me to observe what is happening with a more analytical eye. And I trust that many of you are finding it useful. You see, there are oases of light in the dark valley, and God will lead you to them.

Anyhow, here’s David’s song, ‘Thank You, Lord‘, shared here with his gracious permission:

When I consider all you mean to me
My heart responds in worship
The songs you’ve given me, O Lord to sing
They’re songs of worship
They’re songs of praise
They’re songs of gratitude

Thank you Lord
Thank you Lord
Thank you from the bottom of my heart
Thank you Lord
Thank you Lord
Thank you from the bottom of my heart

You mean so much to me my God and King
My heart is full of worship
I long to bless you and to build a throne
Through my songs of worship
Through my songs of praise
Through my songs of gratitude

Thank you Lord……….

Great is the Lord and worthy of your praise
His name endures for ever
People of Zion come and sing your songs
Sing your songs of worship
Sing your songs of praise
Sing your songs of gratitude

Thank you Lord……….

(Words and music copyright David J. Hadden, 1985, used here with his kind permission)*.

 

Even as I Iisten to this song right now, it’s moving me to tears of gratitude, and to grateful worship, and to raising my hands in thanksgiving. I am just so grateful to Father for what He’s doing with me at this time.

And I am so especially grateful for these oases of light.

Thank You Lord, indeed 😀

Peace and Grace to you


*David is the lead vocalist on the track, and he’s also playing the keyboards and piano.

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