Dark night of the soul

It’s Good Friday, so I feel this is an appropriate theme for the day. From the category description:

“In religious circles, the phrase “dark night of the soul” indicates a stretch of time (not necessarily a single night; it can be much longer) when one is undergoing a crisis of faith and feeling utterly abandoned. For the non-religious, this can translate into a crisis of identity, of meaning, etc.

It is a handy phrase to apply to our affective orientation towards realizing the extent of the climate crisis and starting to really despair.

The dark night of the soul precedes the morning. It is always darkest before dawn. It is the rock from which the water will spring eventually, but for now, it is desolate. The posts here hopefully will provide some resources for comfort and hope in a time when despair and loneliness have eclipsed all else.”

I’m very wordy and I’m not sorry. I went through this dark night of the soul from fall 2016 and emerged very slowly (like surfacing from a pool of molasses, not gonna lie) like, maaaybe 2019-20? It’s a process; a piece of that night is always going to be part of my soul. However, I’m learning to make piece with the dark, listening to what it can teach me about myself.

On that note, reading Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor was very transformative for me, both in terms of spirituality (it is written from an Episcopalian perspective), gender (she emphasizes female ways of knowing and relating to faith), and the climate crisis – I listened to it as an audiobook way back in like 2020 when I was still recovering from the accident, so I think I might need a refresher. It’s one of the books I starred on my Libby app as significant enough that I want to own a hard copy. I recommend it to everyone – especially those who were or are still in the Christian tradition – I think it’s worth reading multiple times, to really sit with the darkness, to counteract the messages of what she calls “solar spirituality”, the harsh light that drives out all darkness and pretends it doesn’t exist.

Darkness is necessary for light. The Christian tradition of Easter would not exist if it weren’t for the darkness of Good Friday – that’s why it’s a good Friday, because it lays the groundwork for the miraculous return of the light a few days later.

Similarly, medieval Catholic women had a tradition of celebrating Eve for her transgression in the garden of Eden, because if it hadn’t been for the Fall (what is referred to as the fortunate fall), then Christ would not have been born into the world. Mary, then, becomes a second Eve – if it hadn’t been for Mary’s acquiescence to mother the Divine, Christ would not have been born, or so goes the logic.* I don’t think I need to expound on how radical it is to be celebrating women for their mistakes and choices for the reason that it intrinsically ties them to anticipating the divine, especially in medieval Europe, but I just want to point that out.

The dark night of the soul in the context of climate change is an awful place to be. And it often lasts for quite a while. For me, it magnified my anxiety and took me to new lows of depression; it also showed me how much I could numb myself to the suffering of others, how despicably I could act in shrugging and turning away from the active pain of other people. To be fair to myself and to others struggling with this: sometimes tuning out is what is necessary in that moment to deal with the complete emotional overwhelm of the barrage of bad news happening at seemingly every minute of the day. But there’s a difference between taking a break and being thoughtful about returning to engagement vs completely ignoring the world around you for an indefinite amount of time.

All this to say, I’ve created a new category (and accompanying page) where posts that address this will go; hopefully it will be helpful. Speaking of hope, integral to my understanding of true hope is that it is grounded in despair. This dark night of the soul is necessary to shedding the cruel optimism holding us hostage to an outdated mode of being, to shake us awake. Hope, to be real, to be worth hanging on to, needs to be clear-eyed and realistic about the state of the world, but to dare to dream despite despair.

I don’t want to recommend anything I haven’t myself interacted with, but I am always looking for new things to read/watch/engage with. Are there any resources that you, my reader, have found particularly helpful to you with tackling climate grief?

*I’m grabbing this from my admittedly spotty memory of my undergrad minor in Religion and Culture, so readers, please do feel free to chime in.

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