Thomas Merton, when commenting on St. John of the Cross’ writings about the Dark Night of the Soul, noted that second and third–rate philosophers and theologians often write long wordy and complicated attempts to make sense out of “the meaning of suffering.” If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all- loving, then how can evil exist? And so they write long books on the subject, and by the end of it all, come out with nothing for readers with any common sense. But what St. John of the Cross-said was: the only way one learns about suffering is to go through suffering. That is a profound statement of truth. The only way one learns about suffering is to go through suffering and nevertheless discover, at some point, how to reach out and touch God in spite of the pain and suffering. And this discovery lifts us up into a new dimension of existence, as we discover how to climb out of the miry pit, and live by a new set of principles with a new and different kind of meaning.
In the twelve step programs, no one has to be taught about the Dark Night of the Soul, for no human beings truly commit themselves to working the steps until they have descended so deeply into the pit of rage and anguish and despair that life seems impossible to maintain any longer. No one is going to truly work the steps the way they were intended, until they have no choice but to work the steps or die. The 12 steps are twelve things to do, which will enable us to climb up out of that pit and find new dimension of reality that works by its different kind of divine eternal rules.
But whether we use the twelve steps or some other spiritual discipline, one of the most important things that happens, if we are able to work through the Dark Night of the Soul successfully, is that we are given by grace a vision of a new meaning for our lives, to replace the old meaning which was destroyed.
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