Ascension and the Dark Night of the Soul

Bride and Groom (Church and Christ) Bible Historiale

Bride and Groom (Church and Christ) Bible Historiale

Ascensiontide is my favorite season of the Christian Year.  I also love Advent because I live in a perpetual Advent of the soul.  The practice of Advent helps me live in my soul and with its anguishes and loneliness and sense of urgent purpose.  But Ascension helps me live with the inner sense of abandonment and occasional random purposelessness.  Ascension teaches me year after year that it is through this acknowledgement of abandonment that the soul goes out from itself and becomes free and full and whole, ready to receive the Gift of Union.

The liturgical year is a school of love.  Ascensiontide, the period after which the resurrected Jesus leaves the disciples, but before the Holy Spirit comes upon them at Pentecost,  teaches the detachment necessary to love in the world.  A story is often told by the Dalai Lama about a Tibetan monk who had been tortured in a Chinese prison for 22 years.  When the monk reached Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama asked him, “What were you afraid of the most in prison?”  The monk replied, “I was afraid that I might lose my compassion toward the torturers.”

Love stronger than death.

Ascension, Unknown Flemish Master, 1465

Ascension, Unknown Flemish Master, 1465

The images of Ascensiontide in words and music and art clumsily present Jesus entering the Cloud, the Presence of God, going “up” to “heaven.”  In illuminated manuscripts you often you see whimsical “feet” protruding from the cloud above the disciples.  Only this clunky modern age takes that fancy literally. It’s a clumsy image because the poets and evangelists and theologians and artists have to explain in two or three dimensions that which takes place in multi-dimensions and unbound by time. 

It’s why I love the mystics.  They don’t “look up”. To them, Jesus isn’t flying off somewhere into the clouds enthroned on high and out of sight – although they understand the analogy.  Jesus may be obscured, but it is because he has become radically intimate:  the enthronement takes place – within ourselves.

Here in our chapel we sing at Lauds on Saints Days: Come, mine elect (my chosen one): and I will set my throne within you.  -Antiphon at Lauds, Saints Days

See the website http://www.edgeofenclosure.orgfor a bit more background on this blog entry.  “By all accounts the Dark Night of the Soul, the abandonment by God is torment to the faithful soul which has come so far in her journey of love.  But the mystics testify to a stunning paradox.  The abandonment IS the union.  It is in the Dark Night of the Soul that the Lover meets the Beloved and transforming union takes place.”  – Suzanne

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