During times of crisis it can feel that we are truly in the darkest of places.
Spiritual Crisis can occur in response to an external stimulus such as an emotional shock or traumatic event, a sudden death, a betrayal of trust or it can be an intrapsychic rupture; a depressive phase, wherein our established understanding of the world and our place in it is harshly questioned. That which previously seemed certain and provided comfort, is subject to the unbounded existential doubt of our most sacredly held truths.
St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) referred to these struggles as ‘the dark night of the soul’.
During such times it can feel that we are truly in the darkest of places, abandoned by the divine, bereft of all hope and severed from our faith.
• How do we meet pain and suffering?
• How to we find hope in despair?
• How do we bear the unbearable?
• What do we hold onto in a sea of uncertainty?
When doubts appear to come from nowhere, with no obvious trigger it can feel as though we are beset by some unseen sinister force that wishes to do us great harm.
Spiritual literature suggests various ways of making sense of this, both literal and metaphorical; in his letter to the Ephesians Paul encourages a stand against ‘the wiles of the Devil’, the ‘cosmic powers of this present darkness’ and the ‘spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’.
Historically, unexplained melancholy has been attributed to possession by demons or malevolent spirits, in which cases deliverance ministry is required; Rites of Exorcism are still practised by Specialist Catholic Priests. Islam also teaches that mental health issues are the work of evil spirits called the Djinn; these are supernatural shapeshifting beings that reside in their own world but can cross to the world of humans and interact with them for good or ill.
The Shamanic view of psychological ill health is either that the soul has been beset by evil spirits or that trauma has caused a fracture. It is thought that at the moment of the traumatic event, part of the Soul splits off and remains trapped and lost in another dimension. This is not too far removed from the Psychodynamic view of the self which suggests that aspects of the personality which cause pain, discomfort or shame are split off and either buried in the unconscious or projected outward onto others and not recognised as belonging to the self.
Whatever the explanation, theory or belief, spiritual crisis can leave us feeling fragmented and vulnerable, questioning everything we thought we were certain of and finding that the solid foundations of our lives are now built on shifting sands.
…but even after the darkest night day must surely dawn….
After crisis a period of healing follows. How often do we look back at our challenges and realise that they have been fruitful because new aspects of ourselves, new potentials that we had no idea we possessed have been called forth
In this way Spiritual Crisis can bring an opportunity for new growth and understanding; it is a time to reassess and let go of the outworn or outmoded, heralding a change of direction; even if this should mean moving toward acceptance of life’s (and our) limitations, particularly as we grow older.