I was sitting with friends at our local hang out, Ram’s Horn, affectionately referred to as “The Hole (if you’ve been in a Ram’s Horn you will know why it got that nickname).” I was reconnecting with friends from high school after spending the summer in South Carolina on a mission trip. That summer I had learned about Jesus and God in a way that was new to me. It all felt real for the first time. I was a different person than I was twelve weeks prior.
As we were sitting there my buddy, Joe burst into the restaurant and said, “Your mom needs you to go home right now. Something’s wrong man, you need to go.”
I jumped in my car and headed home. I don’t remember much of that drive. But, I will never forget seeing the cars in the driveway. Our pastor was there. Family was there. There were tears everywhere. My Mimi had died in a car accident. She was one of the most significant people in my life. Outside of my mom, nobody knew me the way she did.
That day, everything had changed.
It didn’t make sense. I had given my summer to God. Why was this happening? It wasn’t fair. Why did God let this happen? How was it that God could do this?
Looking back, I know now that I descended into what has been called a dark night of the soul. I questioned everything. I was depressed. I was in anguish. I struggled to believe.
The Thing Called Deconstruction
If this had happened today I think the process that I entered into would be called “deconstruction.”
Everywhere you look people are deconstructing. For some, this looks like a total rejection of faith. Some question a doctrine here or there. Others walk away from “church” and hold on to Jesus. Loads of “Christian famous” folks are carrying out their deconstruction online for the world to see. Some are leveraging deconstruction for financial gain (yes, you can hire people to coach you through a season of deconstruction).
Then there’s the response to deconstruction. Some celebrate it and almost evangelize it to others. Others point to it as a simply a way to disguise apostasy. Both seem to be missing the mark.
Dark Night of the Soul
What we now call “deconstruction” is nothing new.
St. John of the Cross is largely credited with coining the term, “dark night of the soul” in his 16th century poem.
Even before him, the concept is present throughout the writings of early Christians. The dark night of the soul often refers to seasons where the one who believes encounters in fresh ways the mysteries of the divine. This could be in good times and bad times.
As we look to the story of the people of God in the Bible we see this dark night of the soul or deconstruction all over the place. In particular, I think of the books of Ecclesiastes, Lamentations and Jeremiah (honestly, almost all of the prophets show signs of this). One of my favorite parts of the Acts of the Apostles is witnessing the deconstruction of Peter and Paul’s faith.
What strikes me is that counter to what some folks would have us think, deconstruction is normal for people seeking to follow in the way of Christ.
Maybe what it is…
I have been thinking a lot about this dark-night-of-the-soul/deconstruction for the last number of years. Something I am realizing is that I have gone through many seasons of deconstruction. So much so, that I’m not sure that the term is even helpful. For a while I thought maybe it was a cycle of deconstruction and reconstruction. But, I’m not sure that’s really it. I think that perhaps, something else is going on.
Last week I included a quote from C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, “Further up, and further in.” It strikes me that this is really what is happening in my life and the life of so many others. Maybe, it’s not de- and re- construction? Could it be that it’s a vast spiral of becoming more and more of who we are meant to be? Ken Wilber in his text, A Theory of Everything, calls this the process of “transcend and include.”
What if we could envision our lives progressing not along a linear line of ups and downs, but as a spiral that is driving us deeper and deeper towards reality. We learn what we need to learn where we are right here, and right now. Then that drives us ever deeper to new truths and a clearer sense of who we are and who we are to become. The mystery continues to beckon, “further up, and further in…”
I don’t have a new word for this, but maybe an old word would do? Maybe the old word, “sanctification,” is a better term. This process of becoming something new. When I read through the stories of God’s people I see them constantly moving and growing and changing.
“Further up, and further in…”
It’s not so much a deconstruction or even a dark night of the soul as much as it is being confronted with a current reality and the hope of something new before us. This something new is a version of ourselves moving towards greater flourishing.
I wonder if this sanctification is what Jesus meant when he talked about how he had come to give us life and life to the full?
What if, all the stories that are emerging of deconstruction are really stories of sanctification. Most of the time, from what I see, when people come out from the other side of this season they are more loving, more gracious, more given to mercy, and have a greater empathy.
What if, we need to follow the footsteps of the prophets and of the apostles and have all our assumptions about God challenged and broken, to truly find God in the deep mystery?
Have you experienced a dark night of the soul? Or have you experienced deconstruction? How have you changed? In what ways does your life look different as a result?