Monday, March 26, 2018

Holy Week Reflections: Dark Night of the Soul

While this is a reflection on Holy Week, I also devote this reflection to Rev. Jamie Brame, who not only is an influential minister in my life, but has acted as my spiritual mentor, Supervisor, and a close personal friend for many years. Jamie has served as Program Director (previously Church Relations Director) of Christmount for over 25 years. He has been a spiritual guide for several generations of campers that have come to Christmount for camp and I honored to say that I was one of those campers. His wisdom has helped me during difficult times and may they do the same for you as well.

In the gospels of the New Testament, there are several scriptures in which describe Jesus, before his arrest and betrayal, went to the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed. Jesus prayed all the time. He prayed with his Disciples, he prayed in the community, and I’m sure he even prayed with his enemies.

But this prayer was different. In this prayer, we find Jesus, disturbed in Spirit and heavy with the burden that is about to happen. In the garden, Jesus flat out tells God, “Remove this cup, this burden from me, yet not my will but your will be done”.

This is such a powerful prayer!

It is a prayer that is intimate. It is a prayer that is honest. It is a prayer that is comforting.

The scene in the garden reminds me that even the Son of God experienced a Dark Night of the soul.

Now don’t let the name fool you. A dark night is not always something that occurs within a few hours or a day. A dark night of the soul can last for weeks, months, and even years. We experience a dark night of the soul when our spirits, the very core of our beings feels lost, disconnected, confused, or even separated from the God that loves us.

To experience a dark night of the soul is not a pleasant process. Many people often suffer from these dark nights and struggle to recover.

Even Jesus had his dark night of the soul. And we see that in his moment of despair, in his night of eventual betrayal and death, Jesus decides the appropriate response is to pray.

Jesus was no stranger to prayers. Jesus knew the ancient psalms of his ancestors. He knew how to meditate and speak to God like a parent, like his Abba. Jesus was a spiritual master. So this prayer in the garden was not something he did all of a sudden. Jesus already had a long history of praying and being open and honest with God. This history is important because it helps us to know that our dark night of the soul cannot be solved just by a single prayer, but by praying unceasingly throughout our life.

One of my spiritual homes on this earth is Christmount Christian Assembly at Black Mountain, NC. Not only do I feel at home within the mountains, but Christmount has always had a long history of embracing and teaching spirituality. The main reason is because of the Rev. Jamie Brame.

Jamie Brame not only serves as Program Director at Christmount, but for over 20 years, he has directed and keynoted the CYF Conference for high school campers. While each camp is different to be sure, we were always taught how important our spiritual lives matter.

One of the many lessons Jamie taught me while at Christmount was how spirituality is like physical exercise. When you exercise, you start out small and short. You begin with a 10 minute walk, or 5lbs weights. Then you move up to a 30 minute walk or 10lbs weights. You gradually increase your exercise practice, which takes both time and energy.  

The same is true for spiritual disciplines and prayer. Jamie always tells a story about taking his youth group back when he was in college to a monk monastery. Jamie visited the monastery and had been very good friends with many of the monks there. One of the monks was speaking to his youth and one had asked, “How long do I need to pray every day?” The monk answered, “three minutes”. The wisdom from this answer is not only that you devote yourself to a task of daily praying, but when you start your prayers small, you can later increase your prayers much like you would if you were exercising.

As you begin your prayers as simple and small, you allow them to gradually grow. You can begin with the simple Jesus prayer in which you say, “Have mercy on me, a sinner, yet one whom you love”. Or pray for someone else by simply saying a person’s name and having faith that God is already at work within that person’s life and doesn’t need to know all the details of their situation.

How you pray is between you and God. The way we pray is remembering that love is at the core of our relationship with the Creator.

When we are in our dark night of the soul, love seems distant or even gone. We may not even be aware that God is still present during these dark nights. That’s where spiritual discipline and prayer comes in. If we start praying now and pray every day, even if its three minutes a day, then when the dark night of the soul enters our lives, we are able to endure the night.

The dark nights don’t get easier. Jesus still suffered and died. But Jesus was able to realize that he was not alone in his suffering. God was still there, accompanying him to his last breath. When Jesus says, “not my will, but your will”, Jesus is not resigning himself to suffer, because Jesus knows God is not a divine being that enjoys our suffering. Instead, Jesus is putting all of his trust in God to not leave him during his darkest moments.

Prayer takes trust. Trust in the God that loves and cares for us. It may make prayer more difficult.

However, as a person who has experienced my own share of the dark night of the soul, I have both experienced moments where I had no spiritual disciplines and a few spiritual disciplines. The nights I had the comfort of prayer after days of feeling lost and confused were more comforting than when I had no prayer at all.

So as we enter this Holy Week, may we look upon Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, praying to his Abba openly and honestly. May we learn what it means to pray everyday so that when we are in our own dark night of the soul, we may have the comfort of a God who is present during our darkest moments. And may we have the courage to put our trust in God: “Not my will, but your will be done”.