Saturday, 16 February 2008

Treasures of Darkness

On Tuesday I went to Sarum College, Salisbury, for the penultimate day of the course on spirituality that I am studying there. It is entitled 'The Heart of the Divine' and has been taking us on a spiritual journey which began with the Desert Fathers of the 4th Century (which left a deep impression on me). Since then it has helped us to experience many different forms of worship through the study of the spiritual life of Christians through the ages since then.

Our day always begins with a short but important session in small groups each with one of the tutors. In our group, the tutor encourages us to sum up our own personal spiritual journey in the weeks since we last met. We have come to value this means of grace in which there is a real deep sharing of the way in which what we have been learning has permeated and anchored our lives.

This week we began with a lecture on 'The Cloud of the Unknowing' and Dame Julian of Norwich, though there was so much about 'The Cloud' that we were left eagerly wanting to know more about Julian of Norwich. We were encouraged to satisfy our hunger by reading the books (on both subjects) listed for us. The next lecture was entitled 'The Harvest of Life' and dealt with the spirituality of ageing. By listing the pluses and minuses of ageing, our tutor creatively led us to evaluate all life's experiences so that our spirtuality can deepen with age.

Next came 'Worship in the Dark Night Tradition' in the College Chapel, focussing on 'It is your face, Lord, that I seek'. Our worship began and ended with our singing 'I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.' Our prayers had a response 'Lord, show us the riches in the divine darkness beyond our knowing.' I found this worship a very moving experience, which was summed up by the poem 'The Dark Night' by St. John of the Cross in which he uses the image of darkness to express an experience of God which cannot truly be grasped by our human senses or through the limitations of human language -

1. One dark night
Fired with love's urgent longings
Ah the sheer grace
In the darkness
I went out unseen
My house being all now still

2. In the darkness
Secured by love's secret ladder
Disguised oh the sheer grace
In the darkness
And in my concealment
My house being all now still

3. On that glad night
In the secret, for no one saw me
Nor did I see any other thing at all
With no other light to guide me
Than the light burning in my heart

4. And this light guided me more surely
Than the light of the noon
To where he lay waiting for me
Him I knew so well
In a place where no one else appeared

5. Oh guiding night
A light more lovely than the dawn
A night that has united
Ever now the Lover with his beloved
Transforming two now into one

6. Upon my flowering breast
There he lay sleeping
Which I kept for him alone
And I embraced him
And I caressed him
In a breeze blowing from the forest

7. And when this breeze blew in from the forest
Blowing back our hair
He wounded my soul with his gentle hand
Suspending all my senses

8. Laying my face on my Beloved
All things ceasing
I went out from myself
To leave my cares forgotten
With the lilies of the field

[If you haven't read it, I urge you to read John Hall's book 'In the Beginning there was darkness' which, in a different way, helps the reader to experience the treasures of darkness.]

Our day ended with the experience of Quaker Worship Sharing, followed by an open session in which we discussed our reactons to what we had learned that day.


Will said...

Sounds like this has been a fantastic experience for you. Thanks for sharing it, Olive!

Olive Morgan said...

Yes, indeed it was! It was a very special day for me. The whole course has been has been a breathtaking introduction to the many ways of experiencing God - well worth the cost of the course itself and the train fare (for which I was unable to use my senior railcard because I had to travel before 9 o'clock). We are very sad that there is only one day left for us to spend together on this course.