Note my joys and my pains.
Confident that the Holy Spirit is guiding me now, I note my emotions and thoughts. What joys did I experience that are bringing me closer to God (consolations)? What pains did I experience that threatened to distance me from God (desolations)? Where did I cooperate with him or where did I choose to resist him?

Receive and Renew
Through confession and worship, I surrender my will to God, and I receive by faith the grace for which I ask.
I look to tomorrow and, with God, plan concretely how to live it in accord with God’s loving desire for my life.

Transition out of prayer: I conclude my examen aware of God’s love and presence.

The Contemplative Discipline of The Dark Night

In the 14th century book, The Cloud of Unknowing, the English author describes a profound time in our lives when we find ourselves in a difficult space. A cloud of unknowing blankets us from being able to perceive God, who is above us, and a cloud of forgetting blocks us from deriving satisfaction from accustomed pathways to God, what is below us. In his Spanish poem On A Dark Night, translated into English, St. John describes the dark night as a “constriction in the road,” and a “wounding” that causes “all my senses to be suspended.” God allows our spiritual senses – the ways we experience, feel, think, and sense God — to be suspended in a “cloud of unknowing and forgetting.”

God seems distant yet we long for him more than ever. Coupled with these longings are states of dryness: we lose taste for scripture, we have to force ourselves to attend church services, we don’t want to pray, we think we are backsliding. It is this combination of desire and dryness that signals a dark night experience.

Threshold times, for some, can feel like the dark night of the soul. Walking on a beach in southern California one sunny day, it came to me that the dryness of my soul coupled with my growing desire for God was a sure indication that I was in the dark night. Later, the irony of the dark night being revealed on a light soaked beach, did not escape my notice. Nevertheless, knowing this helped me stay in the threshold, preparing me for the suffering ahead.

But why does God allow this dark night in threshold times? What purpose does it serve?

I think it is because we are dangerous: dangerous to ourselves, others, and the kingdom. We are like a car, a 3000 pound missile hurtling down the road at 85 miles an hour. That’s us in the active faith stage of our lives. We are going places and doing much good. But we are also a 3000 pound missile hurtling forward at 85 miles an hour! We are dangerous. And we don’t know it. We don’t know what’s under the hood, we ignore the little ones in the back seat, we say, “oops,” when we cause another car to veer off the road to avoid our crazy lane change, we honk angrily and yell when they do the same to us, we squash a few things on the road (sorry, don’t like you), our gas tank shows empty but we know we will make it to the next station on time (that’s real faith), and we text, listen to a sermon on the ipod and eat at the same time (we call it redeeming the time). But it’s okay, we are the driver and we get to choose.

Dark night experiences – threshold experiences – move us from active faith to passive faith. In active faith we act, in passive faith we surrender. Like a border patrol agent, God is checking out our lives, and we wait. He’s in control, he’s making the choices, and he’s asking us