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Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life's Ordeals Hardcover – May 3, 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 439 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

When it comes to spiritual growth, we humans are solar-seeking beings; eager for the bright lights of clarity and the bliss of illumination. Paradoxically, we all need to walk through the shadow of the dark night in order to discover a life worth living, according to psychotherapist and spiritual commentator Thomas Moore. Unlike depression, which is more of an emotional state, Moore calls the dark night a slow transformation process, which is fueled by a profound period of doubt, disorientation and questioning. Ultimately, a journey into the dark night will reshape the very meaning of your life. As a self-proclaimed "lunar type," Moore is comfortable leading his clients and readers into the shadows, where ambiguities and mysteries lurk around every corner. He describes the dark night journey in stages, starting with feeling distant from your life even as you continue to go through the motions. The second phase is "liminality," meaning living on the threshold between the known self and the unknown self. This is perhaps the most uncomfortable phase as the dark night may "take you away from the cultivation and persona you have developed in your education and from family learning," he explains. After dwelling in this murky darkness, there's a stage of "re-incorporation," in which one integrates the profound inner transitions into daily life. Like a tour guide to the underworld, Moore leads readers through all these phases, offering tools and rituals for making the journey more tolerable or at least more meaningful. He also speaks to the many arenas and stages of life in which we might find ourselves stumbling through the dark, with chapters on marriage, parenting, sexuality, creativity and health. The scope is ambitious, and at times the structure seems disjointed—but this is perhaps Moore’s best contribution since Care of the Soul, proving once again that he is a wise and formidable spiritual teacher. --Gail Hudson

From Publishers Weekly

There's an old saying that a devil is appealing at first but leaves you in despair, while an angel appears terrifying at first but leaves you refreshed and hopeful. This eighth book since Moore's extraordinarily successful Care of the Soul considers loss, pain, conflict, confusion, anger, excess, deviance and other disturbing feelings and behaviors not as devils to be exorcised but as angelic opportunities for deepening and altering the self. Derived from a chapter of the first book titled "The Gifts of Depression," the idea is not that suffering per se is good for the soul, but that to regard such visitations merely as suffering is to miss their point and meaning. Art and religion feature more prominently here than psychology, which Moore, a Catholic monk turned therapist, finds too mechanical and fix-it oriented to serve the soul. He adopts F. Scott Fitzgerald's phrase "the real dark night of the soul" to refer to anything from a short episode to an entire marriage and sees it as an invitation to spiritual cultivation, work that can be intellectual, creative or even physical, but which the monastically trained Moore tends to depict as quiet, solitary reflection. All this is set forth in a fluent, unflaggingly earnest style. Moore, who has an exceptional arsenal of literary and religious lore at his disposal, scatters allusions to figures as various as Madame Bovary, Gandhi, Thomas More and Glenn Gould (no Luther or Malcolm X, though) with dexterity. Short on detail, long on evocation, this book coveys the important if familiar message that spiritual growth entails darkness as well as light. While not exactly a substitute for reading Dostoyevski or Keats, this is perhaps an inducement to give them a chance.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 329 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham (May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592400671
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592400676
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (439 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,504 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Elizabeth G. Melillo VINE VOICE on October 16, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
John of the Cross's writings show the total intensity and detachment of one who has reached a point of union with God that is a sheer gift of grace. The Dark Night of the Soul is among the greatest writings of mystic theology and experience, and highly recommended for those who have some understanding of the concepts of which he writes. The total turning of the will to God, to a point where nothing on earth can satisfy the lover except union with the Beloved, is a marvellous and deeply moving "sight" - and the exquisite poetry here is one of the best expressions in the history of Christianity.
This said, it is essential that one have background in order to understand this work. (More easily understood introductions, such as Thomas Dubay's "Fire Within," should precede reading the Dark Night.) John is by no means writing of depression or misery, nor is his path one which is common to all (or indeed many) Christians. Let the serious Christian seeker approach this work with humility - it pre-supposes knowledge and an openness to divine love that is far from universal. And, above all, take John's cautions against self-deception to heart as much as he did.
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"The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross" consists of the writings of this 16th century Spanish Mystic and Doctor of the Church. St. John was a Carmelite friar and friend of St. Theresa of Avila. A valued spiritual counselor, many of his works were written as instruction to religious who sought his guidance.
The book consists of four major works and many minor works. The major works are "The Ascent of Mount Carmel", "The Dark Night", "The Spiritual Canticle" and "The Living Flame of Love". Each of the major works consists of a poem, written by St. John, and an extensive, word by word, explanation. In the explanation, St. John reveals his own theology, supported by verses from Scripture.
The minor works consist of letters written to his contemporaries as well as a collection of St. John's poetry.
This is definitely not light reading. The reader must concentrate on his the text in order to appreciate what he is reading. I am glad that I read it from two perspectives. From an historical perspective, it provides the reader with a good introduction into the world of mystical writing. More importantly, from a spiritual perspective, this book gives the reader an insight into God's call to all Christians to draw themselves more closely to Himself. The spirit of this book is difficult to explain. It is a classical book which is better experienced than described.
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By Sister Elizabeth Ruth, O.D.C., Carmel of Our Lady of Walsingham, Norfolk
St. John of the Cross is known as the Mystical Doctor, because in a pre-eminent way he is the director of men on their interior journey towards God. As a spiritual guide and deeply religious man, trained in theology at the best Spanish universities of his day, he was able, as few others, to elucidate scripturally and doctrinally the ways of the Lord.
Primarily, though, he is a poet, and his poetry speaks for itself in deeply symbolic language, the language of love. He is also a man of his country and era. His two poles Toda-Nada, All-Nothing, no doubt were associated for him with the rugged beauty of Castile--the blazing Spanish sky above arid ground, with the sun glinting upon walled cities, the freezing night with brigands concealed in the darkness.
John and Spain speak the language of extremes, just as St. Francis of Assisi was a man of the Umbrian hills set with flowers and vines among shaded valleys. There is a tendency to contrast the harshness of one with the sweetness of the other, but this is to do a disservice to both. Both at heart are similar because they see the way to God as the way of giving all-desiring nothing but him, and letting the rest go: "My God and my All."
In this, Jesus Christ is the model, and there is no spiritual growth apart from the earnest imitation of him. "Be continually careful and earnest in imitating Christ in everything, making your life conform to his," John writes in The Ascent of Mount Carmel, almost as a key sentence. Only in this light can we understand his insistence on the denial of desires.
What he has in mind are all those selfish and self-seeking ways we go about trying to have God and what we want as well.
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First of all, I don't understand why anybody would complain about the language of this translation. The work is about an excrutiating and almost indescribable journey, and a book about such a subject should by no means be a light afternoon read. The very language of Dark Night of the Soul calls for intense engagement and is a fruitful exercise in itself. Furthermore, this language has an extraordinarily authentic quality that conveys something of the mystery St John of the Cross is pursuing.

The work also gives so much to think about. I don't know that I agree with everything, but that's fine, and St John himself notes that each journey toward God will be somewhat different. But there is a lot that appeals to me. Truly, the journey toward God can be difficult. Reading about any character in the Bible from Abraham to David to Jesus confirms this. Life is such a strange mixture of the presence of God and the (at least seeming) absense, and persevering toward union with God means getting through these agonizing periods. In this book, St John of the Cross gives great hope as he accounts for those dark times and provides a framework for getting through them. This isn't a light read, and it is certainly a book that needs multiple readings. Nevertheless, it gives you a lot to think about and is ultimately well worth the effort.
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