Gimme a man after midnight. Today we are given such a man as our liturgical calendar encourages us to celebrate and embrace the life of Saint John of the Cross. Through his writings he speaks to us of things we often deny and of which we are so frightened that we don’t even go there. For Thomas Merton, St John of the Cross is the Father of all those whose prayer is an undefined isolation outside the boundary of “spirituality”. His poem Dark Night of the Soul describes the purification of the senses and the spirit on the journey to union with God. The phrase dark night of the soul is used to describe the experience which many know by the name of Depression, in which all that has supported our lives loses its value and meaning, in which we aren’t so much as letting go of things, as things have let go of us and we are left with barely so much as a thread to hold on to. His example is encouragement for us to not be frightened of chaos and the abyss.
|Strange attractor from Michael Wassmer|
Western culture has been frightened of chaos, and anything which isn’t predictable and stable. We have preferred to think that people, information and change should all be managed and controlled. Even the dark night has been no dark night to us as we have controlled even that with our artificial light. I have been joining others in looking at chaos, and with them have been astounded by its order and beauty. Computers have helped us to model chaos’s behaviour, which in real time is, of course, unpredictable and chaotic. But the computer models help us to see that its behaviour is orderly and within boundaries.
Gimme a man after midnight. The voice that speaks from the other side of chaos is a powerful voice. That is the voice of leadership, the future beckoning us. St John of the Cross lived through his dark night, and the voice of his experience of that night is a powerful voice. So is the voice of the likes of Nelson Mandela. So is the Word of God which only shines in darkness.
Gimme a man after midnight – one who has had the courage to embrace chaos, to hear its voices and not be afraid of its ambiguities and uncertainty, one who is able to speak from his experience of darkness. With him there is the promise of a new day with its possibilities and potential. Otherwise there is just the tiredness of the old day and our refusals to put our old certainties to bed.
Gimme a man after midnight. The voice of St John of the Cross is a companionable voice to all those who have lost themselves in that awful place of darkness which we call the Abyss or Chaos, and from which there seems no way out.