Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Tag: dark night of the soul

Dark Night of the Soul – 6 quotes from Phileena Heuertz’s book – Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life

51T7TEZCf2L1. Discomfort, pain, and disorientation

“Progressing from one stage to the next is not easy – it is filled with discomfort, pain and disorientation. But it is ultimately life-giving, actually essential to the creation of life.”

2. The deeper, more complex phase

“I was quite familiar with the active, engaging, busy stage of life… But I was not at all prepared to explore the deeper, more complex phase that was waiting for me.”

3. The spiritual journey has to be made with simplicity

“The spiritual journey has to be made with simplicity and a desire to be free.”

4. Doubt gives rise to important questions

“In darkness, doubt gives rise to important questions. And abandonment allows us to be free from that which threatens to keep us in slumber. But if we’ve been asleep, we don’t know what it will be like to be awake. All seems dark, unknown and somewhat fear-inducing. Fear is actually the most common response in the brain to the unknown. But studies show that when we face our fears and overcome them, our brain develops and grows; and not only our brain, but our body and spirit as well.”

5. An internal descent into darkness

“Several years prior to being enveloped by this darkness, I had asked to draw nearer to God. In my naivete I had no idea that it would mean an internal descent into darkness. As the weeks unfolded into shadows of death, I realized that ‘emotional junk of a lifetime’ (as Keating calls it) was situated between me and God. Intimacy is about honesty and trust. To grow in intimacy with God, I had to face hidden emotional wounds and subsequent ‘programs for happiness’ and let go of them. As much as God may have wanted to embrace me, I was not free to be fully known by such an embrace. And I was not free to know God as God is. Intimacy is not only about knowing the other but being known as well. I was being invited to come out from hiding and into the agony of God’s piercing light, to eventually emerge into the ‘inescapable delights of the love of God.’ That kind of love could only be experienced through open, honest intimacy. Darkness was an indispensable agony.”

6. The bedrock of the false self

“The intense descent to the bedrock of my false self felt destabilizing. It was far from a pleasant experience. I began to face the unknown of my identity and it frightened me. As falsehoods and old affections and attachments were brought to my attention, the invitation was to let go. Without them I felt as if I had nothing, as if I was nothing. I realized that many of my acts of service were selfishly motivated to fuel a feeling of being loved. If I could meet the needs of others and support them I felt important, needed, wanted, valuable (therefore, ‘loved’). The line between true acts of service or kindness and falsely motivated ones is so thin.”

Have you ever experienced an internal descent to the bedrock of your false self?


My new book The Mystical Imagination: Seeing the Sacredness of All of Life (2015) is finally done! It is available on kindle and paperback!

“Our crowded, overly-consumed, hyper-active, digitally-addicted lifestyle is draining the life out of us. We are desperate to transcend the chaos and find a better way to live. We need a mystical imagination. Get ready to be transported into the depths of meaning as Votava breaks open the contemplative path and shows you how to live your life to the fullest.” Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life and founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism

My first book The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together (2014) is available on kindle and paperback also!

“Inside everyone there is a longing for community, to love and be loved. We are made in the image of a communal God. But in our hyper-mobile, individualistic, cluttered world… community is an endangered thing. And community is like working out – it takes work, sweat, discipline…  without that our muscles atrophy. Everybody wants to be fit, but not too many people want to do the work to get there. Mark’s book is sort of a workout manual, helping you rediscover your communal muscles and start building them up slowly. It is an invitation to live deep in a shallow world.”  Shane Claiborne, author and activist

Do We Fear or Embrace the Dark Night of the Soul?


There are seasons where I feel like my life is unraveling and becoming too difficult to face in a loving way of humility.  It seems I am the lost one who needs some enlightenment.  My pain is too much and I feel like what I want to be living for is not worth it anymore.  I lose courage and joy becoming consumed with what seems like a dark night of the soul.

The silence is frightening.  I lose the desire to really listen to my life deeply.  I try to run from the solitude God is calling me to in these times.  But I am coming to understand that the longer I live, difficult seasons will surely manifest and these are for my own development in life.

  • Silence and solitude will expose ourselves

Silence and solitude will expose ourselves.  We will experience what seems like a darkness at times.  We will experience a desert within ourselves at times.  Most of us do not like anything that resembles darkness and desert experiences.

  •  All our perceived paradigms will be questioned and misplaced

The darkness and desert seasons are difficult.  Our silence and solitude will lead us to a dark night of the soul.  In this darkness all of our preconceived paradigms will be questioned and misplaced.  We will think that God has abandoned us as the body of Christ in the parish.

  •  Constantly seeking God through the dark night of the soul

But this is the natural process of our spiritual growth.  Christ experienced these kinds of things throughout his life and we will have to do the same.  There is wisdom present within us if we do not let these experiences frighten us to the point of giving up our pursuit of God.  We need to seek God constantly through the dark night of the soul.

  •  Breaking through our illusions of control

These experiences teach us necessary wisdom that will help us in ways we cannot understand.  They are mysterious.  They break through all our illusions of control in life.

  •  Trusting God through our pain

Our practice of silence and solitude will help us to walk through the darkness and desert experiences with courage.  We will learn to trust in God through our pain.  These experiences expose the pain that lives within us.

  •  Our pain makes us human in solidarity with others

We all live with pain.  We need to embrace our pain and not pretend that “Christ has completed us” taking all our pain away.  Our pain makes us human and gives us solidarity with others.

  •  Being honest about the existence of pain within our lives

Pain is the commonality that we all experience throughout our lives.  The mystical imagination is not afraid to expose ourselves through the pain of darkness and desert experiences.  The mystical imagination is honest about the existence of pain within our lives.

How can we embrace the seasons of life that are difficult and trust that God is shaping us through what seems like a dark night of the soul?

Book Review – Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor


This is a great book by Barbara Brown Taylor!  In it she explores how darkness is crucial to shaping us for the common good of the world we live in.  She concludes the book by saying, “If I want to flourish, I need the ever-changing light of darkness as much as I need the full light of day.”  Highly recommended.

  • There is a light that shines in the darkness, which is only visible there

“…it makes me wonder how seeing has made me blind – by giving me cheap confidence that one quick glance at things can tell me what they are, by distracting me from learning how the light inside me works, by fooling me into thinking I have a clear view of how things really are, of where the road leads, of who can see rightly and who cannot.  I am not asking to become blind, but I have become a believer.  There is a light that shines in the darkness, which is only visible there.”

  • Learning to let go of my bright ideas about God

“While I am looking for something large, bright, and unmistakably holy, God slips something small, dark, and apparently negligible in my pocket.  How many other treasured have I walked right by because they did not meet my standards?  At least one of the day’s lessons is about learning to let go of my bright ideas about God so that my eyes are open to the God who is…”

  • This dark night is beyond your control

“When the dark night first falls, it is natural to spend some time wondering if it is a test or punishment for something you have done.  This is often a sly way of staying in control of the situation, since the possibility that you have caused it comes with the hope that you can also put an end to it, either by passing the test or by enduring the punishment.  The darker possibility – that this night is beyond your control – is often too frightening to consider at first, at least partly because it means that none of your usual strategies for lightening up is going to work.  One of the hardest things to decide during a dark night is whether to surrender or resist.  The choice often comes down to what you believe about God and how God acts, which means that every dark night of the soul involves wrestling with belief.”

  • The dark night is God’s best gift to you

“The dark night is God’s best gift to you, intended for your liberation.  It is about freeing you from your ideas about God, your fears about God, your attachment to all the benefits you have been promised for believing in God, your devotion to the spiritual practices that are supposed to make you feel closer to God, your dedication to doing and believing all the right things about God, your positive and negative evaluations of yourself as a believer in God, your tactics for manipulating God, and your sure cures for doubting God.”

How has the dark night of the soul shaped you?

Book Review – Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life by Phileena Heuertz


This is a great book by Phileena Heuertz who explores the themes of awakening, longing, darkness, death, transformation, intimacy and union.  She talks about her journey from being a protestant to becoming a catholic, her decision not to have children, her struggles with patriarchy and her challenges of walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.  Fascinating book!  Pilgrimage of a Soul was written after many years of working with poor and marginalized people around the world.  Phileena came to a point of needing to get more connected with a contemplative practice of spirituality after seeing so much poverty and suffering in the world to continue on as an activist.

  • The life-shattering experience of a dark night of the soul

“A dark night of the soul is not an intellectual exercise but a life-shattering experience.  This kind of experience cannot be crafted or sought after – it can only be submitted to.  Darkness of the soul, though terrifying, is a profound grace…”

  • Embracing our pain and letting it transform us

“In life we sometimes wish our pain would not linger so long.  But for our benefit there is a necessary season of sitting, walking, living in our pain.  When we embrace our pain, own it, we let it transform us.”

  • Limitations and restrictions can be a grace for us

“In our modern world, it is much too easy to overextend our limits toward activity and productivity.  Stillness, solitude and silence are not valued today like they may have been for our ancestors whose days were filled with these qualities simply by the nature of their life’s labor and limitations.  We tend to see restrictions to activity and engagement as something to be avoided.  But limitations and restrictions can be a grace for us.  Within the context of our limitations, God can do for us what we cannot…”

  • The risk of neglecting contemplation

“…the one who neglects contemplation is at risk of being motivated and driven by false-self compulsions…”

  • Disciplines of embodiment

“Because we in the overdeveloped West have become so accustomed to privileging the mind over the body, disciplines of embodiment can be intimidating and even perplexing…”

  • Living into our true self

“Living into our true self, being free of our ego and rooted in love allows for true acts of peace and justice.  Without attention to our internal motivations and attachments, we are at risk of imposing our will on the world – deceived into thinking we are doing a virtuous thing – only to find out we need forgiveness for our action… The ways we interact with the world can be connected so deeply to our false self that we cause more harm than good.  In our misapprehension we do not realize that what we are doing may actually be reaping destruction cloaked in virtue.  The greater our leadership and influence, the greater the potential domination and devastation…”

How can we live into a contemplative spirituality?