Is there a connection between deconstruction and the dark night of the soul?

Many who participates in deconstruction experience the dark night. Not everyone, however, who experiences the dark night of the soul has been doing deconstruction.

There is enough overlap that it is worth exploring.

Many people who begin to deconstruct their faith experience various levels of disorientation, discouragement, depression, and even despair. It is difficult to dismantle the thing that used to give you shelter and even structure your experience and very existence. You begin to question everything that you have been taught, the people who taught it to you, and even yourself for being misled, fooled, or indoctrinated.

This can trigger feelings of abandonment, isolation, embarrassment, shame, and god-forsakeness at times.

This is where I find the work of Peter Rollins very helpful. He says things like

“I’m not trying to make you depressed, I trying to help you see that you are already depressed.”

One of my favorite things that he introduced me to (working off a thinker named Lacan) is called the Experience of Absence and the Absence of Experience. Let’s say that you and I are sitting at two table in the coffee shop. We are in the same place doing the same thing at the same time – with one big difference: you are expecting a friend who has not shown and is not answering your texts or calls.

You are experiencing your friend’s absence, whereas I am having an absence of that experience.

This is helped me so much over years since Peter’s book “How (Not) To Speak of God” came out. It has become a key for me that has unlocked a door into a much bigger auditorium of ideas.

I have learned to embrace the experience of absence. I actually prefer it of the absence of experience. I know that something is wrong or missing – but I would rather sit in that awareness than not know and sit in my happy naiveté.  I would rather be awake the beautiful disaster than not-awake and happy.

This is not a criticism of anyone else and I know many who would disagree with me.

One of the treasures that gives me comfort in the Experience of Absence is that we have resources for this crisis inside our tradition. One of my favorites buried treasures in Christian history is called ‘via negativa’ or the apophatic tradition.

It basically says that god – by the very nature of being god – is so expansive, beyond human comprehension or our ability to explain or describe the divine essence in anything that resembles its reality – that it is more accurate to speak of god in the inverse or negative.

I love this idea.

If there is something as grand as god then every time we try to assert something about god we both say it and inherently un-say it at the same time. [1]

Via Negativa shows that it is actually easier and more accurate to speak of god in the inverse: that god is not like anything or anyone you can compare to (analogy). Even when you try so say something in the positive, whatever you say is actually far more true in the inverse.

Whatever we know about god or believe about god, there is infinitely more that is unknown and unsaid (unexplored).

Any god-talk is actually more untrue about the actual divine than it is true.

Why do I bring this up? In the same way that I have learned to embrace the Experience of Absence, I have come to love the infinitely beyond-me. Deconstruction is concerned with the limitations of words and that has been immensely rewarding as it connects with Via Negativa and another deep idea:

Paul Ricoeur has a concept called Second Naiveté when you pass through the desert of criticism (deconstruction?) and come into faith again with your eyes open. It is not first faith and it is criticism. It is Faith Again but awakened to the mystery (moment).

I could talk and write for days about Ricoeur. His concept of ‘a surplus of meaning’ has transformed my life, faith, and ministry.

None of this the same as the 16th century Catholic concept of ‘the dark night of the soul’ which leads to mystical union with god. There are, however, enough similarities and overlaps that they all belong in the same conversation.

The Experience of Absence, Via Negativa, 2nd Naiveté, and the Dark Night have all helped me on the deconstructive journey.  I would love to hear about helpful resources that you have found.

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

[1] Two great examples are found in the analogy of ‘rock’ and ‘father’.

Scripture often refers to god as ‘a rock’ to signify strength, resilience, and trustworthiness. But of course god is not actually a rock and a rock is not god. It is a metaphor or analogy at best.

Jesus sometimes referred to god as ‘father’. This was of course relational language saying that he related to God as one relates to a (perfect image of) father. Not that god was big man in the sky who got Mary pregnant.

God is as different from our earthly father as god is anything like those beautifully flawed human men.