Contemplative Darkness

 

Monday February 9, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier   Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Reading (1 Kings 8:1-7, 9-13)   Gospel (St. Mark 6:53-56)

 

In the first reading today, we hear about the consecration of the temple that Solomon had built for the Lord. In bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the temple, which was the place where they believed God to dwell, they suddenly could not minister in the temple because a cloud had filled the temple. We recall the meeting tent and how previously, whenever Moses would go out there, the cloud would come down upon the tent. There was the cloud in the desert that led the people through the desert in the daytime and it was a pillar of fire by night. We also have the cloud that descended upon Our Blessed Lady. We have the cloud that descended at the time of the Transfiguration upon the apostles and Our Lord. This is what the Hebrew people would call the “shekinah cloud”, the “glory cloud”; it is the cloud of God’s glory.

 

The important thing, too, is to hear the words of Solomon: God has chosen to dwell in the dark cloud. It is important for us to know that because when we enter into the spiritual life, we expect that we are going to see great things. We expect that somehow there are going to be all these visions and revelations, we are going to hear things, and extraordinary things are going to happen because, after all, if we are getting closer to God we should be able to have a clearer vision of all these things. That would be like saying that as you get into a spaceship and go towards the sun and you look out the window, you should be able to see everything much more clearly because it is so much brighter – after all, you are closer to the sun. You still cannot look at the sun directly; in fact, the closer you get, the worse it is going to be. It is true that it is getting brighter, but the brightness is going to be blinding. And the blindness that we are going to recognize from that winds up being complete darkness. This is what is called the “contemplative darkness”. What is normal for people in the spiritual life as they enter into their own hearts is to be able to generally be in the dark. Once in a while, there is going to be some little breakthrough of some sort where the Lord will give clarity and insight; but, most often, prayer is going to be dark and dry and quiet.

 

Now, if we are looking for extraordinary things in prayer, if we are looking for great emotional experiences and things like that, that is generally not what is going to happen in prayer. We need to be very careful about what our expectations are, about what our preconceived notions are of what the prayer life is about, because most people have it completely wrong. They think that they are supposed to go to prayer and make lots of noise and do all kinds of things and have all kinds of extraordinary phenomenon happening. That is just not what the prayer life is all about. When people are looking for that, there is one individual that I am aware of who is more than happy to give you all kinds of extraordinary phenomenon. What is it that you want? Visions? Voices? Want to float? Want to do extraordinary things? Want to make weird things happen? Well, there is a guy with two horns and a tail that can do all of those things and is more than happy to provide them for you if that is what you want.

 

That is not the way God ordinarily works, and we need to be very, very careful to let God be in charge. The priests and the Levites thought they had their whole program of the ceremony for the consecration of the temple all worked out. Then the glory cloud filled the temple and they were no longer able to minister. They had to put their plans aside because God’s plans were something different from theirs. And it did not matter what kind of a beautiful ceremony they had worked out, it all had to be put on hold because they had realized that God had a different idea of how He wanted to consecrate His temple.

 

You are the temple of the Lord. Your heart is the holy of holies. If God dwells there, then the shekinah cloud fills your soul and there is going to be darkness. Not the darkness of sin, but the darkness of the cloud of the glory of God, so that as you enter into the absolute brilliance, you are going to be blinded and you will be in the dark. Just be careful not to try to tell God how to consecrate His temple, not to try to tell God how to minister in His temple, because it is His temple. Allow Him to be the master of His own temple, allow Him to dwell within that holy of holies, and allow Him to show you how He wants you to pray there, how He wants you to minister to Him there. If He chooses that it is going to be to envelop you in a dark cloud, then be silent and be still. Do not think you are doing anything wrong because you are not going to be able to minister to God in any other way; and, at that time, that is what will give Him the greatest glory. If He lifts the cloud and makes clear that something else is supposed to happen, then do that. But, most of the time, just prepare to be in the silence – and be united with God in the silence and the darkness as the glory cloud of the Lord fills your heart.

 

*  This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.