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Dark Night of the Soul- Conversations & Challenges: Interviews with Peter Rollins (ThinkJump Journal #52 with Kim Gentes)

As Christian leaders, we can make the mistake of not tending properly to the weightier issues of grief, loss and doubt.  This may be unintentional, based on the assumption of a long life of sincere devotion and relationship with God.  But the truth is that loss, pain and even doubts about our faith are important questions to deal with.  When pain, tragedy and struggle bring a difficulty upon us, not facing it can be the wrong tact to take.

The 16th Century Christian mystic Saint John of the Cross wrote a famous poem and treatise, entitled “Dark Night of the Soul” (the treatise complete version is online here ). In this poem, and the lengthy discourse, the author expounds the pains of the human struggle to reach for deep relationship/union with God. The poem, and its title, became synonymous for Christian writers over the recent centuries as a phrase to echo intense struggle and pain- perhaps even their most painful challenge in life. What is unique about this poem is that it reflects a kind of Ecclesiastical despair that the human soul can encounter in such times.  While there is strong scriptural precedent for mournful sorrow, frustrated concern, and even languishing anger, very few modern Christian leaders speak on such topics.

The book of Job, many of the Psalms and certainly the book of Ecclesiastes are all samples of honest struggles from people trying to understand and deal with the pain of our humanity, even while in the context of knowing the Lord God. The New Testament examples of Thomas, Peter (his betrayal and bitter sorrow), Jesus sorrow over the death of Lazarus, and even Jesus own painful struggle at Gethsemane show us that pain, struggle, grief and doubt are very real and must not be avoided, but faced and worked through.

The following two interviews are with Dr. Peter Rollins, author and speaker, who delves into some important thoughts on being honest about our human struggles.  Finally, Peter gives a strong challenge to worship leaders and songwriters of worship music to begin to write music that reflects the reality of the dark night of the soul, as part of a balance of complete liturgy- one that reflects not only the joy and nearness of God, but the pain, struggles and doubts of us, his friends, as we try to draw near to him and deal with our broken world.

Be sure to leave your thoughts and comments (you can post them at the bottom of this entry).


Part 1: Dark Night of the Soul- Honesty in Liturgical Space


Part 2: Dark Night of the Soul- Thoughts and Challenge for Worship Leaders


walking with you,

Kim Gentes


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Reader Comments (7)

Here is my challenge to Peter (with whom I agree on a deep level); anyone who's ever heard me say anything about art, worship and spiritual leadership would know this.

Here is where I disagree. As a lover of questions, of mystery, of wonder, of unknowing - I question whether it is the primary point at this moment in my life. Expressing confident hope is the melody of faith I have come to believe - our unknowing is the harmony, the backdrop, the supporting richness that celebrates, amplifies and contextualizes the melody.

As a great lover of mystery, and at the age of 46, my experience tells me that endless questions have their wild richness - and their limitation.

In postmodernism, the harmony has been celebrated as the melody to counterbalance our mystery-failures in modernism. The melody, the confidence, the celebration, the exuberant expression of belief is not (always) candy-floss, champagne and chocolate cake - it is the meat and staple of the Christian life.

Authenticity is not a reveling in the unknowing to the point where confident and seemingly naive expressions of belief are considered suspect (there's an unspoken truth I've heard behind many peer voices that affirm Peter's words - and you will still hear it on occasion in my own). But I have enough brokenness in my own life, let alone seen in the lives of the world around me, to see that the most important words that can be spoken or sung need not always be cloaked only in unknowing - but rather more dominantly may give the next breath to another by being cloaked in the certainty that love will win - and God will right the world.

Hope is not one big question mark - nor is it a definitive period - rather, it is a semi-colon where we suspend our disbelief that all things could be made new for a moment, and then prepare ourselves to rush into God's mysterious renewal of the world.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan Wilt

HI! To me sincerity and transparency are key attitudes...not masks. I remember times when I had to minister to the cogregation and my son ( which I lost after some time ) was in the hospital. At these times you can't pretend you're ok, but your cry is to believe by faith that " somebody" is beside you, with you, in the midst of the " dark night" . Today I really question triumphalism and false " rave-ups" in the church. I'm a pastor and worship leader. When joy comes, let it come; when brokenness come, let it come. Our God made us body,soul and spirit.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commentergerson ortega

Dan and Gerson, very good points, both of you. Our perspectives and our stories each bring their own interpretations to the table. I agree with you Dan, that there is a limitation to the benefit of the questioning, when it isn't out of a real authenticity. But like Gerson, the moments of reality which those "dark night" experiences can express are validating of our humanity.

I am not sure if Peter will follow up to respond, but I thought I would at least from my perspective.


March 24, 2011 | Registered CommenterKim Gentes

I received a simple little plaque at a Women's Retreat many years ago, on which the wording reads,
"Even from a dark night, songs of beauty can be born." Mary Anne Radmacher-Hershey

I did not understand why the plaque moved me so until a few years later, when indeed, from my "dark night" (a 24-year struggle with the guilt and shame of abortion) songs of healing began to flow from my mind and heart. One song in particular, which I wrote after going through a post abortion Bible Study, entitled "Back to Him", has been instrumental in my healing and belief that indeed, even from a dark night, songs of beauty can be born:

Back To Him, by Rebecca Curtis

If I'd only known what I've learned is true.
If I'd only known God’s plans for me.
I'd have fixed my gaze on His perfect Grace,
made my choice to rest on Mercy's wings.

Knowing you, my baby, holding you.
Now this my heart's desire.
But I know I'll have to wait
to see your smile and touch your face,
at God's throne of Grace.

All my tears, I'm told, that I’ve shed for you
one by one, with care, they're bottled up
in a vessel fine sealed with God's own kiss
stored among the treasures known as His.

I long to hold you baby, hold you close.
My heart just aches for you.
God has promised to restore
the years the locusts have destroyed.
Now I know this Truth.

So, I'll run the race set before me now.
There's a new song in my heart.
Forgiven and set free, He's dealt wondrously.
Healed my soul, a brand new start.

Knowing you, my baby, in this life
a joy I'll never know.
But rest assured you're in my heart.
You are the way that God has brought me
back to Him.

Yes, rest assured you're in my heart.
You are the way that God has brought me
safely back to Him.

March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca Curtis

Well, while on the way to reading my bible for help I finally sticky-beaked on this site. Peter: you must have admired Dan's writing skill and honesty. A tear emerged when I read Gerson's comment. I cried a big one with Rebecca's story. To me they are God's children on the way home. I too had my baby killed when I was 15, the confessional and hail marys couldn't kill the pain of that sin, nor did drink, drugs or relationships. Years passed. I wandered into an Apostolic Church, then up the front for prayer. A preacher came along, I said nothing, he put his hand on my stomach and said "the damage the doctor's knife has done is now healed". I was escaping a wife beater then. I remarried at 39, three months later fell pregnant. That baby boy is now 21, married and in this alien world on the way home too.
Write your songs for God and Country (Church) Peter. It's taken 20 yrs for me to get a movie scripted and registered, but it's done. Now what?! Sometimes it seems like I'm trapped in this decaying flesh, other times I will witness to a lamp-post knowing the light has passed it's way.
When will I do the things I want to do and know the rest, and yes, 'wretched woman; some days are diamonds and some days are rocks. I could throw either of them on any given day but I'm living for finally knowing the secret of being content in any situation, just like, I didn't know I'd be writing this today...hey Rebecca!

May 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret Jansen

Whoops (: sorry Peter...I said " write your SONGS, 'should have been STUFF.
While I'm here, God sure did put some imagination in that mind of yours and for some reason my favorite nun just popped into mine. She was excommunicated for falling in love with a Christian brother. They got married and became missionaries. That's sort of like when a well meaning Christian comes up with an alright concept, one the devil didn't give him, yet is shot down because it's not in the rules.
I hunted for a long time after finding out Mary didn't ascend. I went to a church that told me I had to be baptised in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ not Father Son and Holy Ghost, even though I'd been baptised at a church that siad I wasn't saved because I didn't speak in tongues when I came out of the water. Before all this, I had "the big encounter" "born again" at a Salvation Army meeting. I was so affected I wanted to jump into that uniform and bang the tamborine for God. We both know that didn't happen.

May 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret Jansen

Hey Margaret! I can identify with the "decaying flesh...witnessing to a lamp post" part.

I am home...but my youngest, also 21, is at this time running away from the God Who chose him. But I have every confidence that the God Who began a good work in my son will be faithful to complete it!

Like King David, when I kept silent about my sin my whole body ached and groaned with the burden of it. When I finally accepted God's forgiveness for my abortion and stopped letting THAT be my identity, He has stirred in me a passion that I cannot explain nor contain.

One passion of mine, outside of being a follower of Jesus Christ, it to shine a light to this dark world about the abortion-breast cancer link, for God has called me to this issue, I am certain.

What is your movie script about?

May 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca Curtis

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