The Dark Night of the Soul

By Dorothea Wojnar

Call to worship

Wherever you are ….
Whoever you are….
Whatever you’ve done….
Whenever you’re joining…
Christ calls us from north and south, east and west.
From the comfort of pyjamas,
or the busy-ness of the kitchen,
in the morning and in the evening,
the Spirit enables our praise.
Let us worship God.

Opening Prayer

When it does not seem to matter to many,
Creator God,
we will dare to be your people,
to love those the world would have us reject,
to be just in the face of every reason to be cruel,
to be unafraid of whatever awaits us.

When all the odds seem stacked against us,
Jesus our Saviour, we still dare to live as your sisters and brothers,
serving others even from the safety of our homes,
sharing in the burdens of our neighbours,
refusing to leave the lonely and orphaned with no hope.

When the props are knocked out from under us by fears and worries,
Faithful Spirit, we dare to breathe joy upon those caught in the net of hopeless,
peace into all the quavering hearts around us,
wonder for all those who look for you but do not see.

In you, we dare to live and breathe and be,
God in Community, Holy in One,
even as we pray as we are taught,
Tom Shuman
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven
hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come
Your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread,
forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

HYMN TIS 477: Jesus calls us here to meet him
Jesus calls us here to meet him
as through word and song and prayer
we affirm God’s promised presence
where his people live and care.
Praise the God who keeps his promise;
praise the Son who calls us friends;
praise the Spirit who, among us,
to our hopes and fears attends.

Jesus calls us to confess him
Word of Life and Lord of All,
sharer of our flesh and frailness
saving all who fail or fall.
Tell his holy human story;
tell his tales that all may hear;
tell the world that Christ in glory
came to earth to meet us here.

Jesus calls us to each other:
found in him are no divides.
Race and class and sex and language-
such are barriers he derides.
Join the hand of friend and stranger;
join the hands of age and youth;
join the faithful and the doubter
in their common search for truth.

Jesus calls us to his table
rooted firm in time and space,
where the church in earth and heaven
finds a common meeting place.
Share the bread and wine, his body;
share the love of which we sing;
share the feast for saints and sinners
hosted by our Lord and King.

© John L Bell Wild Goose Songs 3: Love from Below

St Augustine said to sing is to pray twice. It is a form of bodily prayer that can engage us body, mind, heart and spirit. In what ways does singing help you?

Reading from scripture: John 17:1-11 (NRSV)

Jesus Prays for His Disciples
17 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

TO DREAM THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM? John 17

That they may be one?
It seems an impossible dream
a wish list for a perfect church;
the Lord’s A team.

That they may be one?
Too soon; the severing soon came and multiplied;
“I with Apollos, I with Paul”,
and sullied Christ’s name.

That they may be one?
But now we have become possessed,
like Legion;
a church of many voices,
and our Lord finds no rest.

That they may be one?
His words
retain the laser-fierce light
that may yet
become our salvation
and Christ’s delight.

B D Prewer 1999

Reflection (drawing on Suzanne Guthrie’s work)

The seventh Sunday of Easter falls between the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost, the birth of the church. Imagine that you have been with the disciples and you have seen Jesus ascended into heaven. You have been witness to Jesus’ crucifixion, his death and resurrection. You believed that you might die with Jesus and you felt totally desolate when he was dead. This had sent you into the depths of despair, even so Jesus prepared you along with his disciples for what was to come. And then imagine the joy of seeing the resurrected Christ and spending time with him. After 40 days you followed Jesus to Bethany where he blessed everyone. You witnessed Jesus withdrawing and being carried up into heaven. (Luke 24:50-53)

You are initially overjoyed. You return with the others and spend time together praying and praising God. And then it slowly creeps in. Jesus is gone. You feel as if he had abandoned you again. You heard him say that he had to leave so that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, can come. You don’t really know what Jesus means by this. And you don’t know how long it will take. Your loss is incomprehensible.

The Church gives us ten days to contemplate dwelling in this ambiguous time. The resurrected Christ has vanished. The Holy Spirit has not yet come. In the mystical life this is referred to as the Dark Night of the Soul. There is an anguished sense of abandonment after a joyous sense of union. The threads of attachments have been broken. Paradoxically this is part of the Christian transformation so that we can be sent into the world as bearers of love. People have also referred to this experience as being in the wilderness. This is a time when we can no longer feel the love of God and the presence of Christ.

There is hope. The mystics testify to a stunning paradox. The abandonment IS the union. It is in the Dark Night of the Soul that Lover meets Beloved and transforming union takes place.

The 7th Sunday of Easter is the imposed pause, the anticipation of the promise, the flash of insight before the work of Pentecost begins. The church, not quite ready to be church, is asked to go deeper into love. We are asked to practice loving in dark faith, without the bodily presence of the Resurrected Christ. The call is for a deeper conversion to a vocation to holiness. Jesus’ “high priestly prayer” in today’s reading sets us up for the experience itself when it comes.

Jesus prayer will be there and envelope us when we meet the Dark Night of the Soul in our personal journey of faith. This is when we need to remember that we belong to Him and we live in Him as He lives in us. Jesus shares in God’s very being and existence. What is amazing is that this is precisely what he is inviting us to share as well. Jesus invites us to know and be known by the God who no one has seen (John 1:18).

This is the time of the year when we get to practice learning the skill of loving God and uniting community at a time of ambiguity and uncertainty and waiting. So that we, as a church, will be ready to continue the work God first entrusted to Jesus. Healing, feeding, caring, listening, sharing, making manifest the grace and mercy of the God “who so loved the world” (John 3:16).

We are currently in a time of ambiguity and uncertainty. We can no longer meet in church buildings to worship together. We have had to change our ways of working and ways of relating to each other. Tuggeranong Uniting Church has been offering online Worship using Zoom. There has been a threat to our health, and emotional and physical well-being. We can’t even predict yet how this will affect our economy.

I am leaving you with some questions you might reflect on:

Prayer
Creating God, stir in us the newness of life, that we may experience what You are doing in the world around us. Help us not to grow stale to the world, dim to Your light, but to reflect Your light and the newness of Your creation in all that we do. Inspire us to live for others, to love our neighbours and seek their well-being. In living for others, we find ourselves living out Your greatest commandment, knowing that You lived for us, so we live for others. Create in us the newness of life, that we might love, live, and share the joy found in You. In the name of Christ, who makes all things new, we pray. Amen.

Rev Mindi

Universal Love
Love is invisible, but it is the most powerful force in human nature. Jesus spoke of the Spirit which he would send as Truth but also as Love. “If anyone loves me, my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our abode with him.” This is the love, the prema and bhakti, which was proclaimed in the Bhagavad Gita, the compassion (karuna) of Buddha, the rapturous love of the Sufi saints.

Ultimately a religion is tested by its capacity to waken love in its followers, and, what is perhaps more difficult, to extend that love to all humanity. In the past religions have tended to confine their love to their own followers, but always there has been a movement to break through these barriers and attain to a universal love.

Bede Griffiths 1906-1993 Universal Wisdom quoted from Pathways to Peace

Blessing
If we think that there are no spiritual enemies around and within us,
we have already lost the battle.
If we think there is no Spirit of grace, mercy and truth available to us,
we have forgotten our birthright.
If we expect the greater unity of the Church to come without pain,
we will look and wait in vain.
Yet if we dare to love others with the same love with which Christ has loved us, Christ’s great prayer will be closer to fulfillment.

The overflowing grace of Christ Jesus,
The embracing love of God,
And the invigorating friendship of the Spirit,
Will be with you now and always,
Amen!

Photo of Dorothea Wojnar

Written by Dorothea Wojnar

Dorothea Wojnar is an elder, worship leader and preacher at TUC. She has a deep interest in meditative and contemplative worship. In addition to her roles at TUC, Dorothea is a member of presbytery and a member of its Pastoral Relations Committee.

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