He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dark Night of the Soul: The Fall of Pride

For my Lenten journey, I have begun reading Dark Night of the Soul, a practical exposition of a mystical poem by St. John of the Cross.  After a beautiful and moving description of the goals and ends of the spiritual life of a person undertaking the journey toward union with the divine, he goes on to describe some of the pitfalls into which beginners tend to fall (and hopefully climb out).  He uses the seven capital sins as a structure for these descriptions of common errors of spiritual aspirants, and he begins with the sin from which all other sins flow: the deadliest sin of pride.

In my experience, pride is a huge impediment to growing in any kind of virtue.  I spent most of my early twenties with my ego wrapped in a blanket of the worst sort of pride.  I had everything figured out; I had the right intellectual views, the right view of moral behavior, and the right motivations.  Pride was the comfortable blindfold keeping me from seeing the evidence that I was significantly in error in all of those areas of my life.  It kept me from seeing how little I knew of myself.  It kept me from seeing how much more depth I should have in my relationships with my family and friends.  It kept me from seeing how much more I needed to be grateful for my parents.  It kept me from seeing how hurtful I was to other people.  It kept me from seeing how much more I needed to give.  It kept me from seeing my numerous mistakes.  It kept me from seeing how vain I was.  It kept me from seeing how distant I had become from love.

Pride was the sibilant voice whispering in my ear that I was awesome, that I was wonderful, and that I did not need to change my ways; pride gently advised me that it was other people whose mistakes were notable and that mine were negligible. Pride was a great deal of me believing convenient lies about myself because it satisfied my ego.  I have since learned that the self-serving siren song of pride is out of tune with the kind of person I wish to become. I have fallen many times, and pride was indeed often there before each fall, pushing me gleefully into bad decisions because it kept my ego temporarily safe from the nefarious clutches of genuine self-improvement.

But pride ended up felling itself; I made too many bad decisions and reached a point of realization that my life could not go on in stagnation.  I realized that I had a lot of room to grow, and the more I grew, the more I was able to see just how much room to grow I had available to me.  I took all the stubbornness and persistence with which I had been holding on to my pride and began pushing away from my pride instead.  Now that I no longer cling to my pride, I am free to become the best person I can be.  I have a lot of stumbling around in the dark to do yet, but the journey has begun and I will see it through to the end.  I am free to venture more deeply into the dark night of the soul to find the light of love and make my home there.

The Fall of Pride - Death to the Ego - Bread from Heaven

Note:  The above is a picture of part of the cover of the translation of St. John of the Cross's work I'm using.  For more information about it, you can see my Sources page.

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