If you haven’t read Dark Night of the Soul, it is a hauntingly beautiful work. As I read it, I developed a new appreciation for my own experiences. Growing up and throughout college I had occasional night terrors. As I came to the final chapters of the book, I had three more after escaping them for over a decade. Coincidentally, the chapters of the book were well-timed for my experiences.
As a child and as a young adult (through college), I would dread the semi-conscious state of paralysis that would occur. Trapped, unable to breath or move I was visited by terrifying entities. I specifically remember one in college where a black cloud with red eyes appeared in the room and slowly covered me as I struggled. Without warning it lunged over my prone body suffocating me under its presence. When I asked my brother whether he ever experienced them, he said that he did not remember night terrors but he did remember the red eyes in the bedroom we shared growing up.
As I finished God Doesn’t Whisper, I had three in the space of two weeks. The first was a strange dream that felt like a night terror where I was being dragged powerlessly by an entity through a cavern-like hallway. I saw my brother sitting next to the wall and that drove me to call him with the question. At a point, I stopped being terrified and willed my body to stand up. If you thought I was surprised by demonstrating this ability to control myself, you should have seen the face of the entity. It turned around and, although emotionally featureless, expressed concern that I read as “You should not be able to do that”. Then the dream ended.
The next night terror was inside my home as a malevolent spirit in this dream state was turning on and off lights, setting a fire in the fire place, and tormenting me. I ran through the house in this dream state willing my body to move and took a page from the movie the Exorcist yelling over and over “The Power of Christ Compels You to Leave!”. I was so vocal, I actually woke my wife and she woke me up.
The third one occurred the day before publishing. However, this one was different than ever before. Strangely, this one left me a souvenir. I awoke with the terrified paralysis and saw a white shimmering figure next to the bed. Again, I could not breathe but I did not feel threatened. It took all my will to raise up and will my arm to reach out and touch this being. My hand felt chilled as I swiped at the shimmer. I awoke immediately and felt something underneath me. It was my wife’s boarding pass for our trip to Minneapolis when I had the huge revelation that we are each responsible for our own salvation. That confession and forgiveness are key components of our lives today, not waiting for judgment day. How it appeared underneath me after being missing/thrown away six months ago cannot be explained. I asked my wife and she could not remember the last time she had seen it.
After these three events, I finishing reading the final chapters of Dark Night of the Soul. Many of the parallels and examples St John of the Cross speaks about reflect my experiences of Night Terrors. The soul, weighed down by sin and unworthiness, trembles paralyzed by the Divine presence. He also described the beings as dark shapes with Divine intentions. It reminded me of a quote from the movie Jacob’s Ladder when Danny Aiello’s character is talking to Tim Robbins. Per the entry in Wikipedia, he cites the 14th-century Christian mystic Meister Eckhart: “Eckhart saw Hell too. He said, ‘The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they’re not punishing you’, he said. ‘They’re freeing your soul. So, if you’re frightened of dying and you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. But if you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels freeing you from the earth.'”
Perhaps the semi-conscious state is actually a super-conscious state. Perhaps the terrors and entities are there to help somehow. The next time, I promise myself, I will say a quick prayer and let go of my fear and attachments in these moments. The alternative is that this life is a delicate simulation to help me overcome the spiritual obstacles I have on my own path to salvation.