Remember Lot's wife - she was turned into a pillar of salt - I think that's her in the photo, with the hat.
I have heard so many people over the years claim that they are in the dark night of the soul, as described by St. John of the Cross. Religious and lay people alike. They wish!
I do believe there can be an interchange of sorts, for persons who are serious about the practice of prayer, to sort of 'dance' in and out of the so-called dark night. It is the natural volley of aridity and consolation in beginners, preparing them for an authentic life of faith and charity, as well as hope, grounded in humility.
Garrigou-Lagrange is one of my favorite authors whom I turn to as far as spirituality goes, he is second only to John of the Cross for me. (I only need them for subjects like this, retarded souls or faults of beginners.)
I mentioned centering prayer in another post. It is still so popular as a substitute for Christocentric meditation. How often I have heard people of prayer, religious or lay, express they are in some sort of dark night - they should be so advanced. Centering prayer enthusiasts included, yet they feel centering prayer is their remedy, sitting empty, perhaps using some sort of mantra, with the only real effect being some sort of natural peace or tranquility. Zen and TM does that too.
Garrigou-Lagrange describes retarded souls in his work, "The Three Ages of the Interior Life." It is very enlightening. It's the spiritual equivalent of arrested development in the natural sphere, so obvious in our culture - "Hi Brittney and Elton!". "Unfortunately they are numerous." Says the Dominican theologian in reference to retarded souls.
He cites the reason for this retardation as being, "The neglect of little things in the service of God and the refusal to make the sacrifices He asks." One may see this in the neglect of prayer and devotion in the exercises of religion. Supplanting these with activities - maybe even blogging - or apostolic works while neglecting duties of piety and religion. It begins with giving up prayer, or duties such as the Office, or the merely perfunctory celebration or attendance at Mass. In addition, attachment to satisfactions of nature as well as a failure in the duties of one's state in life, along with the vice of sloth - spiritual and natural.
These failures can result in the complete abandonment of religion, or supplanting it with some other pseudo spirituality. In some cases one's religious exercises are focused upon external observance devoid of personal piety. One often sees this in people who become obsessed with ritual and liturgy and the controversies in the Church, with all the ecclesial gossip that accompanies that. One of the hallmarks of the retarded soul is the tendency to derision. Garrigou-Lagrange writes:
"Among the cases of tepidity in retarded souls the tendency to derision should be particularly noted...the vices opposed to justice: insult, detraction, murmuring against the reputation of our neighbor. It is a grievous sin to ridicule the things of God." -Chapter XXXVII. That being said, how many times in the blog world do we read grievous insults to the Holy Father, Bishops and priests. (This blog as well!) So I can safely say "It's retarded!"
In the case of religious, it leads to a complete emphasis upon activities associated with the apostolate or social concerns, replacing these for genuine piety and prayer. Sometimes a new age form of meditation may replace the traditional and authentic Catholic prayer one has been trained in, allowing the person to sit in an empty peace, imagining oneself to be a contemplative. It is a natural exercise, what I call 'natural mysticism', that indeed produces a sense of peace, relaxation and joy. So does valium.
Work, study, intellectualism, theology, liturgical ritual, ecclesial preoccupations, can all supplant supernatural virtue, authentic piety - and ultimately charity. We must always be on the alert to such things. Frequent recourse to the Blessed Virgin, especially through the devout recitation of the rosary, is an antidote to our difficulties and remedy for tepidity, or spiritual retardation.
One ought not to be too quick to assume one's experience is THE dark night. You could be steeped in sin, or worse yet - retarded - that is, satisfied with your pseudo spirituality, which is very difficult to overcome. A quote from St. Bernard explains this well;
"You will more easily see a great number of seculars renounce vice and embrace virtue than a single religious pass from tepidity to fervor."
Therefore we ought not to become too smug about our spiritual or doctrinal status, or pretensions - we just might be retarded. Read Garrigou-Lagrange, not me, for the correct understanding of all of this. PLEASE read him if you suspect you may be in a dark night of the soul, or you're kind of a pompous ass about your doctrinal self-righteousness. Periods of spiritual consolation, even fervor, as well as ecclesial correctness, do not a saint make. (You can quote me on that!:)
How do I know this stuff? I'm retarded - so please, please pray for me to Our Lady.