Dark Nights of the Soul, and Why I Envy Nightingales and Satellites

The soul is a strange bird. Dickinson said hope is the thing with feathers, but the spirit and heart of a person has feathers too -- strange ones sometimes.

In the dark night seasons, when even your most valiant efforts to draw near to God utterly fail and you can't seem to find any of the joy or healing that you know is hovering out there somewhere beyond the bend of the stratosphere, you begin to envy satellites in the way that poet John Keats envied nightingales.

In a stanza from his poem "Ode to a Nightingale," he observes the way a nightingale flies wherever it wants to and climbs to the heights for a better view when he is stuck on the ground. I would re-write it "Ode to a Satellite" if I could. If only I could orbit all of existence and see us, you and me -- our lives, times, histories, joys, sadness -- from a grand vantage point, like the mind-blowing view of the satellite in the video below, and somehow make sense of the story in a clean, linear fashion, from the first page to the last.

In the dark night seasons, the integrity of the story feels compromised. The pages feel charred and crumbling. The soul craves elevation, like a person yearning to climb a tree to see his way out of a very dark, maze-like forest.

Or like a satellite flying over all civilizations and beauties, quiet and at peace. Perfect clarity. Perfect vision. Like a nightingale that "singest of summer in full-throated ease."

Before you watch the video taken from a satellite soaring over the earth, read this first stanza from "Ode to a Nightingale" by John Keats. Today I quote this stanza in ode to the satellite:

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains

         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

         But being too happy in thine happiness,—

                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees

                        In some melodious plot

         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

                Singest of summer in full-throated ease.