In the first part of this series, I listed the nine levels of prayer and described the first four, which exist along what is called “the Purgative Way.” In this second part, I will explore the second and third ways of prayer — the Illumative and the Unitive — and within them, the final five levels of prayer that are possible as we ascend towards perfection in the spiritual life.
The Illumative Way
The Dark Night of the Senses
Most people are familiar with the work of St. John of the Cross called “The Dark Night.” However, not many have actually read it or really understand what he means by “Dark Night.” First, there are actually two Dark Nights: the Dark Night of the Senses and the Dark Night of the Soul (or Spirit). The first forms the bridge between the Purgative and Illuminative Ways and the second is the bridge between the Illuminative and Unitive Ways of prayer.
Unfortunately, “Dark Night” has become a term used very loosely to designate any difficult or depressing time in life. But this is not the meaning St. John of the Cross gives to “Dark Night.” These two stages are not brought about by external events, such as the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. Instead, they are brought about by God alone, who uses the Dark Nights to purge the soul of attachments to the things of this world.
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