Darkness reflected in the mirror


It is not without some hesitation that I share my recent struggles. Don’t panic for me when you read this. I’m not crying out for help, and I’m in no danger – not any danger you aren’t in as well without knowing it. I want to try to make something of my journey available to others in a more personal, less 3rd person way. It’s easy to post the joyful moments, or to discuss the meaning of this or that doctrine or philosophical claim. It’s harder to climb up on the examination table and invite others to observe whatever sickness is working in you.

I have written a bit about the Void (here, here, and here). I’ll leave you to check those out if you wish. I don’t mean to sound like Morpheus, but the Void is everywhere. It’s all around you. It’s every place and occasion where we are confronted by the truth of our nothingness. Anyone can perceive it. It does not take an act of faith to see and experience it. It takes an act of faith to transcend it, and not everyone succeeds at transcending it. The Void is our absolute ontological poverty, and any experience can be an entry point into its realization.

Forgive me if I’m unable to narrate it for you, but in recent months the Void has been my new ‘internal’ address, its gaping maw beneath me like a spectral Dementor consuming every thought. The Void is existential bankruptcy, a foreclosure upon life’s promises from the inside out, where the difference between life and death is nominal and the two words name the same emptiness. I’ve been in dark places before, but always in sight of life’s light at the entrance of the cave, a light that illuminated the Void’s insides. The Void has imposed itself from without; now it emerged from within me. I want to call it a ‘presence’, but it’s more like the presence of absence, on the inside. Its depths immeasurable. Its appetite insatiable. Its silence absolute. The will to live evaporates.

Not long ago, unable to sleep, I rose and went to the living room sofa. I don’t how long I laid there praying the Jesus Prayer. Crying out groping for a reason to wish the world’s continuing existence, or mine in it. Hours perhaps. But they were empty words without any apparent effect. I went between the Jesus Prayer and repeating “I know my Father loves me” over and over, just out of habit. I don’t know if I was dreaming or if I was just awake but lost in the darkness of the experience. But I was suspended in pure darkness, utterly alone. I was embodied but couldn’t make out my own limbs. All I did was repeat the Jesus Prayer.

At some point the faintest light appeared at a great distance. I gravitated toward it. As I approached it, it took the shape of the Cross. When I say it was a light, I don’t mean it emanated its own light. Its light was different. As I got up to it, I saw it was simply a mirror, a cross-shaped mirror. It had no thickness at all. It was pure surface, in the shape of the Cross. I could make out the darkness all around it still. But there the cross-shaped mirror remained in front of me. I couldn’t look behind it, and I couldn’t turn my back to it. As I turned to move in a different direction, it maintained its position in front of me.

More amazingly, it was a mirror that reflected where I was. When I looked at it I saw myself and my surroundings reflected. To look at it was not to look through it or into it. Rather, it was to see all else by means of it. All I saw in it was myself and my surroundings. “But how’s a mirror reflect anything in the dark? That’s not possible.” Obviously. Stand in front your bathroom mirror at night and turn the light off. You see nothing. This was like that, except with the lights out the mirror still reflected clearly, perceivably, all that was there. “I’m in complete darkness here. I can’t touch anything and I’m not touched by anything. There is nothing in this Void with me. So whence the reflection?” But as I looked at this mirror, my own reflection and the reflection of the entirety of the space I was in became clearly perceivable, and what I saw was a beautiful, sunny day. Blue skies above, the birds I visit every day in my backyard, my garden flowers, my favorite chair, and a healthy looking me, a contented me, staring back from the reflection. It was my reflection to be sure, not a vision of me somewhere else, for if I moved, or raised my right hand, or stepped back or forward – all my movements were perfectly reflected in the mirror. But none of the despair of life I felt was in my reflected face that I viewed. If I looked slightly left or right of the mirror – all was a consuming blackness. The only thing to see, and the only way to see it, was to stare at the cross-shaped mirror. There was no viewing the world around me directly. Things were only perceivable when perceived indirectly as reflected in the Cross. So the light that came from the Cross which I saw from a distance was the sunlight of my own surroundings reflected in the Cross. The Cross was just telling me what was there.

This is the opposite of how we typically view the Cross. We can easily imagine our surrounding world with us, nature, and other people all fully present as our lived experience. Then we plant the Cross over top this vision, and it’s the Cross in this context that is a black and ugly thing, a cross-shaped horror which, you might say, introduces the Void into the real world. In this case you can get a moment’s distraction from the horror of the Cross by looking away to the real world around. My experience in the Void through this night was the opposite. My body, and the whole world I was apparently in, were a horror of darkness, a consuming Void, on their own, and it was the Cross that brought the world to light and relation.

I apparently fell asleep or into a deeper sleep at this point and woke up in the morning.

5 comments on “Darkness reflected in the mirror

  1. Robert Fortuin says:

    Welcome to Great Lent! 🙂


  2. John Sobert Sylvest says:



  3. John Sobert Sylvest says:

    My friend & brother, Tom, after several days have passed, I’m still carrying your depthful and generous sharing in my heart. I’m clutching it to my soul’s breast as a consolation to me, but to leave it at that would be to trivialize your experience, which is so much more, deserving of respectful silence and not of analytic dissolution. Only poetry can approach it without breaking its fragile beauty and only prayer can express it with all the reverence which is due. So, in solidarity & compassion, gratitude & respect, let me share this hauntingly beautiful interpretation of St John of the Cross by Loreena Mckennitt.

    Upon a darkened night
    the flame of love was burning in my breast

    And by a lantern bright
    I fled my house while all in quiet rest

    Shrouded by the night
    And by the secret stair I quickly fled
    The veil concealed my eyes
    while all within lay quiet as the dead

    Oh night thou was my guide
    of night more loving than the rising sun
    Oh night that joined the lover
    to the beloved one
    transforming each of them into the other

    Upon that misty night
    in secrecy, beyond such mortal sight
    Without a guide or light
    than that which burned so deeply in my heart
    That fire t’was led me on
    and shone more bright than of the midday sun
    To where he waited still
    it was a place where no one else could come


    Within my pounding heart
    which kept itself entirely for him
    He fell into his sleep
    beneath the cedars all my love I gave
    From o’er the fortress walls
    the wind would his hair against his brow
    And with its smoothest hand
    caressed my every sense it would allow


    I lost myself to him
    and laid my face upon my lover’s breast
    And care and grief grew dim
    as in the morning’s mist became the light
    There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
    there they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
    there they dimmed amongst the lilies fair

    Songwriter: Loreena Mckennitt

    The Dark Night of the Soul lyrics © Quinlan Road Music Ltd.

    “It happens at certain moments that delight and enjoyment invade the whole body. And the fleshly tongue can say no more; to such degrees now have earthly objects become but dust and ashes. The initial delights, those of the heart, fill us while we are awake. The spirit burns at the hour of prayer, at the moment of reading, in the course of frequent meditations or long contemplations. But the final delights come to us differently, often during the night, in the following way: when we are between sleep and wakefulness, when we are asleep without being asleep and awake without being really awake. These delights invade a person and the whole body throbs. It is clear then that this is nothing other than the kingdom of heaven.”

    Isaac of Nineveh

    Liked by 1 person

  4. John Sobert Sylvest says:

    Liked by 1 person

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