One of the insights of Daniel Castelo’s book is that Pentecostalism does not offer a tradition of “the dark night of the soul.” It’s just not something we’ve produced. Implicit in that, I think, is probably a call for Pentecostals to do so. So it was with great interest that I read my friend Daniel McGregor’s book, Holy Dark Places: Wilderness and Exile in the Christian Experience. I got to know McGregor while he was writing and preparing for this work at Trinity School for Ministry. Published this year, it’s still a fresh work waiting more exploration.
Holy Dark Places introduces contemporary Christians to the “problem” of spiritual suffering–of the experience of God’s absence in the midst of brokenness. It calls the bluff of the facades and veneers that American Christianity is insistent upon. Instead, McGregor invites us to journey into the biblical metaphors of wilderness and exile. Both of these are deeply rooted in the history of the people of God, but also find expression in their worship (Psalms) and future hopes (prophets).
As we identify more deeply with the ancient people of God in Israel, McGregor sets us up to walk through Church history–Augustine, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, John Newton, and Henri Nouwen. These theologians, mystics, and pastors engaged deeply with the wilderness and exile of God’s people within their own interior lives and in caring for the communities of which they were part. By their example and wisdom, McGregor crafts a way for us to understand our own experience of God’s absence.
On the whole, this is a solid introduction to the exploration of spiritual suffering. McGregor’s biblical rootedness and overview of historic Christian tradition, even up to the modern era will equip a generation of Christians who are otherwise lost in the midst of brokenness to continue pursuing God and receiving His love.
Specifically as a catholic in the Pentecostal tradition, the one place where I part paths with McGregor is in the separation between the individual’s interior journey and the community’s pilgrimage. In his conclusion, there is an acceptance of the separation of the experience of individual and community that Pentecostal tradition, as well as the monastic tradition of the Church catholic, would challenge. A community experience of interior wilderness and exile is not only possible, but was enjoined upon us by the Desert Fathers and Mothers (as Nouwen sketches in The Way of the Heart). That said, the exploration of such is something that would go beyond the parameters of Holy Dark Places itself. It is well worth your careful consideration and engagement, and as Pentecostals seek to articulate more about the “dark night of the soul,” this provides an invaluable beginning point for us.