God is Love” and you are “love” because you are created in His image and likeness. (1 John 4:16)(cf. Genesis 1:26-27)  The more you become like Christ the more real and free you will be.  Your true self is “love.”  You are “love.”  So, everything within you that is not loving is not you, it is false and phony, not real and true.  That is the “old man,” the life of sin within, which must be put to death more and more if you are to live the spiritual life in Jesus Christ and grow in grace and truth.  The “old man” has a life of its own.  It is selfish and self-centered with its own structure or form.  This structure of sin within and form of the “old man” weakens over time in spiritual beginners, shrivels up and shrinks in spiritual proficients, and finally, is burned out, melted down and swept away completely in those who come to perfect love in the dark night of the spirit or in Purgatory.  Throughout the spiritual journey, the life of sin within, the “old man,” is gradually (and sometimes dramatically) replaced by grace, by the Life of Jesus Christ, the “New Man,” who is the new spiritual form of the soul.  “My little children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you!” (Gal. 4:19)  Christ, your Life, will fully form within you, in this life or the next, when the voracious “old man” is finally starved to death, dissolved and replaced by the Flame of Love. (cf. Mark 9:47-49)  Then, you will fly free and be supremely happy like a bird that escapes from a cage.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)  As the soul is the spiritual form and life of the body, Christ is the spiritual form and Life of the soul that has been transformed in Him.

Just as parents want their children to be happy and enjoy life, so too, God our Loving Father wants us to be happy and enjoy the spiritual life, at least as much as is possible in this “land of exile” and “valley of tears.” (Salve Regina)  However, just as in natural human life, so too, in the supernatural spiritual life there are tough times, rough times, that involve real suffering and are very painful.  These are the dark nights that St. John of the Cross describes with profound mystical insight and spiritual illumination.  Growing up spiritually is far more difficult than growing up humanly.  The transition from childhood to adolescence is hard enough.  The transition from spiritual child (beginner) to spiritual adolescent (proficient), through the dark night of the senses, is far harder.  The transition from adolescence to adulthood is difficult, not everyone makes it.  The transition from spiritual adolescent to spiritual adult (perfect love), through the dark night of the spirit, is extremely difficult and “few there are that find it. (Matt. 7:14)  In fact, it is impossible without the help of the Holy Angels and the Living Flame of Love.

And the Lord God sent him (Adam) out of the Garden of Eden.  He placed before the Garden of Eden cherubim, and a flaming sword turning every way, to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:23-24)  From the original sin and its effects, the seven capital sins, we are exiled from the tree of life—we are separated from the Blessed Trinity.  The way back to union with God passes through the cherubim and flaming sword.  The Holy Angels from without and the Flame of Love from within guide us through the purification, healing, change, and transformation of the dark night of the spirit.  Through the flaming sword turning every way—the bright light of divine contemplation communicated through the Holy Angels—we are freed from our small concepts and ideas, our own will and way, to follow the light and love of the Holy Spirit in this dark night of faith.  The devil can defeat thought and idea, he is smarter than we are, but not inspiration and illumination from on high.  “We walk by faith and not by sight,” because “For man it is impossible, but not with God.  With God all things are possible.(2 Cor. 5:7, Mark 10:27)  We are led along a miraculous spiritual path through the maze of interior and exterior obstacles on this supernatural spiritual journey to the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Rom. 8:21)  But not without the cross.  Theflaming sword turning every way is also the multitude of crosses from every side that purify and purge the soul in every way.  In the end, it is the Living Flame of Love, God’s Holy Spirit, that melts the soul down like molten lava to be poured into Christ and united to Him in transformation.  We become one with the Son of God in spirit and truth.  “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me. (Gal. 2:20)  We are freed from the “old Adam,” the life of sin within, and given a share in the “Garden of Eden”—the life of Heaven.

As they were looking on (Jesus), He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight. (Acts 1:9)  When we enter the presence of God we enter the “cloud of unknowing.”  We are not able to see God “face to face” here on earth, except in the vision of the transforming union which is a real and substantial foretaste of the Beatific Vision.  Therefore, we generally experience the presence of God as a cloud that comes over us filling our soul with supernatural peace and grace, truth and love.  During the dark nights it is a dark and heavy cloud.  At other times it is bright and light.  Although the “cloud of unknowing” refers properly to infused contemplation which is above and beyond human thought and reason, I would like to use it also for the particular spiritual enlightenments and illuminations that beginners experience in the spiritual life after their conversion.  In this way we can see that the presence of God as experienced in the three stages or ages of the spiritual life is like the three basic types of clouds in nature.

The lowest level of clouds are stratus.  Mountains can touch these clouds and enter them at times.  Spiritual beginners receive divine touches, enlightenments, illuminations, and inspirations from God at times.  There is something of the divine in their life, especially when they climb the mountain of Christian prayer and meditation by raising their mind and heart to God.  Nonetheless, although they truly do experience the presence of God in these particular “clouds,” they are still on earth, earthly or worldly in many ways.

The second level of clouds are altostratus.  They are higher and closer to heaven.  They no longer touch the earth but are above the world.  This is the experience of spiritual proficients when they enter the “cloud of unknowing” in mystical contemplation.  Above human thought and reason, they enter the presence of God with a general loving and peaceful attention.  They do not need to climb the mountain of meditation to experience God’s presence, they simply receive it from above and experience it within as the “fire of love” or “water of life” in the cloud of contemplation.  At the same time, it must be kept in mind that they are spiritual adolescents, which means that sometimes they are like spiritual adults, and sometimes like spiritual children.  Although infused contemplation is predominant in their prayer life, they will return to active meditation as well.  Gradually, as they grow out of the life of the senses into the life of the spirit through infused contemplation and greater union with God, they will leave meditation behind.

The highest level of clouds are cirrus.  They are way above the world and the closest to heaven, more heavenly than earthly.  Generally speaking, they move across the heavens toward the east and indicate pleasant weather.  They are also the thinnest, allowing the most amount of sunlight to shine through.  Those who are perfect in love, united to God above in high contemplation and spiritual resurrection, experience His pleasant presence in great light and warm love.  Although God is still within the “cloud of unknowing,” it is so “thin” or spiritual that they worship and see Him, love and adore Him, “in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)  Now that their whole heart and soul, mind and strength has been converted to God by the Living Flame of Love, they no longer engage in discursive meditation but dwell, continually, in divine contemplation, in a “peace that surpasses understanding. (Phil. 4:7)  In this divine presence, the highest contemplation and union with God, everything is Love and Love is everything. “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the newness of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, and well-pleasing, and perfect. (Rom. 12:2)