I always think that a blog is a stain on my shirt after I ate laksa noodles until someone pointed out to me that a laksa sauce makes a blot but a blog is a specialised website where you can write your journal or your ideas and post it into the Internet for all to see. Thus, in an attempt to reduce my ignorance, I ventured into the land of cyberspace and to my delight discovered that there is a vast domain there, waiting to be explored and to bring into the influence of the Kingdom of God. Here are some ofthe reasons why I blog for God.
Firstly, there is a vast store of information stored in the Internet. While it is important to recognise the fact that not all information on the Internet is reliable but this is also true of much of the…
Painting: St John of the Cross by Salvador Dali (1951)
Exploring the Concept of the Dark Night of the Soul: significance in St. John of the Cross’s writings
The “Dark Night of the Soul” is a term that has been used to describe a spiritual crisis in which an individual experiences a profound sense of spiritual emptiness and separation from God. This concept has been explored by many mystics and spiritual writers throughout history, including St. John of the Cross, a Spanish Carmelite friar and mystic who lived in the 16th century. In this article, we will explore the concept of the Dark Night of the Soul, as well as its significance in the writings of St. John of the Cross.
The Dark Night of the Soul:
The Dark Night of the Soul is a term that was popularized by St. John of the Cross in his poem, “The Dark Night.” In this poem, St. John describes a spiritual journey in which an individual must pass through a period of darkness and desolation in order to achieve union with God. According to St. John, the Dark Night is a necessary part of the spiritual journey, as it helps the individual to detach from the things of this world and to focus on the divine.
St. John of the Cross believed that the Dark Night of the Soul was a period of intense spiritual suffering in which the individual experienced a sense of abandonment and separation from God. This suffering was necessary, according to St. John, in order to purify the soul and prepare it for union with God. St. John writes:
“Souls begin to enter into this night when God draws them forth from the state of beginners – which is the state of those that meditate on the spiritual road – and begins to set them in the state of the progressives – which is that of those who are already contemplatives – to the end that, after passing through it, they may arrive at the state of the perfect, which is that of the Divine union of the soul with God.”
In other words, the Dark Night of the Soul is a necessary step in the spiritual journey, as it prepares the soul for union with God.
St. John of the Cross believed that the Dark Night of the Soul was not just a period of spiritual suffering, but also a period of spiritual growth. During this time, the individual was forced to confront their own limitations and weaknesses and rely on God for strength and guidance. St. John writes:
“In this night, the soul feels itself to be as it were placed in a dark prison, and bound with a chain, in which it sees and feels nothing but the hand of God in its afflictions.”
According to St. John, it is only through this process of suffering and surrender that the individual can achieve union with God.
The Significance of St. John’s Writings:
St. John of the Cross’s writings on the Dark Night of the Soul has had a profound influence on Christian mysticism and spirituality. His emphasis on the importance of detachment and surrender in the spiritual journey has resonated with many seekers throughout the centuries. His poetry and prose have been studied and admired by Christians of all denominations, as well as by those who are not Christian but who are interested in spirituality.
St. John’s writings have also been influential in the development of the Catholic Church. His works were initially met with suspicion by the Church authorities, who viewed them as too radical and dangerous. However, over time, St. John’s writings came to be recognized as a valuable contribution to the spiritual tradition of the Church. Today, St. John of the Cross is celebrated as one of the greatest mystics of the Catholic Church, and his writings continue to inspire and challenge spiritual seekers of all backgrounds.
It is worth noting that the concept of the Dark Night of the Soul is not limited to Christianity. Similar ideas can be found in the mystical traditions of many other religions, including Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism. It is a testament to the universality of the spiritual journey, and to the fact that the search for God is a fundamental aspect of the human experience.
In today’s world, where we are often caught up in the busyness of our daily lives, it can be easy to lose sight of the spiritual dimension of our existence. We may find ourselves feeling disconnected and unfulfilled, longing for something more but unsure of where to turn. The writings of St. John of the Cross can serve as a powerful reminder that there is a deeper meaning to life and that the path toward spiritual fulfillment is one that is open to all of us.
In conclusion, the Dark Night of the Soul, as described by St. John of the Cross, is a spiritual crisis that can be a necessary step in the spiritual journey toward union with God. It is a period of intense suffering, detachment, and surrender, in which the individual is forced to confront their limitations and weaknesses, and to rely on God for strength and guidance. St. John’s emphasis on the importance of detachment and surrender in the spiritual journey has had a profound influence on Christian mysticism and spirituality, as well as on the development of the Catholic Church. His writings continue to inspire and challenge spiritual seekers of all backgrounds to this day. As St. John himself wrote, “O guiding night! O night more lovely than the dawn! O night that has united the Lover with his beloved, transforming the beloved in her Lover.” (St. John of the Cross, 1953, p. 93)
St. John of the Cross. (1953). Dark Night of the Soul (E. Allison Peers, Trans.). Image Books: Garden City, NY.
The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross. (1991). Translated by K. Kavanaugh & O. Rodriguez. ICS Publications. – This is a collection of St. John’s writings, including “The Dark Night” and “The Ascent of Mount Carmel,” which explore the spiritual journey and the pursuit of union with God.
Teresa of Avila, S. (2007). The Interior Castle. Translated by E. Allison Peers. Penguin Classics – St. Teresa was a contemporary of St. John of the Cross and also a mystic and writer. The Interior Castle is her most famous work, in which she describes the journey of the soul toward union with God.
Merton, T. (2002). No Man is an Island. Mariner Books. – Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk and writer who was greatly influenced by the writings of St. John of the Cross. No Man is an Island is a collection of Merton’s essays on spirituality, which includes a chapter on the Dark Night of the Soul.
Underhill, E. (2008). Mysticism. Image Books – Evelyn Underhill was a British writer and mystic who wrote extensively on the subject of mysticism. Her book, Mysticism, provides a comprehensive overview of mystical traditions across religions and includes a section on Christian mystics such as St. John of the Cross.
Anonymous. (2002). The Cloud of Unknowing. Translated by A. Spearing. Penguin Classic – The Cloud of Unknowing is an anonymous medieval Christian text that explores the concept of contemplative prayer and the pursuit of union with God. The author of the text is often compared to St. John of the Cross for his emphasis on detachment and surrender in the spiritual journey.
St. John of the Cross. (2002). The Dark Night of the Soul. Translated by E. Allison Peers. Dover Publications
The Lord of the Ring (LOTR) trilogy is made up of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and the Return of the King. These books are now the classics. Being a classic means everybody knows about them, but nobody has read them! Peter Jackson’s movies on LOTR are now more than 20 years old now but still remain a favorite amongst Middle-Earth fans. In this seminar, I will use a narrative approach to the LOTR to tease out some of the theological principles J.R.R. Tolkien had embedded into his excellent story.
This is a good time to review these books and movies, especially during the time of Lent.
One of my challenges as a Chinese Christian is to decide whether I am a “banana”, “mango” or “durian” Christian. There are many dilemmas and landmines as we seek to follow Christ while practicing our culture. Here are some of my own reflections about the Chinese New Year
The delicious Chinese New Year’s Eve Reunion Dinner. Selections vary with dialects, geographical regions, and traditions.
The Metaverse is Web 3.0, the next step in the development of the Internet. The evolution of the Internet as a private data sharing network for scientists with its clumsy modem to its user-friendly browser user-friendly interface has been very rapid. Web 1.0 is when the webpages are static and we can only read off them. We cannot interact with them by adding or subtracting. Then came Web 2.0 which was a marvellous interactive experience. We can edit, produce, and chat using that technology. There was a proliferation of chat groups that lead to blogs, personal websites, add sound and video, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Web 2.0 for all its benefits is still 2-D. It still remains on the screen. Web 3.0 or Metaverse is 3-D. Content with which we can interact is no longer flat. It is now 3-dimensional. The movie Ready Player One is a good visualization of what Metaverse is. In the first half of this article, I will describe what Metaverse is and then I will share some implications this will have on Christians and the Church.
Welcome to the Metaverse Metaverse should not be confused with multiverses which is a scientific concept that there are more than one universe, or the comics and science fiction stories that are so popular in stories, television, and movies. In fact, the name the Metaverse was coined by a science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. In that novel, Stephenson built a virtual computer world which he called the Metaverse for his hero, Milo, a hacker to have his adventures in. Twenty years later, Stephenson’s the Metaverse became a reality in Web 3.0. Stephenson’s Metaverse is so uncannily accurate that Facebook Corporation took the tactical step of rebranding itself as Meta thus copyrighting the name and concept for themselves.
The Metaverse exist is because of the rapid development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Initial AI is nothing more than a glorified calculator with enormous data storage capability. When the AI in the computer Deep Blue beat chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov in 1997, it was done by examining 200 million chess positions per second. Deep Blue has enormous memory storage of millions of chess games. What became more interesting is when it is discovered that AI can be programmed to learn and to discover new ways of learning. This was called machine learning. Al Alpha Zero was given only the rules of chess and programmed to play itself to win. Within 6 hours, the AI has taught itself so well that it was able to beat a human grandmaster! Computer scientists admit they no longer understand AI learning so it is now named Deep Learning. Subsequently, new AI chess engines were so powerful that it was matched against other AI rather than humans. AI Leela Chess Zero is the present world champion in 2020. The extraordinary computing power of AI in deep learning in problem-solving and the development of new ideas is the foundation of the rise of the Metaverse. Basically, the Metaverse is composed of four main components: (1) augmented reality, (2) lifelogging, (3), mirror worlds, and (4) virtual reality.
Augmented reality is the technology to superimpose a virtual world onto the real physical world. Google Glass is an example of a wearable augmented reality device. The person wearing the glass can see the real world but also see information or image superimposed in their vision. Those who have played the game using the mobile phone Pokemon Go will have seen life-like Pokemon in their visual space. Another useful use of augmented reality is for online shopping. If you want to buy a sofa and are not sure where to place it in your living room, you can download the program, switch on your phone camera and you can place the sofa (virtual) in your living room (through your camera). You can move the sofa around and see how it fits in with your other furniture and decorations. These are only a few applications of augmented reality. Its applications in surgery, engineering, factories, and keeping us connected are limitless.
Lifelogging is the storing of personal data. For decades we have been storing our digital data since the advent of social media. Our postings, comments, photos, audio, and videos are part of the internet. Never before have so large a part of humanity been willing to reveal their most intimate details to a global audience. Many have abandoned journal writing to document every minute of their waking (and some live stream themselves sleeping) moments in their Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp, Telegrams and photos storage. The internet has enough data and information on each one of us to build a detailed persona, digital person, or avatar. Real-life applications are in healthcare where our lifestyle choices, healthcare risk, and medical histories are available to our doctors, employers and insurance companies. The creation of our avatar or our digital self is of especial interest in the mirror worlds.
The mirror world in the Metaverse is not actually a mirror reflection of REALITY (our real world, the one we are living in) but a digitalized duplicate of REALITY made up of ones and zeros. AI is building up this mirror world even as you read this. All the Google and Apple mapping data goes into the geospatial data of this world, all the Google Books and Library of Congress scans, eBooks and digital documents add to the database of knowledge. The internet is the largest database of knowledge since life began on earth. Every photo, selfie, and podcast broadcast contributed. Alexa, Assistant, and Siri provided invaluable uploads. So did spyware, state surveillance data, and trillions of bureaucratic forms created every day. This mirror world is in use in designing autonomous driving cars and trucks for these vehicles are actually moving in a digital rather than a real world. Other real-world applications include the use of robotics in factories, hospitals, and shipyards. The cute autonomous robots which deliver the case file in a hospital or the autonomic robot ‘police’ that enforce good behaviour in the streets of Singapore moves in a mirror world. Second Life is a popular computer game in which we can create an avatar to represent us and interact with other avatars in a virtual world. Online programs have evolved into complex social experiments. Avatars (humans) are developing a civilization. They are building houses, developing businesses, getting married, and nurturing communities. It will only be a matter of time when we can move into the Metaverse or the mirror world using our own avatar based on our lifelogging. This technology is already here. It is called virtual reality.
Virtual reality (VR) is moving into a constructed digital world and interacting with the objects in that world as we do in the real world. It is a 360° total immersion experience. The first popular real-world use of VR by the billion dollars gaming industry. VR games using VR devices such as Occulus and Playstation VR set allowed players to play total immersive VR games in their own living rooms. Other real-world VR uses are in training and education. Pilots are trained how to fly planes, soldiers in how to fight, and surgeons on how to operate in a totally immersive experience. The Metaverse or Web 3.0 when it began to migrate to our workstation or home entertainment or houses will be a fruitful experience. We have been interacting with 2-D objects when we are in fact 3-D beings. It would not be a shocking revelation as gaming and movies makers using CG has already introduced us to 3-D screens and the virtual world.
Concerns of Christians in the Metaverse
Metaverse or Web 3.0 is the next logical development of the internet. It should not raise much alarm to Christians as it is just technology as much as the computer, the plough, or the printing press. Human beings are called to be creators using the materials of the created world. We are also called to be stewards of the created order. Technology is created to make our lives better. Indeed it has. We now live longer, starve less, are healthier, and have more comforts than our ancestors. Christians are not Luddites. In fact, the technology which is the printing press played a large role in the reformation of the Christian church. Christian concerns about the Metaverse be divided into the following: (1) Artificial Intelligence, (2) Identity, (3) Worship, (4) Hospitality, and (5) The Gospel.
Artificial Intelligence is the elephant in the room for most Christians. Nowadays most major projects are designed by AI rather than human minds. Models of climate change, Wall Street financial transactions, and even Major Newspaper articles are written by AI. The genie is already out of the lamp. I have written about AI here. Yet, many Christians are ambivalent about AI. This ambivalent is fueled by science fiction stories and movies (Skynet in the Terminator series) about AI deciding to kill all humans on earth or enslaving humans as battery sources (Matrix movies), and wanting to be God (Star Trek Original Series). This negative perception is not negated by the perception that AI may be benevolent (movie Transcendence, Isaac Asimov’s Robot and Foundation series). These, we must be reminded, are mere speculations, no facts. So far, there is no evidence that AI are not what they are: very smart technology to achieve what they are programmed to do. They do not have consciousness or a soul. They do not have the spark of divine life that will enable them to worship God. The AI in our mobile phone has more computing power than Deep Blue the AI chess grandmaster. All of us regard that as an essential piece of technology rather than a potential rival for the affections of God or wanting to be God.
Our human identity is bound to our awareness of who we are as human beings. It is not bound to our bodies. We can lose a limb and yet remain aware that we are still human. Christian consciousness of the identity in Christ is bound by the relation to God as revealed in the bible and in his creation. Awareness of the big bang, the expanding universe, stars with planets with water, do not in any way diminish our Christian identity. In fact, it strengthened our awareness of the awesomeness of the creator God. Does moving into the Metaverse and creating an avatar affects our Christian identity? I believe it will because it will expand our consciousness from physical reality to expand to a digital reality. It helps us to be more aware of who we are. Of course, in a digital space, we are creating an avatar who is not us. There is nothing new. In the real world, we have been creating our false selves since Cain. This focuses down on two essential components of identity: integrity and authenticity. It will be a test of our Christian identity; how our integrity and authenticity holds in the real world and the Metaverse.
Will it be possible to worship God in the Metaverse? I believe the answer is are given in the two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic which forced Church ministries and worships online. Though still in Web 2.0, it has proved beyond a doubt that God is in cyberspace and it is possible to worship him in spirit and in truth there. Numerous digital churches or Christian faith communities have already been formed with regular services and other ministries. The Metaverse will expand on this to allow even more innovation to worship. There will be new ways to pray together, meet together with a global reach, study the bible together, and hang out together. Paul’s concept of one anothering is being been applied online.
Hospitality and inclusiveness are hallmarks of the Christian church. In the real world, this has not worked out in practice. Church buildings are built with the non-disabled in mind. Very few are built with the disabled in mind. Many are added as an afterthought. In the real world churches, many people fell through the cracks: the physically disabled, the bedbound, the hospitalized, the prisoners, the behavioural challenged, those without transport, the very old, and families with very young children. The church in the Metaverse may truly democratize hospitality and inclusiveness. No longer are the above mentioned be excluded from an authentic 3-D worship experience or interactions with other people. Real-life churches can help these to acquire appropriate devices so that they may have a more meaningful human experience.
The Gospel will be better able to reach the far ends of the earth in the Metaverse. There will be greater opportunities for education and building relationships in the Metaverse. The Metaverse can only exist in the real world. It has no independent existence. It cannot exist without the real world. The Kingdom of God and the new earth is for the real world and all the things in it. By implication, the kingdom of God covers the Metaverse. Hence there is no need for theologians to develop a theology of the Metaverse. One does not need to develop a theology for the mobile phone. There is however a need to live a Christ-filled life in the Metaverse as we would in the real world. All Christian teachings and traditions apply in both worlds.
We are living in exciting times. In biological and medical realms we are living during the genomic code revolution. The mRNA vaccines are one of many new innovations coming from this revolution. We are also living in the computer code revolution. Within a few years, we will be moving from our present 2-D Web 2.0 to the Metaverse, Web 3.0. We will be experiencing innovative augmented reality, lifelogging, mirrored worlds, and virtual reality soon to be assimilated into our daily life. We will have more and powerful AI which will solve more and more complex problems. Are there anything for Christians to be concerned about? Technology is not neutral. It influences the society using it. Christians have the role to ensure that technologies be used well and those who use them be accountable. These concerns include AI, our human identities, worship, hospitality, and the kingdom of God in the Metaverse. We have the knowledge. We need wisdom.
“The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them.” (Num. 10:33.)
GOD does give us impressions, but not that we should act on them as impressions. If the impression be from God, He will Himself give sufficient evidence to establish it beyond the possibility of a doubt.
How beautiful is the story of Jeremiah, of the impression that came to him respecting the purchase of the field of Anathoth. But Jeremiah did not act upon this impression until after the following day, when his uncle’s son came to him and brought him external evidence by making a proposal for the purchase. Then Jeremiah said: “I knew this was the word of the Lord.”
He waited until God seconded the impression by a providence, and then he acted in full view of the open facts, which could bring conviction unto others as well as to himself. God wants us to act according to His mind. We are not to ignore the Shepherd’s personal voice but, like Paul and his companions at Troas, we are to listen to all the voices that speak and “gather” from all the circumstances, as they did, the full mind of the Lord.—Dr. Simpson.
“Where God’s finger points, there God’s hand will make the way.”
Do not say in thine heart what thou wilt or wilt not do, but wait upon God until He makes known His way. So long as that way is hidden it is clear that there is no need of action, and that He accounts Himself responsible for all the results of keeping thee where thou art.—Selected.
“For God through ways we have not known, Will lead His own.”
Lettie B. Cowman, Streams in the Desert (Los Angeles, CA: The Oriental Missionary Society, 1925), 303–304.