--Spirituality & Practice
Sacred Darkness: Encountering Divine Love in Life's Darkest Placesby Paul Coutinho
In Sacred Darkness, Paul Coutinho, SJ, examines how many Christians are fearful of dark times and/i>
Before there was light, God was. In fact, darkness is the medium God worked in to create the world, the universe, and all material things. Certainly, God lives in the warmth of sunlight and within our happiest days--but God also dwells in darkness.
In Sacred Darkness, Paul Coutinho, SJ, examines how many Christians are fearful of dark times and struggles, yet it is often darkness that sheds light on our world and helps us live more effectively and more fully in the painful situations of our lives. Throughout the book, Coutinho shares powerful stories of how darkness can empower us--from a self-destructive alcoholic, to St. Ignatius, to the author himself.
Ultimately, Sacred Darkness encourages us to overcome our "fear" or the dark by exploring the legitimate role of darkness on the spiritual journey. By learning to embrace darkness rather than run from it, we can experience God's love in ways and in places where we would least expect it.
--Spirituality & Practice
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Meet the Author
Fr. Paul Coutinho, SJ is an internationally recognized Ignatian scholar, author, and speaker who brings an Eastern flavor to Western spirituality. A native of India, he frequently leads retreats, gives spiritual direction, and trains people to lead the Spiritual Exercises.
He holds master’s degrees in both clinical psychology and religious studies, and he has a doctorate in historical theology from Saint Louis University, where he specialized in Ignatian spirituality and is now a visiting theology professor.
Coutinho currently creates and runs programs in Ignatian identity and mission for Saint Louis University’s Mission and Ministry office, he is the editor of Ignis—the South Asian Ignatian spirituality journal—and also shares his gifts as the director of Ignatian Spirituality Programs for South Asia. He resides in St. Louis and divides his time between India and the United States.
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Paul Coutinho, a native of India, is a Jesuit priest who holds a doctorate in historical theology. His early days were spent in a Catholic ghetto where his family was ostracized because of their poverty, and Church teaching was heavily weighted toward avoiding hell. The young Coutinho distinguished himself in academics and sports. At the same time, following the example of his parents, he reached out to others. When Paul was 12, the family moved to a neighborhood of three Christian families and a majority of Hindus. "I had to live my traditional Catholic values in a very Hindu atmosphere. The contrast was obvious and incredible," he writes. Early sections of the book examine ways in which Buddhists search for enlightenment including the Darkness Retreat--extended time in a dark cave, sitting alone with no expectation of light from the outside. They look for light from within as their life experiences surface "in the form of sounds, lights, and rays that rise from the depth of their subconscious or their deep unconsciousness." Coutinho describes a personal darkness experience readers can try at home. "...as the real darkness begins to enter you, you will experience profound soothing," he writes. Through darkness, all the negativity within us is replaced by the source and energy of life. "All fear is consumed by darkness, and the only experience we have is love." For example, he looks at Old Testament instances of God's use of darkness, the two creation stories in Genesis, and separate elements in Matthews's gospel that produce anxiety and hopefulness. In the Genesis 3 material, Coutinho points out that Adam and Eve were ignorant, not proud or disobedient, and that the serpent "drew them to knowledge and consciousness through the feminine quality of intuition." He explains that the original text of Genesis introduces the serpent as a creature wise beyond all others. "Until the fifth century, the serpent was never equated with Satan but was a symbol of wisdom, mystery, and healing." Coutinho also writes of addiction, aging, using acts of charity to win points for heaven, and of God's wanting us for who we are not what we do. For me, this is a "little book"--fits in pocket or purse, only 172 pages--to be re-viewed time and again.
The publisher mailed me this book since I’ve already read and reviewed several of their other books and generally really liked them. The title of this short book – “Sacred Darkness” – seemed provocative in a good kind of way. Christians do not generally hold darkness in a high esteem, but I thought that with a skill and theological nuance it could be possible to rethink this concept and appropriate it in a spiritually constructive way. However, to my dismay, this book managed to do the exact opposite. It is a vacuous, incoherent, and disorganized treatment of several topics and ideas, pretty much randomly chosen by the author and without much overall coherence. It is filled with the inane new-age pseudo-spirituality, Jungian psychology, therapeutic psychobabble, and feminist mysticism. There are parts that are actually decent – the author’s description of his life growing up in a Christian family in India – but these short chapters are by far outweighed by the sheer inanity of the rest of the book. But inanity and incoherence, bad as they are, are not the reason why I think that this book is truly awful. No, the worst part are the clearly heretical and statements that any Christian ought to be ashamed of putting in print, little less someone who is a Jesuit Priest. The book contains the denial of the redemptive nature of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, pietist ramblings, pantheistically colored views, and finally the exuberant exclamation “I am God!” which stands squarely at the root of all that is evil in the world. This is indeed a dark book and there is absolutely nothing sacred about it. All faithful Christians ought to avoid it.