signs pointing to hope or despair

When Memories Are Transformed into Hope

 January 1, 2023

Many do year-end reviews. Me, I’ve been finding myself looking back over my whole life lately. I’ve been wondering, did I ever imagine myself being where I’m at today? And what about the state of the world? It’s a far cry from what I had imagined as a young adult, protesting the nuclear weapons build-up and promoting a more peaceful world. The world at peace I had longed for is nowhere to be seen. If anything, the state of the world is worse. This is not the world I want to leave my grandchildren, but here we are. In the face of this I take some comfort in the idea that memories are transformed into hope.

Dark Night of the Soul

Gerald May, in his book, Dark Night of the Soul, takes a refreshing look at the dark night experience. Instead of being entirely darkness and despair, some have found it be a rewarding time, not entirely dark. “The dark night of the soul is not restricted to holy people. It can happen to anyone. I believe that in some ways it happens to everyone. Yet it is much more significant than simple misfortune. It is a deep transformation, a movement toward indescribable freedom and joy. And in truth it doesn’t always have to be unpleasant! …The dark night is a profoundly good thing. It is an ongoing spiritual process in which we are liberated from attachments and compulsions and empowered to live and love more freely.” (Introduction)

May has a way of explaining complex spiritual experiences in a way that makes sense. He clarifies the difference between the dark night of the senses and the dark night of the spirit.

“During the dark night of the senses, the soul finds freedom from its attachments to particular sensory gratifications, while the dark night of the spirit releases attachments to rigid beliefs and ways of thinking, frozen memories and expectations, and compulsive, automatic choices. Since the intellect, memory, and will cannot grasp God, they, like the senses, need to be “darkened,” emptied of the false gods they cling to.” (Chapter 3)


According to May, referencing John of the Cross, the dark night of the spirit transforms memories into hope. This idea intrigued me. What did he mean by memories are transformed into hope?

John of the Cross understood memory to be something deeper, richer, than our understanding of memory. “In John’s thinking, memory is not just a storehouse for past experience; based on the past, it also fuels the imagination in looking to the future. Memory is the ground of dreaming.” (Chapter 2) Memory is the ground of dreaming?

When I look back at my youth, I remember the dreams I had of a better world. My memory was full of dreams of how I envisioned my life would be. Now those dreams are gone, but the memory remains. Perhaps that was part of what May meant.

When Memories are Transformed into Hope

When all of our dreams fade away, what remains but hope. Not hope attached to any particular person or event, but hope, bereft of all attachments. “And contemplative hope, the transformed hope, is also completely open and free. It is not hope for peace or justice or healing; that would be attachment. It is just hope, naked hope, a bare energy of open expectancy.” (Chapter 7)

Through the dark night experience, we let go of any attachment. We let go of our memories and the dreams associated with them and allow ourselves to simply hope. We sit in hope. Not hope for a specific future. Not hope for a particular outcome. Just hope, pure, unadulterated, naked hope.

So, this year, rather than making any New Year’s resolutions, I chose to just sit in hope. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Wishing all blessings in the New Year!

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