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The Dark Numinous

An In-Person Retreat with
The Rev. John Michael Hayes, PhD, ABPP,

Friday, November 17 – Sunday, November 19

The poet Rilke knew intimately the territory of the dark numinous:

You, darkness, of whom I am born —

I love you more than the flame

that limits the world

to the circle it illumines

and excludes all the rest.

But the darkness embraces everything:

shapes and shadows, creatures and me,

people, nations — just as they are.

It lets me imagine

a great presence stirring beside me.

I believe in the night.

Retreat Theme ‘Numinous’ is that term theologian Rudolf Otto coined in his Idea of the Holy to describe arresting religious experiences that at once elicit awesome fear, intense affect, and fascination. These epiphanies can be either powerfully dramatic or subtly transformative. But they do not leave things as they found them. They are not the preserve of mystics and saints. All of us ordinary folks have experiences of the numinous that we might not recognize or understand. 


Psychoanalyst Carl Jung appropriated Otto’s term: ‘numinous’ appears extensively in his Collected Works to describe experiences of the divine that align the conscious ego with the mystery of its own depths and divine origins, to effect wholeness and holiness. 


Rilke claims experiences of the ineffable numinous exceed the capacities of language: “the flame that limits the world to the circle it illumines” Many of the mystics also alluded to that luminous darkness that draws us into the depths and intimates the loving presence of the divine. 


The days of November grow short. Nature calls us inward, as we lean towards the interiority of Advent.  In gathering together for reflection and for silent meditation, with poetry, imaginal drawing, and dreamwork together we can court the dark numinous. We can invite a deeper aligning connection with the Holy One, that  “great presence stirring” in the depths of our own hearts and souls. 

Presenter Bio  The Reverend John Michael Hayes, Ph.D., is a priest of the Episcopal diocese of Maryland and a psychologist and Jungian psychoanalyst. He serves on the faculties of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Maryland, the Washington Baltimore Psychoanalytic Institute, and the Ecumenical Institute, St. Mary’s Seminary and University. 

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