St. John of the Cross, (1542-1591) was a Spanish mystic and monk. He lived at a troubling time for Christianity and indeed the world and yet found, through God’s presence and guidance a remarkable way to express the awe inspired mysteries of our faith and the shadows of our humanity in poetry and other writings. It is God’s desire (I feel and sense) for us to gain Union with God. God is our Director, our Guide, our Companion. We strive with the Guidance of the Loving Presence to experience with all our human senses this Union, this Wholeness in this Life. For God is Life-Giving.
One of my favorite poems by St. John of the Cross is The Dark Night. St. John paints a picture of Love, embedded by God in us and yet so challenging to hear and see and feel.
One dark night, fired with love’s urgent longings – ah the sheer Grace! – I went out unseen, my house being now all stilled. In the darkness, and secure, by the secret ladder, disguised, – ah the sheer Grace! – in darkness and concealment, my house being now all stilled.
On that glad night in secret, for no one saw me, nor did I look at anything with no other light or guide than the one that burned in my heart.
This guided me more surely than the light of noon to where he was awaiting me – him I knew so well – there in a place where no one appeared.
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.
Upon my flowering breast, which I kept wholly for him alone, there he lay sleeping, and I caressing him there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.
When the breeze blew from the turret, as I parted his hair, it wounded my neck with its gentle hand, suspending all my senses.
I abandoned and forgot myself, laying my face on my Beloved; all things ceased; I went out from myself, leaving my cares forgotten in the lilies.
(As translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD in their book, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross.)
I believe St. John of the Cross is showing us what is inside his heart. He is a lover of God and of God’s goodness. Yet, it is in the night, the obscurity of darkness that he describes the calling and mystery of the Spirit. And there he finds a joy – ah!, the sheer grace – which comforts but also wounds him. The awe filled mystery of God, The Lover of us all abounds in light and darkness. For we all experience times of fading faith, filled with shadows and the unknown clouds in our being. God seems to be hiding, yet it is we (I) who are (is) hiding from the Divine. So, with St. John of the Cross let us go into that night, and explore and sense the Mystery and lay down to caress and often to feel wounded, yet comforted – ah! the sheer Grace!
I offer my poem as a response to St. John of Cross:
Oh, the heavy clumsiness
of my outward nature.
Yet, within this lies,
when in touch with the Holy One,
a sublime, joyous obscurity of
A Great Union
where Love is all there is
filled with Comfort
with Care and Nurture
with an at Homeness.