December 14th 2011 Memorial St John Of The Cross

I haven't been posting much this week as I have been unwell so this post is a bit late.

Photo Statue of St John of The Cross from here

Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591) became one of the Church's foremost writers on intimacy with God. His mystical poems on divine love are considered some of the greatest verses ever written.

Born in Spain's Golden Age, the young St John of The Cross was attracted to doing good for others, was called to the priesthood and became a Carmelite.

He was tested to the limits when his efforts, along with those of Saint Teresa of Avila, to reform the Carmelite Order were harshly resisted  by his own brothers who locked him in a cell for nine months where he was frequently beaten and nearly starved to death. In spite of all, this ardent and fascinating man would write: "Where there is no love, put love and you will gain love." 

St John of The Cross popularised the term via negativa, or the apophatic way, as a viable way to approach God by saying what God is not, as opposed to what God is (the via positiva). 

John as a mystic believed that every positive quality attributed to God (the via positiva), such as God is all-loving, all-knowing and all-good, must always be balanced by the recognition that human language is inadequate when trying to describe the ineffable and indescribable attributes of God, and it can be beneficial to use the via negativa when trying to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of God, as it does not try to assign attributes to God which language cannot describe sufficiently.

John spent part of his youth in a sculptor’s workshop and wrote of the necessity of sculpture to inspire reverence, stir the soul and spark the desire for prayer. 

He wrote this beautiful poem The Fountain, which describes the fertile stream of Divine Creativity. 
May we all be blessed with deep connection to this stream, may our lives and work abound with creativity, growth and love.
This green fountain forms the entrance to the headquarters in Wattens, Austria of Swarovski Crystal.
The Fountain
How well I know that flowing spring
in black of night.
The eternal fountain is unseen.
How well I know where she has been
in black of night.
I do not know her origin.
None. Yet in her all things begin
in black of night.
I know that nothing is so fair
and earth and firmament drink there
in black of night.
I know that none can wade inside
to find her bright bottomless tide
in black of night.
Her shining never has a blur;
I know that all light comes from her
in black of night.
I know her streams converge and swell
and nourish people, skies and hell
in black of night.
The stream whose birth is in this source
I know has a gigantic force
in black of night.
The stream from but these two proceeds
yet neither one, I know, precedes
in black of night.
The eternal fountain is unseen
in living bread that gives us being
in black of night.
She calls on all mankind to start
to drink her water, though in dark,
for black is night.
O living fountain that I crave,
in bread of life I see her flame
in black of night.
-St. John of the Cross

These three poems fit with the way of the via negativa..........

To Know the Dark
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.

- Wendell Berry  1970


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye ~


You’re a saint now John.
You found your place in the sun,
but I wonder if you’d be more at ease
alone in the darkness,
just singing the blues.

Your discalced order
kicked off their shoes.
You don’t need shoes
when you’re singing the blues.

St Juan de la Cruz,
you could be Jack Kerouac’s muse,
out on the road,
singing the blues.

You’re a saint now John.
You paid your dues.
Now you’re the patron saint for those
with nothing left to lose.

You’re a saint now John,
all your dark nights have gone,
but if you are asked, you never refuse,
to give your reasons for
singing the blues.

You’re a saint now John,
and though you’ve long gone,
your point of view still rings true,
to those of us left who can’t but help
singing those dark night blues.

 Phil Ewing 

Images in the video below set to Loreena McKennitt's music and vocals "The Dark Night of the Soul", inspired by the Words of St. John of the Cross.

"Dark Night of the Soul," is based on "Song of Songs" from the Old Testament, and also on much of the romantic poetry and lyrics of Spanish popular balladry of that time, i.e., 16th century. The "secret stair" has less to do with a staircase in a monastery, and more to do with the popular theme of lovers meeting for a late night romantic tryst.

The young maiden of the song or poem would have to sneak out of the house, by the "secret stair." 

John uses this as a metaphor for the soul in prayer who, by means of contemplation, steals away from the world unnoticed, to meet in loving relationship with God. 

The dark night refers to the soul's search for God, beyond the confines of the human definitions we have put upon God."

Actor Leonardo Defilippis is in a film video of St John of the Cross shot on location in beautiful Napa Valley.
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