A tiny man, but a giant in the Spirit, John of the Cross was the greatest of the Spanish mystics. A Carmelite friar, he was persuaded by Teresa of Avila to join a reform movement within the order, called the Discalceds, because they went without shoes. He was seized and thrown into prison by repressive calced Carmelites, but finally escaped. The Discalceds finally won their independence, but towards the end of his life John was to suffer further persecution, this time from the vicar-general of his own Discalced order. He was stripped of rank and responsibility and banished to a remote area, where he died. His most famous work was ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’, a poem with a prose spiritual commentary. The ‘night’ which seems unwelcome becomes sweeter than the dawn, and unites the Divine Lover and His beloved until each is transformed into the other. Eventually the senses depart:
I lay quite still, all memory lost,
I reclined on my Loved One’s breast;
I knew no more, in my abandonment
I threw away my care,
and left it all forgotten among the lilies fair.
In 1951, the artist, Salvador Dali, painted the work ‘Christ of St. John of the Cross’, inspired by John’s life and a drawing John had done showing Christ on the cross shielding the world. It is on display in Glasgow and is a source of comfort and inspiration to many.
The suggested prayer for today is based on John of the Cross’s own words:
This life I live in vital strength is loss of life unless I win You, O God, and thus I shall continue to die until in You I live at length, for, my God, my life is in You. Teach me to find You in my suffering and deprivation as much as in consolation, spiritual visions and meditation; and teach me to count all people precious in Your sight, whatever virtue they may possess. Amen.