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Adorned in love

Saturday, December 14, 2019

From Sirach 48
You, who were taken up by a whirlwind of fire in a chariot with horses of fire; you, who will be ready at the appointed time to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury, you will turn the heart of the father to the son and restore them. Blessed are those who saw you and have been adorned in love. And we, also.

Earth. Water. Air. Fire. These not-really-in-our-control elementals occasionally cross my civilized, protected path … but that infrequency hardly means they have left the building. We are made of dust. We are baptized in water and eventually all of us, in suffering. Ruah-Spirit-Wind rescues us, and we fly away, sometimes in chariots of fire.

Not only is this a day of homage to the elements of life, but also to Elijah, and memorial to John of the Cross, Spanish saint drawn like a moth to the fires of God, poet, giver of spiritual life to countless of us fleeing, at first, from our own small dark nights of the soul. John calls us to stop, and look, and listen for something more than our discomfort, or whatever might be the awful threat to our life, and wait for it to be edged and then shouldered out altogether by awe-filled certainty of God’s love. It’s only in his discipline that the father loves his sons, the mother loves her daughters, God loves us all (Hebrews 12).

What price our pain, our suffering, our sadness, anxiety and fear? Ask John of the Cross:

To come to be what I am not, I must go by a way in which I am not.
When I delay in something, I cease to rush toward the all.
To go from the all to the all, I must deny myself of all in all.
And when I come to the possession of the all, I must possess it without wanting anything.
In this nakedness and detachment my spirit finds its quietude and rest.

I wish I could read his work in Spanish. St. John of the Cross is acclaimed as the greatest poet of the Spanish language, bar none. He spent nearly a year in a tiny prison cell in his own monastery, until he escaped one night climbing down a cliff. But this year of humility and suffering forced him to turn completely to God, and after his escape John became a great writer, spiritual director and leader.

As I read and rest in the words of his most famous poem, his love song, God seduces me and my ego out of our pedestrian struggle for comfort. Gradually, with great patience, God helps me realize how my life really matters.

The Dark Night
One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
—ah, the sheer grace!—
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

In 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 among the lilies.

* * *

Yes, Lord, this unveiling can take years. Must I be in such a hurry? Surely not, and why? Every breath I take is a gift from you and inside me, inside your “virgin point,” we share everything. The beauty of the Lord shines all around. Your joy, our joy, abounds.

John of the Cross, prayer of “emptying” adapted from Ascent to Mt. Carmel, Book 1, Chapter 13

“The Dark Night” is titled “Stanzas of the Soul” in John’s exposition of what he called the dark night of the soul. A complete text of John’s book, Dark Night of the Soul, is available as a pdf, presented by John's Order of the Carmelites.



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