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Monday, December 14, 2009

Saint John of the Cross: Our Darkness Breathes God's Presence

©2009, Randall A. Beeler

We have often heard or spoken the phrase, "Without you, I am nothing."

Saint John of the Cross shows us that we cannot grasp the Truth of these words until our one true Beloved is absent:
The soul that is attached to anything however much good there may be in it, will not arrive at the liberty of divine union. For whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for, until the cord be broken the bird cannot fly.  (Saint John of the Cross)
Saint John is not denigrating the immanent goodness of created things but rather showing us the means by which God calls us to know God—via negativa.

We cannot know our utter contingency, our utter gratitude for the Beloved Who shapes and breathes out our very existence, until we undergo the dark night of the soul, as Saint John called it—the absence of God that bespeaks God's palpable presence.

When Blessed Mother Teresa's letters came to light, the media frenziedly declared that even Mother Teresa doubted the existence of God. But they misunderstood: Mother Teresa was not doubting at all; her forthright declaration of God's absence is her recognition of her own nothingness, for His absence reveals the God-shaped hole in all our hearts. Mother Teresa feels that ache on behalf of all those poor and destitute ones of the world; for their poverty is a living out of the absence she experiences. If the media reject such an understanding of our contingency, it is because they out-of-hand reject the poor in spirit, as well as in flesh.

We must be without You, Lord, to know we are nothing in ourselves. And in knowing our very nothingness, Lord, we see that we are made to know that only You fill our emptiness.

Oh, but we run from that void or seek to fill it with earthly comforts or outright deceptions. But they do not satisfy, and "Our hearts will be restless until we rest in Thee."

Even in nothingness, God pours forth his Loving Presence:
11 And I said: Perhaps darkness shall cover me: and night shall be my light in my pleasures. 12 But darkness shall not be dark to you, and night shall be light all the day: the darkness thereof, and the light thereof are alike to you. (Ps 139, DRE)
So, we experience darkness to see that even our darkness bears His Presence.

Saint John sketched a vision of the Crucifixion, which is pictured above. The perspective is that of the Father, looking down on the Son in agony, seemingly after Jesus has uttered "'Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani?' That is, 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?'" (Matt 27:46b, RHE)

In Saint John's very nothingness, he experiences what God simultaneously undergoes and witnesses on our behalf. Our nothingness is not to be run from but to be embraced, as Jesus embraces the Cross.

The Good News of our nothingness is that it is not in vain. God abhors a vacuum; in our nothingness, our endless created capacity to be filled by God is filled … with the breath of God:
9 And he said to me: Prophesy to the spirit, prophesy, O son of man, and say to the spirit: Thus says the Lord God: Come, spirit, from the four winds, and blow upon these slain, and let them live again. 10 And I prophesied as he had commanded me: and the spirit came into them, and they lived: and they stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. (Ezek 37, DRE)
Just so, the utterly dead flesh of the Christ is breathed full of Resurrection. In Him, we are created anew. In Him, our nothingness is filled. In Him, we experience an ever-new creation, by the breath of His Spirit.

May the Spirit breathe all of us anew this Feast Day of Saint John of the Cross.

10 comments:

  1. Your reflection is EXACTLY what I needed to read TODAY! Thank you...

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  2. Great post about the Mystic Doctor! I pray that St. John's humility will be noticed and emulated by people throughout the world!

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  3. Thank you for that article . . . it actually made me cry! (So much for detachment, right? :-D)

    But in all seriousness, I have a question: if we are supposed to be detached from everything, no matter how good it is, what about truth? Are we supposed to be detached from that? Or is by detachment from truth that we get closer to it?

    Indeed, is it just one of those weird paradoxes that I must accept? (But maybe this is the wrong place to ask such a question.)

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  4. [But in all seriousness, I have a question: if we are supposed to be detached from everything, no matter how good it is, what about truth? Are we supposed to be detached from that? Or is by detachment from truth that we get closer to it?

    Indeed, is it just one of those weird paradoxes that I must accept? (But maybe this is the wrong place to ask such a question.)]

    Jean-Therese, excellent question!

    I don't think Saint John or via negativa advocate detachment from anything. Rather, the very way that we discover that God is our beloved is by attaching ourselves to things in the spirit that they are manifestly not God.

    Saint John does not tell us to remain aloof but instead advises us to, having appreciated a thing, understand thereby that that thing is but a means to God--even if it is darkness or absence of God.

    Thus, we are never detached from the Truth; on the contrary, attachment and detachment seem to be a necessary pilgrimage in and towards Truth--the Beloved.

    Hmm … did I just confuse the situation further?

    In Christ & Mary--Randy

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  5. Nope. :-D

    Oh, and thanks for following me on Twitter. I wasn't really expecting that, you know. ;-)

    Again, thank you.

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  6. No problem, JTD! I enjoyed your blog and will spread it to as many as I can. Feel free to do the same with mine! May you have a blessed Advent and Nativity!

    In Christ & Mother Mary--Randy

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  7. Nice reflection on a very weighty subject by a deeply contemplative saint who knew suffering. Thanks for the clarification about Mother Teresa. You are right on! My friend's book about the Blessed Mother is out now, fresh off the presses: Mother Teresa and Me: Ten Years of Friendship by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle. I'll be interviewing her on our local Catholic radio next week! Pray that our talk will reveal even more wonderful truths about God's vast love for us.

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  8. Great blog, Randy! St. John of the Cross has always been one of the most troublesome saints (in a good way) that my soul has run up against. Very challenging. Very freeing.

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  9. Carrie Sue,

    I love the wisdom of your comment! In a world that urges us to flee suffering and challenges, we desperately need to know how freeing God's challenges can be for us!

    In Christ & Mother Mary--Randy

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