More and more people today are claiming that religion is a feminine endeavor.
St. John of the Cross wrote his magnificent poem “Dark Night” during his time in prison, likely during the years 1577-8. His enduring legacy as saint and spiritual master can be seen clearly in his commentaries (The Dark Night and The Ascent to Mt. Carmel) on the first two stanzas of this poem. We perhaps have no other piece of work that can speak to the height of Christian union penned by a man. Like any relationship, like any marriage, intimacy is about more than learning. It is about cultivating a life of shared experiences and appreciation for one another in difficult times. Why do we think that 30 minutes a day will do it? At its base, the problem of the quiet time is that we might be searching for God’s voice in all the wrong places. We open our hearts to introspective individual prayer, but we have not learned the age-old skill of listening for God’s voice in all our experiences. For any person devoted to intimacy with God, the poem speaks for itself.
Our tradition has given us an anemic version of intimacy with God. For our spirits to work well, we have to let go of managing our own spiritual lives and give that back to God and the Spirit who works tirelessly to bring us back to our original form. Dr. Susan Muto puts it so well in her modern day commentary on these works. Her words are an apt introduction to the core texts from which this project draws its insight.
“Many today who seek a spiritual life succumb to the propaganda of New Age gurus who promise instant salvation through one or the other technique of self-actualization. They are prone to run from the cross as fast as fireflies from flame. St. John not only embraces the cross with joy; he says we can never climb to the mountaintop of union with the Divine unless we take up the cross and follow Christ with courage…The night of sadness that never seems to end, the day of depletion that drags on mercilessly, the crisis that tears us asunder like cracked glass—all such occasions that stretch our faith to the limit are, in reality, our greatest teachers…In a society that would confine the life of the spirit to occasional practices of private piety, one might wonder what a mystic and spiritual master like St. John has to say to the masses…the “dark night” is no longer a metaphor we can take or leave, a quaint symbol or the title of an old book. It is our unique and universal reality. It is a description of our world, our neighborhood, our family life. It is about pain and loneliness, anxiety and grief.”