Friday, November 18, 2005

A Review of A Mystic's Journey

Dark Night of the Soul
St. John of the Cross
E. Allison Peers

Born in poverty, San Ivan de la Cruz cared for the poor in the hospital in Medina. He was a lay Carmelite brother in 1563 at age 21, though he lived stricter than their Rule. He studied at Salamanca and became a Carmelite priest ordained in 1567 at age 25. He was persuaded by Saint Teresa of Avila to begin the Discalced or barefoot reform within the Carmelite Order, when he took the name John of the Cross. He was a Master of novices as well as spiritual director and confessor at Saint Teresa's convent. His reforms did not set well with some of his brothers, and he was ordered to return to Medina. He refused, and was imprisoned at Toledo, Spain, escaping after nine months. He became Vicar-general of Andalusia and his reforms revitalized the Order. A great contemplative and spiritual writer, he was proclaimed Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI on 24 August 1926. (from

This translation of an important Christian mystical text is written with references and notations found in several source manuscripts, twelve early copies are known to exist, while the original and a second one are also missing. However the entire translation is an exposition upon his poem: "STANZAS OF THE SOUL" which is short enough to include in this review in its entirety. A complete online edition is available at the website:


1. On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings -oh happy
chance! -
I went forth without being observed, My house being now
at rest.

2. In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised -
oh, happy chance! -
In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at

3. In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me, Nor I
beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.

4. This light guided me more surely than the light of noonday
to the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me -
A place where none appeared.

5. Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, lover transformed
in the Beloved!

6. Upon my flowery breast, Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

7. The breeze blew from the turret As I parted his locks;
with his gentle hand he wounded my neck And caused all
my senses to be suspended.

8. I remained, lost in oblivion; My face I reclined on the
All ceased and I abandoned myself, Leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

First of all, I have read a few other titles among the mystic saints including but not limited to Saint Teresa of Avila, The Cloud of Unknowing (Anonymous), Julian of Norwich, Saint Francis of Assisi quoted here:

Where there is Love and Wisdom,
There is neither Fear nor Ignorance.
Where there is Patience and Humility,
There is neither Anger nor Annoyance.
Where there is Poverty and Joy,
There is neither Cupidity nor Avarice.
Where there is Peace and Contemplation,
There is neither Care nor Restlessness.
Where there is the Fear of God to guard the dwelling,
There no enemy can enter.
Where there is Mercy and Prudence,
There is neither Excess nor Harshness.

And a few others. The basis of all of their teachings? Basically, that no secret or hidden knowledge is required to possess a personal, private, nourishing, and completely human relationship with God. First is faith. Belief is almost unnecessary. San Ivan de la Cruz echoes the advice of many other religious mystics in his repeated exposition of his STANZAS OF THE SOUL and reassures that those times when suffering most, in sadness, loss, depression, loneliness, hunger, persecution, or the belief that no one hears your prayers, that is when in the darkest of the dark night, God does his best to reach the soul in need, out of love, for devotion to prayerful respect for God.

Many times San Ivan de la Cruz reminds the reader that it takes a life time to reach graceful peace through self discipline, prayerfulness, contemplative exercise and hopefulness often in the face of personal uncertainty in a personal relationship with God. That it is like any other relationship, it takes time, periods of doubt, periods of joy, periods of longing, periods of separation, and periods of reunion, forgiveness, learning, compassion, and trusting faith. These are the aspects of human relationships to which each may seek and find, and the reason these aspects are sought and found with God. It is here where I can explain my attachment to the mystics.

I believe their teachings prove a similar element of contact with meditative practices which the Dalai Lama also often speaks of, but towards digressive results. While Buddhism seeks to empty the soul to nothingness, the Christian mystics seek to open the soul to an everything-ness which is a reverse of nothingness but as it is an overwhelming-ness and a state of grace or joy which has several levels of intensity.

All of this could be fairly pedantic as both religious systems may simply be defining something spiritual and universal among humanity which allows the contemplative to reach inward or outward to something quite divine in spirit. But it is often differences of definitives and relatives which divide or unite. There are no spiritual absolutes inherent in these readings yet there are taught descriptions of parameters of consciousness and some ideas on how to attain them.

San Ivan de la Cruz recommends a quiet place inside the self which is dedicated to God alone. It also appears that each one of us has that place innately. However it is how large each allows it to grow which defines ultimately how spiritually a life can be lived. Seeking and knowing that sacred space in the heart and the soul is supposed to be a central purpose in a human life according to San Ivan de la Cruz.

This book helps me to sense that fate is not a fixed sentence -it is a hopefulness not unlike faith. But that God makes the path for all and each chooses to follow it in his or her own fashion, with his or her own unique result. Faith is then exposed fully to God at some point and God is experienced as a union and a oneness. San Ivan de la Cruz is a reference for the most challenging times. I will read from him often at times on the path of discernment. Even Buddhists could understand his concepts on faith.

No comments: