Oh, what a sheer grace it is for the soul to be freed from the house of its senses! This fortune, in my opinion, can only be understood by the person who has savoured it. For then a person will become clearly aware of the wretched servitude and the many miseries suffered when subject to the activity of the faculties and appetites. It will be understood how the life of the spirit is true freedom and wealth.
In the measure that the soul walks in darkness and emptiness in its natural operations, it walks securely.
Oh, then, spiritual soul, when you see your appetites darkened, your inclinations dry, your faculties incapacitated, do not be afflicted; think of this as a grace, since God is freeing you from yourself.
Indeed, the soul is getting lost from what it knew and tasted, and going by a way in which it neither knows nor tastes.
Another more basic reason the soul walks securely in darkness is that this light, or obscure wisdom, so absorbs and engulfs the soul in the dark night of contemplation and brings it so near God that it is protected and freed from all that is not God.
The spiritual light is so bright and so transcendent that it blinds and darkens the natural intellect as this latter approaches it.
Since the wisdom of this contemplation is the language of God to the soul, of Pure Spirit to pure spirit, all that is less than spirit, such as the sensory, fails to perceive it. Consequently this wisdom is secret to the senses; they have neither the knowledge nor the ability to speak of it, nor do they even desire to do so because it is beyond words.
- St John of the Cross. Dark Night II
The pure spirit does not meddle with exterior attachments or human respect, but it communes inwardly with God, alone and in solitude as to all forms, and with delightful tranquility, for the knowledge of God is received in divine silence.
You looked with love on me,
and deep within your eyes imprinted grace;
this mercy set me free,
held in your love’s embrace,
to lift my eyes, adoring, to your face.
He descends upon the soul in mercy, impressing and infusing His love and grace in her, making her beautiful and lifting her so high as to make her a partaker of the very divinity.
It should be noted for an understanding of this that, God does not love things for what they are in themselves, but because of what He is in Himself. Thus love is the purpose for which He loves. With God, to love the soul is to put her somehow in Himself. He loves the soul within Himself, with Himself.
- St John of the Cross. Spiritual Canticle.
Happy is that person whom Truth itself teaches, not by figures of speech and eloquent language, but as it is in itself.
When the eternal Word speaks we are set free from countless theories and conjectures. All things spring from this one Word and all things speak of one Word, and this Word is the beginning, which also speaks to us.
That person to whom all things are One and who draws all things to One and who sees all things in One may be steadfast in heart and rest peacefully in God.
Let all teachers hold their peace. Let all creation be silent in your sight. You alone speak to me.
- The Imitation of Christ 1:3
God’s speech is the effect He produces in the soul.
… it wounds the soul with the tenderness of God’s life, and it wounds and stirs it so deeply as to make it dissolve in love…
… “As soon as He spoke my soul melted”.
… The divine substance absorbs the soul in itself.
- St John of the Cross. The Living Flame of Love. Stanza 1
This imperfect state of incompleteness, isolation and separation from the goal is the basic source of our existential anguish – anguish that arises not because of our existence but because of our separated existence. Hence the anguish running through the writings of the mystics and reflected in the cry of St. John of the Cross: “Where have you hidden, Beloved, and left me moaning?” Here the mystic is separated from the beloved whom he has inchoately experienced; and he longs for completion, for union, for the goal. If this means death, joyfully will he die – “finish your work, my Lover, break the last thread, wound me, make me whole!” Clearly the anguish is that of separation and incompleteness at the level of existence. One can experience one’s incompleteness emotionally or economically or culturally or sexually; and all this is painful. But how terrible to experience it at the deepest level of all, that of existence! For all these other sorrows are partial experiences of one root experience of existential contingency.
With the English author it is mainly in Privy Counselling that the notion of separation with all its suffering is stressed. At the beginning of his treatise he makes a statement that echoes through the whole work: “He is your being and in Him you are what you are.” And he keeps stressing that the great suffering and illusion of ours is our failure to experience that God is our being. Rather do we experience our being apart from God. The whole aim of his direction is to lead us to the experience that “he is your being and in him you are what you are.” It is not in isolation, not in separation from the totality that we find our true self; but only in God. The knowledge and feeling of any self other than this must be destroyed.
This leads to the inexorable law that the incomplete self must die in order that the true self may rise.
In this context we understand the author’s relentless assertion that the thought and feeling of self must be annihilated. Yet this annihilation is less terrible because it is the work of love: “For this is the way of all real love. Lovers strip themselves of anything theirs to gain the other. They want to be enveloped by the other forever in the full and final forgetting of self. This is the work of love that no one understands but the person who feels it. This is what our Lord is trying to teach us when he says, “If any want to come after me, let them abandon themselves.” It’s as if he is saying: “Strip yourself of your self if you really want to be clothed in me, the long and flowing robe of everlasting love.”
Johnston, William. (1973) Introduction: The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counselling. NY. Image Books. Doubleday.
In the inner wine cellar
I drank of my Beloved, and when I went abroad
Through all this valley
I no longer knew anything,
And lost the herd which I was following.
That elevation and immersion of the mind in God, in which the soul is as though carried away and absorbed in love, entirely transformed in God, does not allow attention to any worldly thing. She is not only annihilated before and estranged from all things, but even from herself, as if she had vanished and been dissolved in love; all of which consists in passing out of self to the Beloved.