The Ascent of Mount Carmel

This sublime knowledge can be received only by a person who has arrived at union with God, for it is itself that very union. It consists in a certain touch of the divinity produced in the soul, and thus it is God himself who is experienced and tasted there. This knowledge tastes of the divine essence and eternal life.

Manifestly, in this high state of union God does not communicate himself to the soul through the disguise of any image or likeness, but directly: the pure and naked essence of God with the pure and naked essence of the soul.

  • St John of The Cross

Dark Night

So dark the night! At rest
and hushed my house, I went with no one knowing
upon a lover’s quest
– Ah, the sheer grace! – so blessed,
my eager heart with love aflame and glowing.

In darkness, hid from sight
I went by secret ladder safe and sure
– Ah, grace of sheer delight! –
so softly veiled by night,
hushed now my house, in darkness and secure.

Hidden in that glad night,
regarding nothing as I stole away,
no-one to see my flight,
no other guide or light
save one that in my heart burned bright as day.

Surer than the noon day sun,
guiding me from the start this radiant light
led me to that dear One,
waiting for me, well-known,
somewhere apart where no-one came in sight.

Dark of the night my guide,
fairer by far than dawn when stars grow dim!
Night that has unified
the Lover and the Bride,
transforming the Beloved into him.

There on my flowered breast
that none but he might ever own or keep,
he stayed, sinking to rest,
and softly I caressed
my Love while cedars gently fanned his sleep.

Breeze from the turret blew
ruffling his hair. Then with his tranquil hand
wounding my neck, I knew
nothing: my senses flew
at touch of peace too deep to understand.

Forgetting all, my quest
ended, I stayed lost to myself at last.
All ceased: my face was pressed
upon my Love, at rest,
with all my cares among the lilies cast.

  • St Juan de la Cruz  (tr. Marjorie Flowers)


Beyond All

I went into an unknown land
unknowing, stayed there knowing naught,
beyond the power of human thought.

I know not where I entered in
but when I found that I was there,
not knowing how, not knowing where,
strange things I heard, so deep within,
far greater than I could declare.
So there I stayed still knowing naught,
Far, far beyond all human thought.

Peace and transcendent holiness:
knowledge so perfect came unsought,
in deepest solitude was taught
to me in ways I can’t express
the narrow path to life, no less,
leaving me speechless, good for naught,
beyond all power of human thought.

There I remain absorbed, apart,
lost to myself and borne away
to strange realms- where, I cannot say-
of ecstasy, wherein the heart
of flesh has nothing more to say,
my soul enriched, reduced to naught
by knowledge past all human thought.

He who is taken up so high
cuts free from self, and all he knew
before is gone and lost from view
as worthless now. He knows not why
his knowledge rises constantly
but he remains as knowing naught,
far, far beyond all human thought.

As higher still the soul takes flight
all understanding fades away:
how can the cloud that’s dark as night
make night more radiant than the day?
The one who understands this sight
stops there, his senses brought to naught
by knowledge past all human thought.

To know unknowing is so strange,
so overwhelming. No wise man
by disputation ever can
refute it, for his utmost range
of understanding cannot scan
this unknown knowledge, darkly taught,
beyond the power of human thought.

So lofty is it, so sublime,
no human power of learning may
possess it, none can ever say
‘I have it now’. No-one can climb
so high. But he who comes to say
No to his self-hood, knowing naught,
always transcends all human thought.

You wish to learn its origin?
It is a sudden subtle touch
of God’s own being, deep within
the soul, and understood as such:
his mercy reaching out so much –
this great gift leaves one knowing naught,
and far beyond all human thought.

  • St John Of The Cross  (tr. Marjorie Flowers)


Listen To The Silence

The contemplative soul does not meddle with exterior attachments or human respect, but it communes inwardly with God, alone and detached, and with delightful tranquility, for the knowledge of God is received in divine silence.

  • St John of the Cross

Perhaps you know of Pascal’s cry as he stared at the stars that shone to the limits of the universe. He was seized by the great silence of a winter night aglow with the brightness of the stars and exclaimed:  The eternal silence of the infinite spaces fills me with dread!

God is eternal silence; God dwells in silence.

The works of God are marked with silence. It is in the silence of prayer and retreat, in the silence of the desert and the forest, that great souls receive their message from God. Recall how Saint Bernard enriched the whole of Europe with silent monasteries. In order to describe the beauty of silence, he used to say: The oak trees of the forest have been my masters of prayer. Silence is the great master. It speaks to the human heart. Silence is not an empty void; God dwells therein.

Whoever embraces silence, welcomes God and whoever relishes silence, hears God speak. Silence is the echo of God’s eternity.

Are you seeking to find God? Then listen to the silence; immerse yourself in silence.

The soul must not be a public square, where there is always a crowd of gossipers or of persons recalled from the past with their tales of suffering and rebuke. Such types, seething at their imagined foes and smarting in their own self-love, are seriously at fault. There should be nothing like that among us. Silence should penetrate deep within us and occupy every area of our inner home. Thus is our soul transformed into a sanctuary of prayer and recollection.

When we meet one day in heaven, we should be filled with joy that we have done everything asked of us. We should have given the Lord, not lip service, but lives of humble, habitual, and complete silence. Amen.

  • Pere Jacques.   Listen to the Silence.  ICS publications.

Living Flame

Flame, living flame, compelling,
yet tender past all telling,
reaching the secret centre of my soul!
Since now evasion’s over,
finish your work, my Lover,
break the last thread, wound me and make me whole!

Burn that is for my healing!
Wound of delight past feeling!
Ah, gentle hand whose touch is a caress,
foretaste of heaven conveying
and every debt repaying:
killing, you give me life for death’s distress.

O lamps of fire bright-burning
with splendid brilliance, turning
deep caverns of my soul to pools of light!

Once shadowed, dim, unknowing,
now their strange new-found glowing
gives warmth and radiance for my Love’s delight.

Ah! gentle and so loving
you wake within me, proving
that you are there in secret and alone;
your fragrant breathing stills me,
your grace, your glory fills me
so tenderly your love becomes my own.

  • St John of the Cross.  (tr. Marjorie Flowers)



Total Death

Christ possessed the beatific vision precisely because no human “I” separated him from God. Thus Christ directly beheld God’s very being.

Conversely, the blessed Virgin Mary did have a human “I”. As a totally human creature, she was a human person. As such, she would say, “I wish, I love or I do”, on the basis of her human personhood, which informed all her actions. However, Mary was so closely conformed to God’s will, that her human “I” dissolved and became bathed in the divine will. Thus, both Christ and Mary attained the pinnacle of prayer. Such prayer is the goal of the entire teaching of Saint John of the Cross. It is the “Living Flame of Love”, which blazes at the summit of the road and crowns the conclusion of the “Canticle”. It is Mt Carmel itself. That flame burns with infinite intensity in Christ and with great brilliance in Mary. Like all others who have come to Carmel, we have come with that same goal in mind.

In Christ and in Mary, the action of God himself slew, so to speak, in a single stroke, the human “I”.

Such a death is equally essential for us. We must die to ourselves. Our “I” must come to know this mystical death in order to attain a life of profound prayer. To the degree that we die to ourselves, to that degree will we come to know the fullness of prayer. There truly is a direct correlation between mystical death and the full
flowering of prayer.

If we hold on to ourselves for fear of mystical death and the surrender of our worldly desires, and if we hold on to our soul with its earthly attitudes, then we will remain just as we are with our own little soul and our own little bit of human happiness. In order to grow rich in God and all that comes from God, we must die to ourselves. We must let our human “I” diminish and ultimately coalesce into the divine will, the very being of God.

This mystical death affects every aspect of our life….Ultimately, the only source of inner peace, and the actual attainment of the heart’s deepest desires, is increased participation in God’s Infinity.

The soul is made to possess infinity, a spiritual infinity, God’s infinity.

We have, by this stripping of self, mortally wounded everything in us that is the human “I”. We no longer exist. We are being entirely submissive to the will of God.

Pere Jacques

We are literally a new being. This mystical death is thus real, and not merely figurative.

Let us quell within us whatever remains of our old self. Then, we, too, will be able to find complete happiness in the Infinite Being of God. Amen.

  • Pere Jacques.   Listen to The Silence.               Extract from Conference 7.