I have recently discovered St. John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish saint and mystic, who together with St. Teresa of Avila, led the reform of the Carmelite order of nuns and monks. He was a soft-spoken, slight man of only 4 feet 11 inches…empathetic and caring and one who gently lead others to God. Up until I began to read his words myself, however, I found him to be one of those inaccessible ascetics who had very little to do with me. Then I read these words he wrote from the floor of his prison cell where, because of his role as a radical reformer, he was mercilessly beaten and abused by his fellow monks:
I am dying of love darling, what should I do?
And the Beloved responded,
Then die my sweetheart–just die. Die to all that is not us;
what could be more beautiful.
I am not sure that I can do justice to how these words stirred so deeply within me…the longing that arose for that kind of intimacy with the Divine One. At the same time, however, these words frighten me. John of the Cross was after all lying in his own feces and vomit clinging by a thread to life when he had this vision. I can say with all honesty that I do not want to be anywhere near that kind of suffering. And so I sheepishly ask for a short-cut. Is there any other way to have this kind of union with the Beloved?
My gut says the answer is, no. And at the same time, I sense the urgency for John also writes:
“It was to reach this (union) that he created her in his image and likeness. (It is for this union) that we are always hungering, by our very nature, and by the gift of God; nothing less will satisfy the heart. In short, it was for this goal of love that we were created…Oh souls created for this greatness and summoned to it–what are you doing?! ” (The Spiritual Canticle)
In my heart I know that this is true. It bears itself out over and over in my life. I become aware of inner emptiness and I seek to fill it with things and experiences and people. I spend money like a drunken sailor, pour over fashion magazines, line up lunch dates…all to distract myself from the truth: my soul, like yours, was created for greatness. What in God’s name am I doing?
Once again, I am left with a mixture of desire and fear. I fall into silence, into the place of unknowing and rest in God for a while because there is absolutely nothing else that I can do. I ask God to continue to be a gentle lover…to coax me out of my fear and into his gracious arms. What could be more beautiful!
The Lovers by Atkinson Grimshaw