Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Celebrating St John of the Cross is a dangerous thing: are we really ready to celebrate the life of the one who insisted that the path through the Cross to the Lord must be via a “Dark Night of the Soul”? This is the man who stressed that the only way to enlightenment is through the thicket of suffering…

John’s writing is crucial, as is that of the anonymous spiritual guide who wrote (in England, perhaps 200 years earlier) The Cloud of Unknowing. These masters of the Via Negativa (the experience of God as “absent Presence”) know that their own journey parallels that of many disciples—far more so than of the kinds of experiences that others might call “mystical”—filled with visions, revelations, consolations.

The best place to begin to gain insight into John is, I think, a small book edited by David Hazard: You Set My Spirit Free. It is billed as “A 40-day Journey in the Company of John of the Cross,” published by Bethany House. It is one of a magnificent series of books on the great spiritual masters of the centuries. Every “day” will begin with passages from Scripture, a paraphrased excerpt from John’s writings, and then a closing prayer. I highly recommend this book and this series.

John’s own experiences (well narrated in David Hazard’s introduction) were those of darkness and suffering as a way of coming to Christ. In many ways they were brutal. But he came through them, thanks be to God, and he is a great guide for us as result. He could have made his own a song by Steve Green, The Refiner’s Fire—it is a song of suffering as a road to purgation, to purification; a road that leads to “God alone.” It is a road that Pope John Paul II would have understood instinctively (his doctoral thesis in Rome’s Angelicum University was in fact on this great mystical writer)—a road that would lead to his own motto, Totus Tuus. This is a motto of surrender into the hands of a God who is at once hidden and loving Abba

I hope you will find David Hazard’s book, unless of course you are ready for the “whole enchilada” of John of the Cross’s writings. And I hope you will enjoy Steve Green’s song. And for good measure, a setting by Loreena McKennitt of St John's original poem, Dark Night of the Soul.

The Refiner's Fire
There burns a fire with sacred heat
White hot with holy flame
And all who dare pass through its blaze
Will not emerge the same
Some as bronze, and some as silver
Some as gold, then with great skill
All are hammered by their sufferings
On the anvil of His will

The Refiner's fire
Has now become my souls desire
Purged and cleansed and purified
That the Lord be glorified
He is consuming my soul
Refining me, making me whole
No matter what I may lose
I choose the Refiner's fire

I'm learning now to trust His touch
To crave the fire's embrace
For though my past with sin was etched
His mercies did erase
Each time His purging cleanses deeper
I'm not sure that I'll survive
Yet the strength in growing weaker
Keeps my hungry soul alive


Words and music by Jon Mohr and Randall Dennis
Copyright 1989 Birdwing Music/Jonathan Mark Music (admin. by Gaither copyright management)/J.R. Dennis Music. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

1 comment:

  1. Oh that I had the capacity to thoroughly read all the marvelous writings that have been given to us. I have bookmarks in several at a time. In the Glenstal Book of Prayer, a Benedictine Prayer Book, picked up at a book sale at the Little Sisters of the Poor, I found a brief paragraph from St. John of the Cross. I found it some time ago and it has revealed to me exactly the thoughts I carry with me:
    "Dear Lord, give me the truths which are veiled by the doctrines and articles of faith, which are masked by the pious words of sermons and books. Let my eyes penetrate the veil, and tear off the mask, that I can see your truth face to face."