From Letters on Spiritual Direction by Susan Muto, a book of “imaginative” letters that St. John wrote to his directee Dona Ana Penalosa.
John writes about the danger of placing ourselves under the spiritual care of the wrong person and writes sobering comments about who should NOT be a spiritual director:
One is perhaps highly educated but inexperienced, or one full of clever answers but indiscreet, not a listener but a controller, not a humble person but one proud of being so accomplished, not an experienced guide in spiritual matters but a counselor mainly trained in psychological techniques and personality analysis. 90
I want to continue my progress in dealing with the “veil of temporal detachments” (which Ana says, “hinder longing for transcendence 23) and natural affections that block the soul from union with God. (21, 65) Yet, I realize how easily I fall back into old habits and especially the big three: appetites for power, pleasure and possessions. A sad and sobering reminder to me was the statement made by John about many people, “Called for much more, they settle for much less.” 72
I must remember as John says, “Your delight in him is the delight he feels in you.” 51
We need to be available to people as they feel an empty life apart from God, “a thirst that is unquenchable, a hunger that is never satisfied.” 67
God is always the initiator, “It is humbling to realize that we could neither raise our eyes to the divine light nor desire it if God were not turning our eyes in the right direction.” 72
When we go beyond the Scriptures to hear God, we face significant dangers.
“Supernatural knowledge that reaches the intellect by the exterior bodily senses” must not be relied upon says St. John of the Cross. Why says John? Because we can be easily deceived by counterfeits from the devil.
“Individuals who esteem these apprehensions are in serious error and extreme danger of being deceived.” (AMC 2:11:3) He says false visions and communications from the devil “cause in the spirit agitation, or dryness, or vanity, or presumption.”
On the other hand, communications from God, “penetrate the soul, move the will to love, and leave their effect within. As Muto says, God’s self-communications …penetrate the soul like fragrant oil softens dry, cracked skin.” (58)
In our longing for these sensory communications we are vulnerable. We must detach ourselves from desires for these special communication. As Muto says, “If good, their effects will show up anyway; if bad, they will be eliminated from the start.”(60)
A good reminder to not seek out special experiences with God or from God. I do need to spend time listening rather than always talking but when I start hearing voices, it is time to be on the alert!
As we were reading in Psalm 66 this morning, I thought of The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. I believe that the term dark night of the soul is often misunderstood and over used. Nonetheless, I agree with John that there is an intimacy with God that is only available as we move through a time in which He appears to be absent. If you don’t understand exactly what he is saying here, join the crowd–that is why he wrote his three books, which were a commentary expaining his poem for the Carmelites. (Suggested best translation is The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross by Saint John of the Cross, Kieran Kavanaugh, and Otilio Rodriguez) Then, in recent times, Susan Muto, has written companion volumesThe Way of St. John of the Cross: A Guide Through the Dark Night of the Soul is one of them which attempt to explain what John was trying to say in his commentary. When I mentioned this to a friend who was interested in reading the Dark Night, she smiled, put his book down and said, maybe later. Enjoy! The following translation can be read online along with John’s commentary.
Dark Night of the Soul
St. John of the Cross
On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy chance!—I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.
In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised—oh, happy chance!—In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.
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.
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.
Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn, Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!
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.
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.
I remained, lost in oblivion; My face I reclined on the Beloved. All ceased and I abandoned myself, Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.
Someone asked me yesterday about the difference between meditation and contemplation. I said that meditation is a reflection upon a text or an event in the Scriptures whereas contemplation is more of a resting in the presence of God following meditation and in the understanding He gives.
St. John of the Cross wrote about this in a much more eloquent way:
“When spiritual persons cannot meditate, they should learn to remain in God’s presence with a loving attention and a tranquil intellect, even though they seem to themselves to be idle. For little by little and very soon the divine calm and peace with a wondrous, sublime knowledge of God, enveloped in divine love, will be infused into their souls.” AMC 2:16:5
Muto summarizes what John is saying in two words:
Don’t worry.” She then says, “If you cannot meditate for all the reasons given, simply remain in God’s presence with loving attention, with a tranquil mind. Even if it seems that you are idle, trust that a deeper stirring is in process. ” Her paraphrase of Teresa of Avila follows, “let nothing disturb you, nothing disquiet you, nothing draw you out of your peaceful contentment. This pacification of soul is after all no small accomplishment.” The Ascent 75
Read a poem called, The Dark Night by St. John of the Cross again this morning–slowly, carefully, reflectively. There is much here–no wonder he wrote two books on it (Ascent to Mt. Carmel and the Dark Night) I focused on the first two stanzas this morning.
One dark night
Fired with love’s urgent longing
–Ah the sheer grace–
I went out unseen,
My house being now all stilled.
In darkness, and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised,
–Ah, the sheer grace!–
In darkness and concealement
My house being now all stilled;