Something Familiar--for "Not for Sheep.


Something Familiar--for "Not for Sheep. . ."

The blogmistress of Not for Sheep. . . would probably find something quite familiar about the tone/content of the following words:

from "Prologue" to The Ascent of Mount Carmel St. John of the Cross

In order to expound and describe this dark night, through which the soul passes in order to attain to the Divine light of the perfect union of the love of God, as far as possible in this life, it would be necessary to have illumination of knowledge and experience other and far greater than mine; for this darkness and these trials, both spiritual and temporal, through which happy souls are wont to pass in order to be able to attain to this high estate of perfection, are so numerous and so profound that neither does human knowledge suffice for the understanding of them, nor experience for the description of them; for only he that passes this way can understand it, and even he cannot describe it.

The translation is the sometimes less than felicitous E. Allison Peers, but the point is still clear. But it is very much like what many zazen Masters have said of Zen, "He who talks about it does not know it." The experience is indescribable precisely because it is divine and human language can only approximate what pertains to the divine.

What I find interesting is that St. John of the Cross refers to the "darkness and . . . trials" that "happy souls" pass through on the way to this union. One hardly associates the words darkness and trials with "happy." (And even if the word "happy" is being used in the archaic sense of those whom chance has favored--it's difficult to associate the favoritism of chance with dark and trials). And yet these trials are trials I would willingly face if there were the certainty that I was treading the road to union, because no trial on Earth is so great that I would abandon the opportunity to attain Divine Union. However, part of those trials is very likely the uncertainty of the road. Prayer is vast and dry and yields no return--is this because of increasing perfection or innumerable venial sins interfering in the contact with the Divine? That question is one of the difficulties of the road. But what difficulties are not worth facing, if at the end of the road we can experience what St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Therese of Lisieux all experienced? And I don't refer here to visions, locutions, and consolations, but I refer to becoming as nearly as possible the perfect human vessel and spouse of Our Lord. (Obviously, being sinful, we would fail in the perfection that the Mother of God attained--but still and all we would attain the perfection that God has in mind for us.)

So, we start our Ascent of Mount Carmel with the notion that it is an ascent. Thus, it will involve work, hardship, privation, and other human sufferings in the process of purification. Perhaps tomorrow I will post something from Concepcion Cabrera de Armida that reflects on this from a non-Carmelite perspective, but presents a view quite consonant with Carmelite Spirituality.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on January 14, 2003 10:28 AM.

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