St. John of the Cross


St. John of the Cross

I have no profound and beautiful insights. I can share with you nothing of wisdom or kindness. And being in such a dragged out state (for whatever reason), it is perhaps better to let St. John of the Cross speak my mind.

from The Ascent of Mount Carmel--Book 1, Chapter 6 St. John of the Cross

4. Wherefore, if the soul rejects and denies that which it can receive through the senses, we can quite well say that it remains, as it were, in darkness and empty; since, as appears from what has been said, no light can enter it, in the course of nature, by any other means of illumination than those aforementioned. For, although it is true that the soul cannot help hearing and seeing and smelling and tasting and touching, this is of no greater import, nor, if the soul denies and rejects the object, is it hindered more than if it saw it not, heard it not, etc. Just so a man who desires to shut his eyes will remain in darkness, like the blind man who has not the faculty of sight. And to this purpose David says these words: Pauper sum ego, et in laboribus a indenture mea. Which signifies: I am poor and in labours from my youth. He calls himself poor, although it is clear that he was rich, because his will was not set upon riches, and thus it was as though he were really poor. But if he had not been really poor and had not been so in his will, he would not have been truly poor, for his soul, as far as its desire was concerned, would have been rich and replete. For that reason we call this detachment night to the soul, for we are not treating here of the lack of things, since this implies no detachment on the part of the soul if it has a desire for them; but we are treating of the detachment from them of the taste and desire, for it is this that leaves the soul free and void of them, although it may have them; for it is not the things of this world that either occupy the soul or cause it harm, since they enter it not, but rather the will and desire for them, for it is these that dwell within it.

These seem very difficult words indeed. And yet, I do not think they are as hard as we make them. John's way is a way of denial to obtain all. We do not latch onto the smaller pleasures of the senses and appetites, but we release them, deny them, and in so doing move forward to the greater pleasure of walking more closely with God, and then to the ultimate pleasure of union with God.

Now, of what does this denial consist? I do not think that it means that you do not see or hear things, but rather that you exercise a strict custody of what you do see and hear. A thing once seen cannot be unseen, a thing once heard cannot be unheard. Denial is first, denial of entry, and second, denail of a place in our heart. There are some things we should just forego. We know it and sometimes choose to indulge in those things anyhow. Other things are good a meritorious to have seen and heard, but they are not meritorious to linger over and to practice to the point of distraction from God. It is good to have seen the Leonides, it is not so good to spend six or seven hours a day recreating the Leonides in our own minds.

So denial is both about keeping some sensation out and about letting those things that do enter leave no trace upon us. Denial is, in some small part, an exercise of will. But as with all such exercises, they are ineffective without the participation of Divine Grace. (If the Lord does not build the house, then in vain do the builders labor). So we may start by exercising a kind of custody, but we must do this for the right reason--love of God. If we are practicing these things for our own sakes, then we are becoming attached to the very notion of denial. Detachment seems quite a tricky business until we realize that though it is entirely necessary, it is merely a means, not an end in itself. All is Grace and all is gift--if we lean upon the Lord, He will find a way.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on February 2, 2003 10:19 AM.

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