Monday, May 05, 2014

Stopping to Sing the Praises of St. John of the Cross

I have been making extremely slow progress through the book John of the Cross for Today: The Ascent by Susan Muto. It has nothing to do with it being a difficult book or an uninteresting book; really it has more to do with the busyness of life and the fact that I have five or six books going at any one time.

But it seems wherever I dip into this book, I find St. John (as presented by Muto) explaining my life to me. This was my experience with the book Impact of God, which I wrote about here. That book was the first inkling to me that it was time to re-investigate the Carmelite charism that had fascinated me for so long from a distance. While I have done very little reading of St. John's writings directly, that book, like this one, made so much sense out of my faith journey that it felt shocking. I've written elsewhere about how St. Teresa of Avila's writings made me feel an immediate affection for her as a mother. Well, St. John of the Cross's wisdom strikes me as a fatherly sort -- direct, no sugar coating, always with a loving sense that austerity is good for the soul, AND, giving a secure sense that even the scariest things will be all right in the end. A set of spiritual parents is a beautiful gift to me.

For example, today I was reading a section on the purification of the memory, and how an unpurified memory can destroy the virtue of hope, and how a purified memory even of painful events can "foster supernatural remembrance." I have experienced these things, although I was tempted to see the process not as a purification of my memory, but perhaps as evidence as something wrong with me. There is just so much wisdom in understanding the need to step out of the addictive cycle of what the emotions stir up, to let it be "silenced by hope," and to stand in that place where all the expectation is in God. Dr. Muto gives the example of thinking of the death of one's child: at one point, the anguished memories need to be relinquished and God's love, goodness and mercy remembered and embraced and rested in. My solution to this kind of problem has always been to dump out the cup in which I find the stirred-up emotions, or to try to pretend they don't exist or never got stirred in the first place, instead of acknowledging the reality and letting hope be stronger.

So the fact that what this little Spanish priest wrote centuries ago can make sense of these nuances of my soul that I could hardly put words to is amazing to me.

Another example of life-saving advice from St. John hinges on the apophatic nature of God, when to stop the mind from working things over. This reminds me that the Carmelite charism is Eastern in origin and nature. And coming upon this truth is sometimes such a relief that it moves me to tears.

I have miles to go before I even read all the works of St. John of the Cross, let alone know anything about them or live them. But everything I read of him only makes me hungry to read more.

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