Dark Night

On a darkened night,
Anxious, by love inflamed,
– O the sheer grace! –
Unnoticed, I took flight,
My house at last at peace and quiet.

Safe, disguised by the night,
By the secret ladder I took flight,
– O the sheer grace! –
Cloaked by darkness, I scaled the height,
My house at last at peace and quiet.

On that blessed night,
In secret, and seen by none,
None in sight,
I saw with no other guide or light,
But the one burning in my heart bright.

This guide, this light,
Brighter than the midday sun,
Led me to the waiting One
I knew so well — my delight!
To a place with none in sight.

O night! O guide!
O night more loving than the dawn!
O night that joined
The lover with the Beloved;
Transformed, the lover into the Beloved drawn!

Upon my flowered breast,
For him alone kept fair,
There he slept
There I caressed,
There the cedars gave us air.

I drank the turret’s cool air
Spreading playfully his hair.
And his hand, so serene,
Slashed my throat.
And drained of senses, I dropped unaware.

Lost to myself and yet remaining,
Inclined so only the Beloved I spy.
All has ceased, all rests,
Even my cares, even I;
Lost among the lilies, there I die.

St John of the Cross

The glory of the poem is the sudden shock in the second to last stanza. And yet, the final stanza is just as necessary.

Overall, it asks us to re-conceive what it is it to experience communion with God.

Mormons – and most twenty first century Christians, I suspect, trained by our culture to seek individual validation and therapeutic fulfillment in our religion – tend to speak of communing with God as a comforting, secure event. God’s role as Father is read through the lens of modern parenting manuals – God should validate, protect, encourage and praise. God is domestic, and homey, and warm, a place to hide from the world.

I suspect these expectations tell us more about ourselves than about God.

I think of Job, of Ezekiel, of Alma the Younger and Paul, and there God seems overwhelming. John of the Cross found him at the other end of the dark night of the soul, beyond light, and comprehension, and expectation. There is not fear, but neither, exactly, is there safety. He does not pray to ask for anything – that is to miss the point. His spirituality is not purpose driven. It is rather to seek utter communion through the surrender of conditionals, to bare the throat to whatever God chooses to offer, rather than clinging to the spiritual tyranny of preconceptions.

There is glory in this, I think, though it can be a strange and terrible one.