A Few Words from St. John of the Cross
“Our greatest need is to be silent before this great God with the appetite and the tongue, for the only language he hears is the silent language of love.”
“If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.”
“Love is the measure by which we shall be judged.”
“God has to work in the soul in secret and darkness because if we fully knew what was happening, and what Mystery, transformation, God and Grace will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process.”
Why did the first Christian hermits go into the desert? We can sum all the various individual reasons up this way. They were all on a quest for salvation.
“What was salvation?” “It wasn’t something they sought in exterior conformity to the customs and dictates of any social group.”
These men and women keenly knew of the strictly individual character of “salvation”.
They regarded “Society — which meant pagan society, limited by the horizons and prospects of life “in this world” as a shipwreck from which every single man had to go swimming for his life.”
If we were to describe their position today, we would probably say they were escaping the “herd” mentality that is now taking place.
They were not rebels against society. “They were men who did not believe in letting themselves be passively guided and ruled by a decadent state. They did not intend to place themselves above society. The Desert Fathers declined to be ruled by men, but had no desire to rule over others themselves. They were eminently social. They sought a society where all men were truly equal, where the only authority under God was the charismatic authority of wisdom, experience, and love.
What the Fathers sought most of all was their own true self, in Christ. They sought a God whom they alone could find, not one who was “given” by somebody else.
Besides the hermits during the 4th Century, Christian cenobites grew into communities of hundreds or even thousands living the “common life” in enormous monasteries like the one founded by St. Pachomius at Taberna.
As I mentioned earlier, St. Anthony later became known as the Father of All Monks. He was born to wealthy parents. When he was about 20 they died, he sold off all his worldly possessions, gave they money to the poor and set off to live in the desert.
“One of the first sayings in the Verba Senorium (Number 3) is one where the authority of St. Anthony is recognized as he states the basic principle of desert life: that God is the authority and that apart from His manifest will there are few or no principles: “Therefore, whatever you see your soul to desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe.”
The Desert Fathers ‘knew the rest of the story’: “He could not dare risk attachment to his own ego, or the dangerous ecstasy of self-will.”
“The Desert Fathers were pioneers. They had models like John the Baptist, Elias. Eliseus and the Apostles. They neither courted the approval of their contemporaries nor sought to provoke their disapproval. Opinions of others simply ceased to be matters of importance.”
Father Merton now directs the wisdom of the Fathers to us. He notes that the Fathers “distilled for themselves very practical and unassuming wisdom that is at once primitive and timeless. It enables us to reopen the sources that have become polluted or blocked up all together by the accumulated mental and spiritual refuse of our technological barbarism.
Our time desperately needs this kind of simplicity. It needs to recapture something of the experience reflected in these lines. Father Merton emphasizes the word experience. He continues “What good will it do us to know merely that such things were once said? The important thing is that they were once lived.”
“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it all the rest are not only useless but disastrous.”
Lofty speakers, these men were not. They addressed simple questions with simple answers. “Those that came to the desert seeking “salvation,” asked the elders for a ‘word’ that would help them find it — a word of salvation.”
As we explore the practices of Lectio Divina and contemplative prayer, we will do well to remember that the words we read and use are taught to us by humble and mostly silent men and women.
Politicians with lofty phrases and fancy tap-dancing around a subject they are not.
“But what is said serves just as well for a twentieth-century thinker?”
“The basic realities of the interior life are these: faith, humility, charity, meekness, discretion, self-denial.”
“But not the least of the “words of salvation” is their common sense.”
I must apologize. I am not writing at the pace I expected nor making the headway I expected.
Maybe this is enough ‘backstory’ for now. I really want to get to the ‘meat’ of what I want to present to you.
It is good to remember that St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila were good friends. I mention her in another article. Her great work is “The Interior Castle”.
It is not a surprise that Contemplative Prayer has lost a lot of followers these days. The cult teaching of today is “MINDFULNESS”.
I have heard it said that Mindfulness is on one end of the spectrum and contemplation is on the other. I take serious umbrage at that statement. If anything, one stands in complete opposition to the other. I have tried both. I found myself agitate after practicing Mindfulness. Where Contemplation quiets the mind and soul in ways even sleep cannot.
Mindfulness focuses on the ‘ME ‘ in me; whereas Contemplation focuses on the ‘Me’ given by the ‘ONE’. Therefore, I focus not on me — my person but on — me that is given by God. My ‘ME ‘ disappears into his Word.
I will spend tomorrow thinking about the way forward.
Thanks for joining me.