My blog-friend Padre Mickey mentioned that one might find a nice reflection about St John of the Cross here at the Large Party. This is a rather sneaky way to get me to do some research about said St John, but it worked, sort of, I guess.
In my limited experience, St John of the Cross is often linked with St Teresa of Avila. These two are in the mystical tradition. I always thought that "mystical" seemed like a really neat word and sometimes I use it myself, but I have always been somewhat mystified about mystical experience, in truth. I have an uneasy relationship with "the contemplative life." I often feel that it must be a superior way of being a Christian.... and that I fail miserably and utterly at stuff like "contemplative prayer." I have something a complex about it, I guess.
As I get older, I have found that in fact I do have a certain way of developing and nurturing my "inner life" and I know in my mind that it's perfectly ok that I am not able to do silent retreats and twenty-minute silences, and that lectio divina is lovely but I get restless trying to do it, but my heart still shields itself against potential disdain that "real contemplatives" might have for people like me. Maybe I will lower that shield some day.
But back to John of the Cross. He wrote "The Dark Night of the Soul" and whether or not you have read it, you no doubt have heard or even used the term for a particularly tough time in your life when you have had to wrestle mightily with your faith (in something). (And for the record, it has to do with "negative" or "apophatic" theology - that speaks of God only in terms of what God is not - as opposed to "cataphatic" or posive theology that seeks to say what God is.) John was a Spanish monk, and he was an associate of Teresa of Avila. (I like to quote her about how we are the only hands and feet Christ has in this world, but I had a real hard time getting through her most famous writing "The Interior Castle.")
Apparently john tried to bring reforms to his monastery (he and Teresa were Carmelites, and she, too, was a reformer), and for this he was imprisoned and regularly beaten. And so from his experience, here's what for me are the two money quotes from John of the Cross:
“Who has ever seen people persuaded to love God by harshness?” and
“Where there is no love, put love – and you will find love.”
Lovely. Words we can all live by.