My wife and I have just returned from a visit to the places of John of the Cross in northernSpain. It was a wonderful trip that gave us chance to appreciate John a little more. It was particularly encouraging to see many lay people for whom John is a significant challenge in their spiritual lives.
John insists that we are people transformed by faith, and the most immediate consequence of faith is our conviction that there is more in life than meets the eye; there is a world that is not immediately apparent. Our experience of faith teaches us that there are two horizons to life, and they are intimately linked. We discover in ourselves a zone that naturally yearns for transcendent reality, and we live at this level of mystery, where we are enthralled by enduring truths. Everything we think and do is transformed by this awareness of a relationship between our everyday life and a realm of life that gives meaning to this one. John speaks about this true life. “I no longer live within myself and I cannot live without God, for having neither him nor myself what will life be? It will be a thousand deaths, longing for my true life and dying because I do not die” (Stanzas of the soul that suffers with longing to see God, v. 1). Again, here, life is judged and given a new meaning by a horizon of life beyond this one.
Through the dark nights that John describes we are longing to find our true lives, and John teaches us that as people of faith we should naturally identify with the transcendent. John gives the impression of being someone totally dedicated to all that he is doing here in this world while at the same time being elsewhere, enjoying life on another horizon. This requires a spirit of reflection and a hunger for silence. When we emerge from tranformative silence we have an ability to view the world through a different lens that can change everything for us. Deep within each of us there is a yearning for union with God. John insists that this process of discovering the potential for growth that lies within us includes distancing ourselves from the accumulation of religious devotions and entering with simplicity into our own hearts. We seek the richness of life not by adding on more religious practices but by touching ultimate goodness and love that lie within us. Appreciating God’s gift of love (see “Romances”) and encountering the everlasting call of God in our own hearts, we then see that our faith experience guides the course of life. We need to pay attention to the connections between our own yearnings for fulfillment and the call of another realm of life. As we journey through life we catch a glimpse of a horizon of life beyond this one. This is one of the foundational experiences of our spirituality. The world in which we live only has meaning because of a realm of life of which we catch sight from time to time. We are not journeying in the unknown, even when we journey through the dark nights, for we can still feel a certain companionship of our God who draws us to divine life (II DN 11, 7).