Listening is a key quality in John of the Cross. But we must learn how to listen, especially in our modern world which is so cluttered with trivia and filled with so much noise. Listening is important for us imn discerning the calls and challenges of our journey.
We must choose what to listen to. The bride comes across as a person who is very aware of life’s problems. She is not dabbling in life but has a mature focus on what priorities she chooses to pursue. Communication is serious and she has a two-fold focus: rejection of all that is not God and a deliberate listening to all that leads to God. “Since seeking God demands a heart naked, strong, and free from all evils and goods that are not purely God, the soul speaks . . . of the freedom and fortitude one should possess in looking for him” (C. 3.5). So, she says she will deliberately choose what she will set her heart on, what she will tolerate, what she will pay heed to. There are so many distractions bombarding us from all sides, we need to choose what we wish to listen to and what we do not. Even in spiritual marriage the bride prefers “holy idleness” rather than the noisy accomplishments of active life and ministry (C. 29.3-4).
We must listen to our hearts. God speaks to our hearts. “I shall lead her into solitude and there speak to her heart” (Hos 2.14). The bride knows she must seek her Lover: she feels her heart is troubled, wounded, sick, unfulfilled. Her love impels her in her search, she longs for deeper union, thrills in her Lover’s presence, and delights in union. While her Beloved is always drawing her to himself, she listens to her heart’s longings. She lives detached from all that is not God “in profound silence of . . . senses and . . . spirit,” part of a “deep and delicate listening.” “God speaks to the heart in this solitude. . . in supreme peace and tranquility, while the soul listens . . . to what the Lord God speaks to it, for He speaks this peace in this solitude” (F. 3.34). Eventually, she listens only to her heart’s need for her Lover, all her energy is placed at his service, she has no other interests, and everything she does is an act of love (C. v.28).
We listen to God’s messengers. The Spiritual Canticle challenges us in the early phases of our journey to listen to God’s messengers. The soul listens to her inner spirit, to the shepherds who may have seen her Beloved, to creation that reveals traces of God’s presence, to others who teach a thousand graceful things of God, and to her beloved. All tell her something about God and the unceasing divine love that calls, heals, challenges, and fulfills. She listens to the revelation of God that produces a “Supper that refreshes and deepens love” (C. 14-15.28). Thus, she listens to God’s messengers that give voice to divine presence in the world. “This voice is the sounding solitude the soul knows here; that is, the testimony to God that, in themselves, all things give” (C. 14-15.27).
We also listen to the challenge of John of the Cross. John is a perfect example of a person who listens to God’s call to total transformation. His life evidences a relentless pursuit of union with God through early growth, reform, persecution, abandonment, and death. The fact that John attains what he does tells us that human beings are capable of this human growth and potential. Is what he achieved unusual or is it the desirable outcome for more of us? His life embodies the two great experiences of humanity—being wounded and being healed, and the Spiritual Canticle expresses how these two great experiences can fill the lives of us all. This book is for us; it is the life we can pursue. John writes in the broadest sense so we can each apply it personally and derive profit as best fits each of us. We must respond to John’s challenge by listening carefully to the voice of God who communicates in silence deep within our hearts.