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John of the Cross, Part III: Humility

Friday, July 31, 2015

Mystics and Non-Dual Thinkers: Week 3

John of the Cross, Part III: Humility
Friday, July 31, 2015

John of the Cross understood the true meaning of humility, which is not self-deprecation or low self-esteem, but a simple acknowledgment that I am very small, quickly passing, and insignificant as a separate self. That is just objective truth. Our dignity and sacredness precisely comes from our connection. With this deep and experienced and inherent connection, John was free to rest in a union that could not be taken from him.

Mirabai Starr expresses John’s longing in her own beautiful words:

“In the dark night, says John, the secret essence of the soul that knows the truth is calling out to God: Beloved, you pray, please remind me again and again that I am nothing. Strip me of the consolations of my complacent spirituality. Plunge me into the darkness where I cannot rely on any of my old tricks for maintaining my separation. Let me give up on trying to convince myself that my own spiritual deeds are bound to be pleasing to you. Take all my juicy spiritual feelings, Beloved, and dry them up, and then please light them on fire. Take my lofty spiritual concepts and plunge them into darkness, and then burn them. Let me love only you, Beloved. Let me quietly and with unutterable simplicity just love you.” [1]

In the dark night of the soul, the only thing left to do is to let go of the ego’s need for self-importance and validation and simply turn our attention toward God. There is no need any longer to achieve or manufacture our union with God. Soft piety and sweet feelings are no longer necessary. God is much more trustworthy and solid than feelings. We are henceforth able to give ourselves over to a now natural flow of loving and being loved. What once seemed impossible and “supernatural” is now enjoyed as both total gift and yet totally natural to our deepest being.

To John, humility meant accepting our unquenchable thirst and need for God and acknowledging our emptiness at the same time—they work together! This is why the contemporary “I am special” and “I have dignity” eventually falls apart for lack of foundation. This is hard to say, with so many people today having such low or disguised self-esteem, but that is precisely what the mystics want to address. I want to offer you here, through them, an objective (philosophical, theological, metaphysical) foundation for a positive self-image, which can never be taken from you. It does not come and go; it is you at your deepest core. This is the ecstasy of John and Teresa.

Try to imagine John of the Cross as your personal spiritual director, James Finley says. He would be speaking to you out of a deep place inside of himself, his own True Self that is already enjoying his foundational union with God. If you can recognize and trust that connection within him, it can give you the courage to trust the same lovely and loving place within yourself. [2] This is exactly what the Eastern religions mean by emphasizing the need for a guru, a model, a master, a true spiritual teacher. Most often, you need to see such union in another before you have the courage to imagine it could also be true for you. Otherwise it is literally “unable to be imagined” or desired! This explains the Catholic fascination with saints and the Christian fascination with Jesus as the Ultimate Model of Divine-human intimacy.

Gateway to Silence:
“God alone is enough.”  —Teresa of Ávila

[1] Mirabai Starr, Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross, (Riverhead Books: 2002), 10.
[2] James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.

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