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Center for Action and Contemplation
Luminous Darkness, Deepening Love
Luminous Darkness, Deepening Love


Monday, May 9, 2022

One of the primary themes that emerges in the work of John of the Cross is the soul’s longing for God. Mirabai Starr describes this state:

It feels as if the most beautiful lover in the world had come into your life, wooed you with perfect poetry and electric kisses, promised you were the one, the one and only, and then disappeared in the middle of the night without a word. But this is a lover who will never leave you. . . . You know only unbearable yearning. You have forgotten that the longing itself is the answer to the longing, that in the very crying out for the Holy One, the Holy One is pouring herself into you. [1]

Through his poetry, John’s soul cries out to God:

Where have you hidden away,
[Beloved], and left me grieving, care on care?
Hurt me and wouldn’t stay
but off like a deer from there?
I hurried forth imploring the empty air.

You shepherds, you that rove
over the range where mountains touch the sky,
if you should meet my love
—my one love—tell him why
I’m faint, and in a fever, and may die. [2]

CAC teacher James Finley clarifies that not all longings for the divine will be experienced in such a dramatic or clear way. We can also pay attention to our own dissatisfaction with “the way things are.” Jim writes:

The longings that form the visceral energy of prayer are not necessarily felt and expressed in concrete and tangible ways that are easy to recognize. Sometimes—often, in fact—the longings of prayer are diffused and muted longings that one barely feels at all. What we notice is that we tend to be entirely too indifferent and uncommitted to the spiritual path. But in looking more closely, we can discern a sense of discontent with our apparent lack of zeal. The discontent belies a subtle desire hidden beneath the surface of an ongoing apparent lack of desire. . . . We pretend we do not care about what we, at some deep level that is hard to access, actually care about very much. There is, it seems, a deal that the heart makes with itself not to admit that it harbors a desire so deep it could not go on without that desire being fulfilled.

Whenever someone on the spiritual path shares with me their concerns about their lack of desire for and commitment to their path, I often sense the tender sadness in all that they share. The tenderness lies in the sincerity in which they obviously do care. For if they did not care, their perceived lack of caring would be of no concern to them. And the sadness lies in their inability to see how God loves them so in the midst of their real and imagined lack of commitment to God. [3]

[1] Mirabai Starr, Saint John of the Cross: Luminous Darkness (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2022), 37–38.

[2] John of the Cross, “The Spiritual Canticle,” in The Poems of St. John of the Cross, trans. John Frederick Nims, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979, 1989), 3.

[3] James Finley, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco: 2005), 94–95.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Untitled Window (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Dorothea Lange, Village Dwelling (detail), 1936, photograph, Library of Congress, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Untitled Window II (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: The house in the center image is shut against the harsh sun. It is closed and dark inside. Yet darkness can hold deep beauty and its own kind of light, creating conditions for healing and illumination. After our dark night we may be invited to gently lift the blinds.

Story from Our Community:

Having helped others step from our life into the next, I thought I could handle anything. Then the night came that I stayed with my dying father. It seemed the unshakeable bond was broken. I now have a bond with those who stood helpless at the foot of the cross, with all the suffering in our world. Love never stops.
—Br. John

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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