In Mirabai Starr’s new book Saint John of the Cross: Luminous Darkness, she highlights four major themes found in the writings of John of the Cross (1542–1591): longing, silence, unknowing, and love. This week’s meditations focus on these four enduring mystical themes. We begin with a reflection from Father Richard on his own experience of God:
The divine-human love affair really is a reciprocal dance. Sometimes, in order for us to step forward, the other partner must step away a bit. The withdrawal is only for a moment, and its purpose is to pull us toward him or her—but it doesn’t feel like that in the moment. It feels like our partner is retreating. Or it just feels like suffering.
God creates the pullback too, “hiding his face,” as it was called by so many mystics and scriptures. God creates a vacuum that God alone can fill. Then God waits to see if we will trust our God partner to eventually fill the space in us, which now has grown even more spacious and receptive. This is the central theme of darkness, necessary doubt, or what the mystics called “God’s withdrawing of love.” They knew that what feels like suffering, depression, uselessness—moments when God has withdrawn—are often deep acts of trust and invitation to intimacy on God’s part. On the inner journey of the soul we meet a God who interacts with our deepest selves, who grows the person, allowing and forgiving mistakes. It is precisely this give-and-take, and knowing there will be give-and-take, that makes God so real as a Lover.
The experience of the twentieth-century mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin echoes that of John of the Cross four centuries earlier:
God does not offer Himself to our finite beings as a thing all complete and ready to be embraced. For us God is eternal discovery and eternal growth. The more we think we understand God, the more God reveals Himself as otherwise. The more we think we hold God, the further God withdraws, drawing us into the depths of Himself. 
Father Richard concludes:
I must be honest with you here about my own life. For the last ten years I have had little spiritual “feeling,” neither consolation nor desolation. Most days, I’ve had to simply choose to believe, to love, and to trust. In this, I know I stand in good company with Teilhard, John of the Cross, Mother Teresa, and countless other mystics and saints, and maybe some of you.
But God rewards me from letting God reward me:
This is the divine two-step that we call grace:
I am doing it, and yet I am not doing it;
It is being done unto me, and yet by me too.
Yet God always takes the lead in the dance, which we only recognize over time.
 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu: An Essay on the Interior Life (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), 119. Note: some changes made for inclusive language.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (New York: Convergent, 2019, 2021), 78–79.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Richard’s personal reflection on Moses and the “backside” of God.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
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.
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.