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Made for Infinite Love

Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross

Made for Infinite Love
Thursday, April 23, 2020

Jim Finley, my friend and fellow teacher at the CAC, began studying the mystics at the Abbey of Gethsemani at age eighteen, with Thomas Merton as his novice master. He remembers when he first read this excerpt from the Prologue to the Ascent of Mount Carmel by St. John of the Cross:

A deeper enlightenment and wider experience than mine is necessary to explain the dark night through which a soul journeys toward that divine light of perfect union with God that is achieved, insofar as possible in this life, through love. The darknesses and trials, spiritual and temporal, that fortunate souls ordinarily undergo on their way to the high state of perfection are so numerous and profound that human science cannot understand them adequately. Nor does experience of them equip one to explain them. Only those who suffer them will know what this experience is like, but they won’t be able to describe it. [1]

Jim describes the effect John’s writing had on him:

Now, I could tell in the first paragraph, I was in deep water, and I could also tell as I kept reading that just a lot of it was going right over my head. But in John’s poetry, and from the very first paragraph of his prose, I sensed that his words were coming from some very deep place inside of him, or really coming from some deep place and [going] through him, and then intimately accessing that deep place in me. There was a certain resonance in realizing he was talking about something that I didn’t understand; but I knew mattered very, very much. And, as I kept reading on in that way, it got clearer and clearer to me. I am now over 76 years old, and I am still reading John of the Cross. He is one of my teachers. . . .

John’s core intuition is that the Infinite Love that is the architect of our hearts has made our hearts in such a way that nothing less than an infinite union with Infinite Love will do. It’s the setup in the beginning. For Infinite Love to create us in the image of itself is for Infinite Love to create us as a capacity to receive the forms of Infinite Love as our destiny. That love is our origin, love is our ground. That Infinite Love creates us as a capacity for love, for love’s sake alone. Love is the fabric of the true nature of everything that’s happening. This is the love nature of life.

[Richard again: Throughout these weeks, I have been praying, trying to understand how, as Jim puts it, “love is the fabric of the true nature of everything that’s happening.” How can it be that God’s love is at work and present in the tragedies around the globe right now? But knowing what harrowing circumstances John of the Cross was in when he came to experience the infinite love of God gives me hope and perseverance.]

References:
[1] John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Prologue, 1. See The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, 3rd ed. (ICS Publications: 1991), 114–115.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), disc 1 (CD, MP3 download).

Image credit: A Vision of the Holy Trinity (detail), anonymous Brazilian painter, 17th century, Museu de Arte Sacra da Universidade Federal da Bahia, Salvador, Brazil.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: I like to say that Teresa and John were part of the “final supernova” of nondual, mystical consciousness in 16th century Spain, before it all but disappeared in Europe for five hundred years in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the invention of the printing press. Both Teresa and John wrote detailed accounts of their lives and experiences with God, which makes them very accessible teachers. —Richard Rohr
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