Love: Week 1
Searching for Love
Friday, November 2, 2018
All Souls’ Day
John of the Cross (1542-1591) is one of many Christian mystics who writes about being loved by God in an intimate way. My friend and fellow CAC faculty member James Finley reflects on John’s Dark Night of the Soul as a journey deeper into love:
John of the Cross says we get all tangled up in suffering, and we get all tangled up in searching for love. The root of suffering is the deprivation of love. Now in reality, there’s no such thing as the deprivation of love, because the infinite love of God invincibly pervades and gives itself endlessly to everyone and to all things everywhere. There is no such thing as a deprivation of love, but there is the deprivation of the capacity to experience the love that is never missing. Therefore, my spiritual practice is to look within for the places that are blocking my ability to experience the flow of an immense tenderness that is endlessly giving itself to me in all situations.
The Dark Night of the Soul as described by John of the Cross is actually a tender, merciful art form of love. It very mysteriously dislodges us from whatever is keeping us in the stuck places. Sometimes it is disarmingly joyful and sometimes it is disarmingly painful; but if we lean into it and move with its rhythm, love charts its own course and brings us to a deep understanding of God’s love.
Thomas Merton once said we spend most of our lives under water. Every so often our head clears the surface and we look around and get our bearings. Then blik, we go back under again. In the moments when we get our bearings, we realize, “Oh my God! Look how endlessly trustworthy life is! Look at the God-given, godly nature of simple things!”
John of the Cross says these touches of love go on and on until pretty soon there begins to grow in us a kind of homesickness or longing for a more daily abiding experience of the depths of love we have so fleetingly glimpsed.
What lovers would be content with chance passing encounters in the street? The more in love with each other they are, the more one with each other they want to be all the time. Likewise, there begins to grow in us a holy discontent for spending so many of our waking hours trapped on the outer circumference of the inner richness of the life that we are living. We long to stabilize ourselves in love throughout the rhythmic dance of life.
The more deeply we experience God’s love, the more elusive its consummation seems. There are flares of love, as we momentarily melt into God and God melts into us. Then, like glowing embers, we live in an underlying habitual state of love’s glow. And, in love’s glow, we come to an extraordinary realization: The absence of the Beloved is the Beloved, giving himself or herself to me as the experience of the Beloved.
Building on Finley’s insights, the Dark Night purifies us of our attachment to feelings of union and comfort. Christ lying in the tomb is still Christ—preparing for a resurrection that cannot even be imagined. Today, on All Souls’ Day, may we choose to live in union with all who are still in the dark tomb, faithfully waiting for a certain resurrection.