Walk in the Dark | St. John of the Cross

Imagine a person moving through a dark, cool room.

Scents of cellar dampness and forgotten items rest within the space, surfacing only once another object passes by.

An arm begins to raise forward - it’s hand grasping a smooth bronze holder. Soft light casts through the darkness, revealing the textured walls and floor beneath. For a moment, the person knows a portion of the space. The light flickers then ceases, preserving the source for later use.

They continue to move through the dark, cool room.

Contemplative traditions seek places within that remain hidden. Often our lives unfold in ways that leave us feeling as though we are mere observers, suspended without reins or agency. Catastrophes and traumas blend with rote patterns. Existence is something that happens to us, not something we actively participate in and change.

This ground provides fertile space for the spiritual practices. These help us move toward the unknown places, opening ourselves to correction and growth. Developed through the inner work of mystics, spiritual pilgrims, monks, nuns, heretics and heroines, there is a breadth of work left behind to aid us on the journey.

Every Monday evening, you can expect a small thought, challenge, poem or excerpt from some of these incredible leaders. Most will be from the Christian tradition, though not exclusively, Truth is not bound by our own patterns or comforts, but flows freely throughout our everyday experience.

This week we will begin exploring the work of St. John of the Cross, a man who dedicated his life to gathering spiritual pilgrims into community.

Though he began his spiritual journey as a member of the Carmelite order in the Holy Roman Catholic Church, John found himself seeking out another order known for their dedication to solitude and silent contemplation. They called themselves the Carthusians. As a newer order, the Carmelites had grown since their foundation in the twelfth century. Founded on similar practices as the Carthusians, they evolved into mendicant communities that sought to further the Church’s apostolic mission. Essentially, they moved from individual spirituality toward evangelicalism, fraught with all the normal pains caused when humans band together. Seeking authentic growth, St. John of the Cross was caught between choosing reform or schism. He became convinced of the later and decided the Carthusians offered the spiritual direction he sought. But as many of us know, convictions change, and one charismatic nun gave John an entirely new vision for what his life could look like. Her name was Teresa.

When you talk to people who study the Christian mystics, St. Teresa of Ávila inevitably makes their top-five list. She was a giant of her day. Educated, influential - a woman whose art and leadership revolutionized her community. After meeting Teresa, John scrapped his earlier plans and traveled throughout Spain helping her revitalize the Carmelite order. Admonishing a life of spiritual authenticity and growth, he helped her re-establish the order’s historic dedication to physical practices.

By merging community with his dedication to solitude and silence, St. John of the Cross lead a life of impact, challenging society and self.

Solitude and silence are classic resources mystics use to understand their own dark, cool rooms. There are many ways to begin practicing each.

Right now, one of our favorite resources to develop these are weekly and monthly guided meditations by the Liturgists.  You can learn more about them here. The monthly subscription costs about the same as a coffee. It's really good material and if you come on a Sunday we’ll reimburse your caffeine with some from our own roast-master.

For more suggestions and resources on how to develop your own practices of solitude and silence, email jon@costamesafirstumc.com.