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Forgotten among the lilies

by davesandel on December 14th, 2021

Tuesday, December 14, 2021                                     (today’s lectionary)

Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Forgotten among the lilies

I keep drinking cold water. Jasper fell asleep in the Trader Joe’s cart, and then we ate chicken legs together, and molasses cookies. The blue Texas sky is gray and the low last night was 34 degrees. There have been awful tornadoes in Margaret’s nesting box, as well as her college country in Kentucky. Our friends are OK. My dark, Spanish, would-be friend John of the Cross has his special day today, on the day of his death in 1591 at age 49.

John had his serious side, but his love for Jesus burst out of him over and over. He escaped from imprisonment by fellow monks. He wrote poetry about God’s love for him (and his for God) that rings with joy and truth and is praised as the best ever written in the Spanish language. He agreed to become the spiritual director for Teresa of Avila, and together they re-inspired the Carmelite order of monks and nuns.

I will change and purify the lips of the peoples, that they all may call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one accord, from beyond the rivers of Ethiopia and as far as the recesses of the North.

John died too soon, and within a hundred years was made a saint. The Spanish people loved him and proved it by removing arms and legs from his corpse, as it moved around Spain before settling in Segovia. John is NOT the patron saint of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, but of contemplatives and the contemplative life, mystics and mystical theology, and Spanish poets.

You need not be ashamed of all your deeds, your rebellious actions against me. For I will remove from your midst the proud braggarts, and you shall no longer exalt yourself on my holy mountain. But I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord.

Perhaps on a warmer day we could go on a picnic with John, at the summit of Mt. Carmel. Pilgrims and former soldiers of the Crusades settled near the summit of Elijah’s mountain in northwestern Israel in the twelfth century and called themselves the Carmelites. Perhaps we could visit their graves.

But John cautions us about our path. The high places are enticing, but all the paths lead nowhere. Except one. In his map John drew a narrow path leading us straight to the top. But this path, although it leads us to our picnic ground, is forbidding. John wrote, “and on this path is NOTHING (nada), NOTHING (nada), NOTHING (nada), and still at the summit NOTHING!” Four nothings.

First, the straight path to God is dark, and faith alone can illumine it. Second, our experience of God is “darkness to our senses. It is painful to us because we must detach and withdraw from things not purely for God’s glory. “

A little of this detachment goes a long way. It isn’t long before I scratch and claw for a little taste, a little scent, a little touch of pleasure, or at least of pain – of something! God, you have placed me in a sensory deprivation tank. Let me know I’m real!. I think I’m going crazy.

John of the Cross is the best spiritual director you can have. “No, you’re not going crazy, David. You are moving up Mt. Carmel to our picnic ground. Be patient. Be still.” I mustn’t expect God to be here for me when my explicit desire is to be here for Him. “Oh God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

He has not.

The Lord hears the cry of the poor. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves. The Lord redeems the lives of his servants.

There is a third darkness, a third NOTHING, a third nada. The infinite God is darkness to my finite intellect. As I climb the mountain and reach its summit, neither my senses nor my ideas shed light on God. “Only the WILL to believe, to hope and to love remains.”

I remained myself and forgot myself

My face reclined on the lover

All ceased and I abandoned myself

Leaving my concern

Forgotten among the lilies.

Paul says I have been crucified with Christ. Paul goes on to resurrection, and so does John of the Cross. But these promises cannot be grasped, only received. Perhaps this is the fourth NOTHING, the fourth nada. The picnic is still scheduled, but I have no idea what day or what time. I can do nothing about that. And that’s OK. God’s in charge.

My job, my joy, is to listen for his footsteps.

(Zephaniah 3, Psalm 34, Matthew 21)

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