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Forgotten among the lilies

by davesandel on December 14th, 2020

Monday, December 14, 2020             (today’s lectionary)

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

Forgotten among the lilies

 By what authority are you doing these things?

John, a Spanish Carmelite brother, spent months imprisoned in his own monastery because he insisted on changing things. Was he abrasive about this? I don’t know, but I know his meddling was not tolerated. His leaders expected him to die in his miserable cell, but a sympathetic jailer gave him pen and paper, and John wrote poetry that remains the best the Spanish language has to offer, and eventually escaped down the cliffside.

Make known your ways to me, O Lord, and teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.

He took refuge, as I recall, in a convent where Teresa of Avila became his spiritual directee. Together they challenged the bored, lazy habits of their religious order the Carmelites, and became known for their determination to walk without shoes, a simple, powerful symbolic act. They led the Discalsed Carmelites back into the desert, so to speak– back to the basics, back to Jesus.

I see him, though not now, and I behold him, though not near. A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel.

John lived at nearly the same time as Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits and author of the Ignatian Exercises. John’s great friend Teresa of Avila wrote The Interior Castle.  Catholic 16th century Spain seemed a fertile ground for mystics. But St. John was also a poet. His words help all of us see something of what he saw, caught up in his vision of God. His poetry includes the famous Dark Night of the Soul, which ends spectacularly:

I abandoned and forgot myself,

Laying my face on my Beloved.

All things ceased, I went out from myself

Leaving my cares

Forgotten among the lilies

Oh, that these beds of flowers, held high in ponds and strong in fields, that these lilies of field and stream would point the way to God. And yes, says St. John of the Cross, they do.

(Numbers 24, Psalm 25, Psalm 85, Matthew 21)

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One Comment
  1. Mary Lou Menches permalink

    Oh, would we one day be graced to lay our face on the Beloved’s! I’d quite forgotten specific passages that once moved me to simply be with Jesus. Thank you for this reminder of what once was, for me, a gift. Thomas Keating’s “The Secret Embrace,” a slender book of eight (?) poems from the last year or so of his life, suggests that he and St. John of the Cross may be best buddies today,

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