Thursday, March 27, 2008

The words of a mystic

What is the definition of a Christian Mystic? I feel that to try to box in and define it too closely would be one cruel irony indeed. So in the spirit of mysticism, instead of a definition, here is a poem. It was written in the 1500's by a Spanish Mystic called St John of the Cross and even though 500 years old and translated from the original Spanish it still seems to me the most beautiful explanation of what Christian Mysticism is. Its not an attempt to quantify and define God but rather it embraces Him, explores His depths, longs for Him and loves Him. What better definition could I offer than this?

The Dark Night

By St. John of the Cross

One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
- ah, the sheer grace! -
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
- ah, the sheer grace! -
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
- him I knew so well -
there in a place where no one appeared.

O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

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.

From: THE COLLECTED WORKS OF ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, revised edition (1991).

Copyright 1991 ICS Publications.


Eugene said...

While I cannot comment on the accuracy of the translation I have decided to include the more lyrical translation by Loreena McKennitt here as well:
Upon a darkened night
the flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright
I fled my house while all in quiet rest

Shrouded by the night
and by the secret stair I quickly fled
The veil concealed my eyes
while all within lay quiet as the dead

Oh night thou was my guide
oh night more loving than the rising sun
Oh night that joined the lover
to the beloved one
transforming each of them into the other

Upon that misty night
in secrecy, beyond such mortal sight
Without a guide or light
than that which burned so deeply in my heart

That fire t'was led me on
and shone more bright than of the midday sun
To where he waited still
it was a place where no one else could come


Within my pounding heart
which kept itself entirely for him
He fell into his sleep
beneath the cedars all my love I gave
And by the fortress walls
the wind would brush his hair against his brow
And with its smoothest hand
caressed my every sense it would allow


I lost myself to him
and laid my face upon my lovers breast
And care and grief grew dim
as in the mornings mist became the light
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair

RandomSue said...

More beautiful than I can find words to describe. I get this on so many levels. Thanks for posting this. Glimpses of your heart. The very beginning of something much bigger than yourself...