in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A New Wisdom for a New Year


 
 

As I pack my bags to leave for India early tomorrow morning I would just like to mention one special achievement of 2013. During the summer Markus Werner, a young German film-maker, sent me his latest piece ‘One Wisdom’. It is essentially this young man’s journey through contemporary Europe trying to take the spiritual temperature of the continent. As you will see he encountered many people who felt that rather than this being a time of despair and bleakness it is, on the contrary, a kairos moment for us and our generation. God is speaking strongly at this time and it is our duty to listen to him. I met Markus on the beautiful island of Iona a couple of summers ago when I was leading a retreat with Ali Newell, a Church of Scotland minister, on the theme of sexuality and spirituality. The group was extremely varied but as we shared our own journeys and encountered the spirit within our wounds we found that the ancient power of the island healed and bonded us. Markus interviewed me during this time on the theme of mystical theology and you can see some of the interview on the film (see http://www.onewisdom.twentyonevision.com/?lang=en).

Whilst running another workshop in the autumn this year with my friend Hymie Wyse at the World Community for Christian Meditation in Islington similar questions arose as those which Markus explores in his film. The comment that caused the debate there came from the book Thomas Merton wrote in the early 1960s but was not allowed to publish – Peace in the Post-Christian Era, here it is in full:

‘We live in an irreligious post-Christian world in which the Christian message has been repeated over and over until it has come to seem empty of all intelligible content to those whose ears close to the word of God even before it is uttered. In their minds Christian is no longer identified with newness and change, but only with the static preservation of outworn structures.’ (Merton 2004:128)

I maintained then and I maintain now that Merton truly was a prophet ahead of his times... 50 years ahead to be precise. It is as though we are now living in the era that Merton wrote about so presciently fifty years ago. Yet, and this is what caused the debate last autumn, is it fair to call it an ‘irreligious’ era? Many of the group last autumn felt not, and listening to young seekers such as Markus I think they would be right. The spiritual call is as strong as ever and is creating new initiatives on a daily basis.

According to traditional Roman practice tomorrow is the day of sacrifice to Janus – the double-faced god who presides over the door of all new beginnings. As our Christmas Octave draws to a close and we prepare for the great mysteries of the Theophany on the 6th January let us throw open the doors of the temples of our minds to these fresh new beginnings in the New Year where God will lead us ‘where we would rather not go’.

 

Happy New Year!

 

Peter

 

 

 

Sunday, 29 December 2013

‘The Globalization of Indifference’: the Holy Family as Political Refugees


 

 

‘And Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. In this way, what the Lord had said through the prophet was fulfilled: I called my son out of Egypt.

After Herod's death, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go back to the land of Israel, because those who tried to kill the child are dead." So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

But when Joseph heard that Archilaus had succeeded his father Herod as king of Judea, he was afraid to go there. He was given further instructions in a dream, and went to the region of Galilee.’
Mt 2:14-15, 19-22

 

The readings for the liturgy today graphically describe the early years of Jesus’ life as a political refugee. As we watch the TV daily with images of refugees from Egypt, Syria, Iraq and a hundred and one other conflict zones it seems incredible to think that we are looking into the eyes of the infant Christ. Pope Francis recognised this when he visited the island of Lampedusa in Italy last July, shortly after being elected Pope, to show solidarity with the islanders and those who had been so cruelly deprived of their lives there. As he encouraged the folk of Lampedusa he had some salutary words for us all too:

 

In Spanish literature we have a comedy of Lope de Vega which tells how the people of the town of Fuente Ovejuna kill their governor because he is a tyrant. They do it in such a way that no one knows who the actual killer is. So when the royal judge asks: "Who killed the governor?", they all reply: "Fuente Ovejuna, sir". Everybody and nobody! Today too, the question has to be asked: Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours? Nobody! That is our answer: It isn’t me; I don’t have anything to do with it; it must be someone else, but certainly not me. Yet God is asking each of us: "Where is the blood of your brother which cries out to me?" Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: "poor soul…!", and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!’

( Homily of Pope Francis at the "Arena" sports camp, Salina Quarter, Lampedusa, Monday, 8 July 2013)

 

Christmas itself is a ‘Janus-headed’ feast – it is the feast of contradictions – and opposites. We fight darkness with light, cold with warmth, sadness with joy. Like the ghouls of pestilence gnawing at the feet of the Spirit of Christmas Present, the opposite is never quite dispelled during this disconcerting, reversing time. The king of Creation is born in a stable, Magi fall at the feet of an infant, shepherds become the heralds of a new era and children become bishops while fools become wise. As we sit in our feasting halls in the warmth, light and smoke, a small lost bird flits disconcertedly in and flutters uncertainly above the revelries – only to disappear again into the engulfing darknesses outside.

Easter is the feast of gathering light and warmth – it is meant to be the feast of contradictions, but ultimately warmth and light triumph. Christmas, on the other hand, hangs in a strange stasis for eight days. Time is somehow suspended – what we used to call as children ‘between the years’. At the end of the great sparkling feast when comets blazed during the night, shepherds danced and animals gazed softly we are left with the fury of Herod and a pile of infant corpses. Even the Holy Family must ultimately flee as a dictator takes hold of the Holy Land with blood on his hands...

So let us use this time to reflect on Pope Francis’ words and make a resolution for the new year that we shall not be part of the ‘globalization of indifference’ and that our new year really will make a difference to relieve the poverty and suffering of others...

I shall be heading to India on New Year’s Day so if I do not put up a posting before then I will do so once I am in India. In the meantime I hope you enjoy the rest of the holiday and start 2014 refreshed and revived.

 

Best wishes

 

Peter

 

Friday, 27 December 2013

‘Mind the Gap!’ – Mindless Thoughts at Christmas...


 
 
 
 
I finished today a contribution to a new book on ‘unknowing and professional practice’ by a friend and former student of mine, Steven D’Souza. Steven is an engaging lecturer who works between the business world and the world of mindfulness, meditation and unknowing (you can find more about his work on http://www.brilliantnetworking.net/about-steven). His skill lies in crossing the boundaries between the two and I am looking forward to reading the whole book when it comes out next year (I shall post details here when they become available). In the meantime here is my extract for some ‘mindless thoughts’ at this time of year. I will write a little more about that in the next few days...

 

Best

 

Peter

 

The Way of Unknowing

 

The way of unknowing is a way of speaking, a way of acting and a way of being that has a historic pedigree in Western culture. Writing to his brother at the beginning of the 19th Century, the English poet John Keats talked about the need for the poet to develop a ‘negative capablility’ in their approach to their task. That is, a state of being where we are: ‘capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’ (Keats 1970:43). Yet, Keats himself was only the latest of a long line of ‘unknowers’ who had developed this skill from the medieval world and beyond. The ‘masters’ of this school were found particularly in the University of Paris in the 12th and 13th Centuries. These scholars worked with a mysterious text known as the Theologia Mystica and ascribed (apocryphally) to the disciple of St Paul of that name mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. Dionysius’ way of unknowing was straightforward: anything we can say of God, cannot, by definition, be God. God, as Creator, cannot be defined by us, creatures. Therefore an impasse or abyss gapes between what we want to say about God and what God is in God’s self. Now this may seem to be a rather esoteric, and best forgotten, medieval theological nicety... however Dionysius’s views have never really gone away from the Western mind because, as the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, put it, our language is always referring to that which is beyond language but cannot grasp. Language and discourse, suggests Wittgenstein, is a choreography between what is said and what is not said, or rather, what is said and what is shown. Our intellects can grasp only one half of the equation and for full reality to be present both the known and the unknown – the said and the shown – must be present.

          Nowhere is this better illustrated for me than in my work as a psychotherapist. Whenever a client comes into the room I have two choices: either I try to fill their discourse (and mine) with all the expressions of my learning, erudition and training, or, I try (and this is more difficult) to enter into the place of unknowing where the discourse of my client can begin to show itself in harmony with my own unknowing. As Wilfred Bion, the British Object Relations analyst, put it:

When we are in the office with a patient we have to dare to rest. It is difficult to see what is at all frightening about that, but it is. It is difficult to remain quiet and let the patient have a chance to say  whatever he or she has to say. It is frightening for the patient – and the patient hates it. We are under constant pressure to say something, to admit that we are doctors or psychoanalysts or social workers to supply some box into which we can be put complete with a label. (Bion 1980:11)

Rather than being the erudite professional, Bion exhorts us to:

Discard your memory; discard the future tense of our desire; forget them both, both what you knew and what you want, to leave space for a new idea. (Bion 1980:11)

He suggested we must have the courage and humility to step into this ‘space of unknowing’ when we engage with others. A place that requires us to put aside our memories, our need to control, our need to define – all the whirring chatter of the ‘monkey mind’ – and allow ourselves to be present for the other before us. In my own case this would be a matter of putting to one side the associations and thoughts that arise when the person enters the room and rather listening to the present moment and what that person is bringing to the encounter in the here and now. This can sometimes take a surprising turn and one of the key tasks of the ‘mindless therapist’ is to be surprised! The surprise can come mentally in an idea, picture or even tune that comes to mind, or physically in a sensation or emotion that arises. Before the session begins I always do a quick self-scan or self-check to ascertain where I am myself emotionally, physically and psychologically. In nine times out of ten, when a new or surprising feeling, thought, physical sensation or emotion occurs during the session I can be pretty sure it has been influenced by the presence of the other before me. This may take the form of a tightening in the head or shoulders, a sense of anger, fear or lethargy, even a picture or striking memory that has not occurred to me for some time. All the classic material referred to by psychologists as ‘transference and counter-transference’, but by practising the presence of unknowing these sensations, feelings and thoughts can be thrown into greater relief so that we are then in a better position to isolate them and work with them in a more conscious way with our client. Once they arise we have the choice to share them with the client or keep quiet... making the decision of what to present and how is probably where the skill of the therapist lies, and I must say that after nearly 20 years of practice this is one area where experience comes to our aid. As the Germans say, it is a ‘finger tip feel’.

          In summary, then, I think the mistake would be to see this path of unknowing as a way of ignorance. Nothing could be further from the case. The medievals called it the way of stulta sapientia, literally ‘learned ignorance’ or ‘foolish wisdom’: yes we must train in the skills of our profession, whether it be a business manager, doctor, nurse, psychoanalyst or teacher, but, and this is a big but, we must learn to know when to keep silent - when to let the demands of the ego quieten and the unknown element of showing reveal itself. This art of when to speak and when to keep silent makes the difference in the refined art of interpersonal encounter. As testified in the examples of this book, this moment can be a moment of extraordinary revelation and insight. In a world saturated with information, false ‘knowing’ and the blinkered opinions of ‘specialists’ I would suggest the time for ‘learned ignorance’ has returned... no more so than in the highly stressed and driven worlds of commerce, transaction and business.

 

Bibliography

Bion, W. (1980)    Bion in New York and São Paulo. Strath Tay, Perthshire: Clunie Press

Keats, J. (1970)     The Letters of John Keats: A Selection. Ed, R. Gittings. Oxford: Blackwell

 

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas Epilogue

Happy Christmas Everyone... and yes the robins sang again last night... 10 counted on my walk home from church!

Have a great day

Peter

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Twenty Glances at the Infant Jesus


Twenty Glances at the Infant Jesus



In 1944, during the darkest moments of the Second World War and after being released from a German Concentration Camp, the French composer, Olivier Messiaen (1908 – 1992), completed his most ambitious piece to date: a cycle of twenty intense piano pieces that spiral around the moment of the Incarnation. As we enter that mysterious space once again (what Meister Eckhart called the ‘now-moment’) I find myself returning each year to Messiaen’s mystical pieces. On first acquaintance they may seem a confusing and disparate collection of visions inspired by the Incarnation – but with continued listening, and some knowledge of his favourite authors such as St John of the Cross and Dom Columba Marmion, they begin to reveal their intensely beautiful symmetry and ecstasy.

The twenty titles are as follows:

1.    Regard du Père ("The Glance of the Father")

2.    Regard de l'étoile ("The Glance of the Star")

3.    L'échange ("The exchange")

4.    Regard de la Vierge ("The Glance of the Virgin")

5.    Regard du Fils sur le Fils ("The Glance of the Son upon the Son")

6.    Par Lui tout a été fait ("Through Him all things were made")

7.    Regard de la Croix ("The Glance of the Cross")

8.    Regard des hauteurs ("The Glance of the Heights")

9.    Regard du temps ("The Glance of Time")

10.Regard de l'Esprit de joie ("The Glance of the Spirit of Joy")

11.Première communion de la Vierge ("The First Communion of the Virgin")

12.La parole toute-puissante ("The All-powerful Word")

13.Noël ("Christmas")

14.Regard des Anges ("The Glance of the Angels")

15.Le baiser de l'Enfant-Jésus ("The Kiss of the Infant Jesus")

16.Regard des prophètes, des bergers et des Mages ("The Glance of the Prophets, Shepherds and Magi")

17.Regard du silence ("The Glance of Silence")

18.Regard de l'Onction terrible ("The Glance of the Terrible Anointing")

19.Je dors, mais mon cœur veille ("I sleep, but my heart keeps watch")

20.Regard de l'Eglise d'amour ("The Glance of the Church of love")

Throughout all twenty (which take over two hours to perform – gruelling for performer and audience alike and perfect therefore for repeated listening at home in small sections) Messiaen reproduces and ‘riffs’ on repeated themes that go the heart of the Christmas mystery.



First there is the ‘theological’ framework of the Trinity contemplating itself: the Glance of the Father to the Son through the Holy Spirit (1,5,10) where the Son looks upon Himself in love. Here I am reminded of Erasmus’ translation of the first line of St John’s Gospel ( a translation my scripture scholar friends tell me is entirely appropriate): ‘In the beginning was the Conversation’. And out of this conversation all things are made. From this moment of self reflection within the Trinity arises...

The Second Thread – the Deity revealing itself through the cosmic forces of time, space and energy (2,6,8,9). Messiaen’s vision here seems to coincide with our recent ‘visions’ of the cosmos through our increasingly powerful telescopes: ‘huge expanses of space and duration, galaxies, photons, contrary spirals, inverted lightening’. We gaze in awe at the energies of time and space as the Conversation appears before us. It is indeed ‘all powerful’ (12), for the infant that lies before us so helpless will indeed come again ‘in all power’ to be our Judge.

Yet with the contemplation of the all-powerful comes the contemplation of humility, simplicity and innocence. The Conversation incarnates in a simple barn on a quiet night on the edge of the world. Life goes on regardless, as in a Brueghel painting, while the Almighty One chooses simplicity for its home. Messiaen chooses to depict the simplicity of the Incarnation through his delicate depictions of Maria (4,11,19) and here we find some of gentlest music (if you would like to hear one of these... which I think is the most beautiful of the cycle: ‘I sleep but my heart is awake’ go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VK8mMwCLyGk ). The Virgin ‘receives her first communion’ as the Child Jesus forms within her – a uniquely French contemplation that has all the simplicity and beauty of the writings of Thérèse of Lisieux who also influenced Messiaen at this point.

Whilst considering the thread of simplicity and the everyday that Messiaen brings to his depiction we cannot forget his favourite subjects – the birds. These sing, whistle and warble (larks, nightingales and blackbirds) in Glances 8, 11 and 14. I have noticed recently that on the nights leading up to Christmas and on Christmas night itself robins, and even last year thrushes, have sung throughout the night for the past few years. Whether this is due to global warming or birds overwintering here from a cold-locked Europe I cannot say. All I know is that each year when I return from Midnight Mass I step out into the garden and in the silence of the night a chorus of quiet song greets the Infant Jesus – Messiaen was right!

And as the infant is carolled by the birds so Messiaen then depicts the reception of the Incarnation on Christmas morning by all beings visible and invisible: shepherds, prophets, sages, angels and people (13, 14, 16). Full of astonishment and wonder, the Angels (‘thy servants are the flames of fire’) gather round the cradle. As St Hildegard of Bingen reminds us, the Angels are astonished by us for we bridge the realms of matter and spirit – something they cannot do. On their heels come the philosophers, theologians and wise ones trying to dispute the theological nature of Christ, and usually failing. Messiaen gives them a strange, odd dance with jumping rhythm (as Berlioz did in his ‘Enfance du Christ’), try as we like us theologians can never capture the supreme mystery of this moment...

Before he concludes the cycle with his Vision of the Eternal Church, Messiaen also weaves into his poem the whole point of the Incarnation: the Cross (3, 7, 18). The constant theme that stops Christmas becoming a schmaltz-fest. The agony of the suffering of Christ stops us over-sentimentalising the birth and Messiaen brings it back to the centre of the message of the Incarnation.

And then there is the Grand Finale – the Vision of the Eternal Church of Love (20) – that is – us. ‘After the showers of light in the night, the spirals of anguish, here are the bells, the glory and the kiss of love – the whole passion of arms around the Invisible’. As the Bride arises from her bedchamber we return to where we started in the embrace of the Almighty sanctified in this first Holy Communion. For this is indeed a night most truly blessed, more beautiful than the dawn when God becomes human so that, at long last, humanity may embrace the Divine...

I wish you all a very Happy and Peaceful Christmas as the Mystery unfolds itself before you over the next eight days and remember in particular all those who will today take the next step of the path from the visible to the invisible...

 

Peter

 

 

Monday, 16 December 2013

O Wisdom! You Hold All Things Together in a Strong Yet Gentle Fashion...





Finally I can put the Christmas tree up today... I always wait to the last moment in an attempt to keep some of the mystery, beauty and magic of Advent in the onward rush of Christmas commercialism. One half of me would like to condemn the commercialism, but the other half sees that people are attracted to something... they don’t seem to know what... that speaks of the transcendent and the mystery at the heart of human life.

Why 17th December?

It is the beginning of what are called the ‘Great O Antiphons’ that will be sung at Evening Prayer in the Catholic tradition from now until Christmas Eve. They are sung at the moment in the prayer when the great song of Mary, the Magnificat, occurs and seems to link the mystery of the Incarnation with that of Mary as the vessel of salvation. Today’s, in Latin, reads:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,

attingens a fine usque ad finem,

fortiter suaviter disponens que omnia:

veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

 

And translates as:

 

O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High.

You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle fashion.

O come to teach us the way of truth.

 

And the following six form a mini-sermon on the nature of the Incarnation and its significance:

18th December

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,

who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush

and gave him the law on Sinai:

O come and save us with your mighty power.

 

19th December

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the nations;

Kings fall silent before you whom the peoples acclaim,

O come and deliver us and do not delay.

 

20th December

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;

What you open, no one else can close again;

What you close no one can open.

O come and lead the captives from prison,

Free those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.

 

21st December

O Rising Sun,

You are the splendour of eternal light and the sun of righteousness:

O come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.

 

22nd December

O King whom all the nations desire,

You are the cornerstone making all one:

O come and save the human race,

which you fashioned from clay.

 

23rd December

O Emmanuel, who is our king and our lawgiver,

the hope of the nations and their Saviour:

O come and save us, O Lord our God.

 

Traditionally the seven names given to Christ: Wisdom (Sapientia), Ruler of the House of Israel (Adonai), Root of Jesse (Radix), Key of David (Clavis), Rising Sun (Oriens), King (Rex) and Emmanuel form the letters SARCORE which when reversed becomes ‘ero cras’ – ‘tomorrow I will be’ – the beginning of Christmas on Christmas Eve.

I shall be taking each one as the basis for my meditation over the next 7 days and find that they contain such a wealth of rich images to counteract the most hardcore commercialism we find ourselves in. In this respect I am reminded of the wonderful poem by the American beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a friend of Thomas Merton’s, which for me encapsulates this strange last week before Christmas when we exist between the two worlds of commercial mayhem and the transcendent reality of Christ's presence – but more on that later when I blog after Christmas. For now here is Ferlinghetti’s poem…

 

Happy Advent!

 

Peter

 

CHRIST CLIMBED DOWN

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck crèches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
Pennsylvania
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody’s imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carolers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings

 

 

 

 

Friday, 13 December 2013

Happy Feast Day - St John of the Cross! Viva San Juan de La Cruz!






On this day 422 years ago a young Spanish man died an agonising death in the small Andalusian town of Ubeda. Almost as soon as he died rumours began to circulate about strange events connected with his life and death. It was said that as a boy he had fallen into a deep well and as he struggled against the water a beautiful lady had appeared to him and brought him to safety. Later, as an older friar, a fire had raged through the Sierra of Andalusia threatening his community's home - using a crucifix and through prayer he had managed to turn back the flames...

These were clearly remarkable events and give testimony to the young man's ability to transcend the ordinary boundaries of time, space and causality. Such is the stuff of legends, saints and wonderworkers and it would be churlish, in our empirical age, to deny him those wonders for which the Spanish people have long venerated his memory.

Yet, while the myth-making machinery was under way another story became attached to the young man - he had defied religious authorities. He was 'contumacious', unruly and undisciplined. There was a certain amount of guilt about how his superiors had treated him - had he not been imprisoned for nine months? Surely there is no smoke without fire? He MUST have done something wrong? And why did all his superiors have arguments with him anyway?

John was a problem then and he remains a problem today. His co-worker, St Teresa of Avila, was canonised by the Catholic Church within a few years of her death. John had to wait 150 years after his death - and several generations - before this political and theological hot potato would be accepted (and even then reluctantly in some quarters) by the church authorities.

Thorn-bush he may have been - but he was also a gentle man. In this I am reminded of the late Nelson Mandela. Another prophet who emerged transfigured from a potentially brutalising incarceration. As Mandela emerged, a changed man, after his 27 years in prison, so too did John after his 'dark night' in the Toledo dungeon - unlike Mandela emerging alone in the middle of the night and wandering through the empty streets trying to seek refuge before dawn. All doors were closed to him but a kindly nightwatchman let him spend the last hours before dawn in the entrance to a palace just off the Plaza de Zocodover. As dawn approached - O Alborado! - he staggered through the streets seeking the poor little house where Teresa's fledgling nuns lived. He banged on the door and eventually one of the sisters recognised him - disfigured as he was.Yet, and once again we have another of those stories, we hear that once he received the kindness of the sisters - a dish of stewed pears, a gentle smile, a little Spanish song sung in a low voice - he finally broke down completely. The wiry little man had been broken on the wheel - and out of this wound flowed a thousand graces: an ocean of poetry flooded over the man and John himself was born along on it like a little helpless cork - 'all those who wonder see a thousand graces in your face...'

From this time his, and Teresa's, order, the Discalced Carmelites, prospered so that today there are now very few lands where they do not have a presence. Dispensing that same simple kindness - through a quiet thoughtful presence - to the dispossessed, fragile victims of the brutality of our broken world.  The poetry he wrote in prison, and later in the warm South, is now acknowledged to be some of the finest in Spanish literature. But, over and over again, like Mandela, what remains is the gentle presence of the man - a quiet, honourable soul who stared into the eyes of his oppressors and was able to return their hatred with love: 'where there is no love, put love', he wrote at the end of his journey, 'and you will end up drawing out love.'

'John of the Cross left a message today', wrote the great Glaswegian poet Edwin Morgan, 'he asked you to remember that love and death once met...'

Happy Feast Day Juan de la Cruz! RIP Nelson Mandela, 1918 - 2013