in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Saturday, 13 December 2014

John of the Cross - Spiritual Rules for the Soul

Happy Fiesta of Saint John of the Cross!

Every year as the mayhem of Christmas approaches I find the quiet feast day of this gentle man a little oasis of calm and peace. To celebrate his feast day (and for Catholics it is 'Rejoicing/Gaudate Sunday' too), I share with you John's rules for the soul from my 'St John of the Cross: Outstanding Christian Thinker'. John, the eternal introvert and 'quiet man' continues his simple ministry away from the world of glamour and pride. Often people will take me aside and have a quiet word about his teaching. So, on this quiet night so near to the darkest day of the year let us remember in our prayers and thoughts those who are travelling through the dark night - whether of intellect, heart or spirit - and ask that they will soon see 'the night, more lovely than the dawn'.

Viva Juan de La Cruz!

John’s Spiritual Rules for the Soul


(From ‘ St John of the Cross – Outstanding Christian Thinker’, Continuum, 2010)

John adheres to three spiritual rules regarding God’s action in the soul:


1. God acts on the soul in an orderly fashion.

2. God acts gently on the soul.

3. God instructs us according to the state of our soul.


With regard to spiritual direction John is constantly advising the director to keep these three rules before their eyes at all times, knowing that God can only act and be received by someone in so far as they have the capacity to receive that action. However, throughout he continues to urge his charges to take on the steep ascent of Mount Carmel to reach the ultimate goal of nada-todo at the peak of the mountain:


Wipe away, O spiritual soul, the dust, hairs, and stains, and cleanse your eye; and the bright sun will illumine you, and you will see clearly. Pacify the soul, draw it out, and liberate it from the yoke and slavery of its own weak operation, which is the captivity of Egypt (amounting to not much more than gathering straws for baking bricks). And, O spiritual master, guide it to the land of promise flowing with milk and honey. Behold that for this holy liberty and idleness of the children of God, God calls the soul to the desert, where it journeys festively clothed and adorned with gold and silver jewels, since it has now left Egypt and been despoiled of its riches. (LF 3.38)


Thus, as always with John, we have a paradox between the shining splendid goal that is placed before us and to which we should aspire alongside the sympathetic warmth of his acceptance of our fragile nature and our incompleteness at this time before the Lord. John does not take his eye off the ultimate prizes but always tempers his message with the warmth of a seasoned pastoral counsellor.

The ultimate aim of the director, then, for John is to lead the soul to greater ‘solitude, tranquility, and freedom of spirit’ (LF 3.46). This latter quality, ‘freedom of spirit’ is very much at the heart of John’s whole theology and teaching on the life of the spirit:


When the soul frees itself of all things and attains to emptiness and dispossession concerning them, which is equivalent to what it can do of itself, it is impossible that God fail to do his part by communicating himself to it, at least silently and secretly. It is more impossible than it would be for the sun not to shine on clear and uncluttered ground. As the sun rises in the morning and shines on your house so that its light may enter if you open the shutters, so God, who in watching over Israel does not doze or, still less, sleep, will enter the soul that is empty, and fill it with divine goods. (LF 3.46)




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