St John of the Cross in his famous work, The Spiritual Canticle, wrote:
“You do very well to seek [God] always as one hidden. You Honour Him greatly and indeed come near to Him, when you hold Him to be nobler and deeper than anything you can attain. So do not settle down or try to find a corner in what your mind and heart can grasp…And do not be like many heartless people who have a low opinion of God: they think that when they cannot understand Him or sense or feel Him, he is further away—when the truth is more the opposite: it is when you understand him less clearly that you are coming closer to Him….”
I found these words to be very helpful for me. Although it sounds like a contradiction in terms, St John of the Cross’ writing actually takes the burden off of us to try to figure out all the answers to life’s questions. These words of St John (who is not always the easiest person to understand) also help us when we confront what seems emptiness when we turn to God in prayer.
He would say that feeling God is absent doesn’t mean he is absent. The feeling of emptiness need not mean that we are doing something wrong when we pray. What a relief to know this!
A few minutes ago we heard these words: “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! How inscrutable—in others words, how unknowable. And St. John of the Cross, in his Spiritual Canticle, is saying that it’s ok to not understand God—it’s actually a good thing!
So, how can we ever get to know God? How can we figure this mysterious God out? John would say this: Believing, hoping, loving are the only means, and they are means by which a person is directly ‘united’ with God.
This insight gives us the courage to persevere in our faith and have confidence that God never abandons us, even in the most trying of times. These words also encourage us to be hopeful, and not give into cynicism, thinking that “it will never change”, or “things will never change” and closing the doors on the future.
And loving the way that Christ loves us will always call us beyond “me and my concerns”. It will offer us a new vision where we stop looking at events just on the surface. We learn more and more to TRUST God and allow ourselves to be open to his hidden purposes.
So, in the end, we see that St. John of the Cross’ message is not some obscure highly theological play on words, but real practical advice that reaches across the centuries to offer us guidance for all of us in this complicated world of the 21st Century.
So, I will let John of the Cross have the last word (today). He would write this often in his letters when he wanted to say something that would help. So, these words are offered to help to all of us: “Live only in (dark and) genuine faith, and sure hope, and unmitigated love…Be joyful, and trust in God.”