St. John of the Cross also has his day in dark December, just the day after St. Lucy in fact. So I am posting this ‘extra’ reflection and poem which I composed after Waiting on the Word was published, so it wasn’t included in my Advent Sequence.
John of the Cross is the saint who, more than any other, understood and dealt with the darkness that sometimes comes upon us, the saint who gave us the phrase ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’. He encountered darkness not only spiritually and psychologically, but actually: both physical darkness and the darkness of human evil when he was imprisoned in a dark dungeon by fellow Christians and indeed, members of his own order! But he did not give in to darkness, rather he perceived that it might become fruitful, the darkness not of evil but of God, that the way down might become the way up, that hidden even in the deepest darkness was the promise of that light which the darkness can never overcome. So he wrote that beautiful poem ‘Although it is the Night’, which Seamus Heaney translated so movingly, opening with the line:
How well I know that fountain, filling., running,
Although it is the night.
The other deep element in his writing is the way he understands Christ as our true lover and is able to draw on the deepest language of human loving to give voice to his intimate relationship with Christ.
I have drawn on ‘Although it is the Night’, poem and on some of the elements in his story and his spiritual writings in making the following sonnet in his honour. My sonnet also reflects on the fact that his day falls in Advent when we are all waiting in Darkness for the coming of God’s marvellous light.
This sonnet has now been collected and published by Canterbury Press in my new book Parable and Paradox. As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the title or the ‘play button’. There is a very fine meditation on St. John of the Cross and a song to go with it on Steve Bell‘s lovely Advent book in his Pilgrim year series which you can find Here
John of the Cross
Deep in the dark your brothers locked you up
But not so deep as your dear Love could dive,
There at the end of colour, sense and shape,
The dark dead end that tells us we’re alive,
You sang aloud and found your absent lover,
As light’s true end comes with the end of light.
In the rich midnight came the lovely other,
You saw him plain although it was the night.
And now you call us all to hear that Fountain
Singing and playing well before the Dawn
The sun is still below this shadowed mountain
We wait in darkness for him to be born.
Before he rises, light-winged with the lark,
We’ll meet with our beloved in the dark.
3 responses to “St. John of the Cross; a sonnet”
I love that the artwork of El Greco comes at the end of the sonnet. It is a good punctuation, if I may. I am thinking like a student again, and I appreciate this class, on the corner of Exegesis and Close Reading. Thank you Malcolm.
Beautiful. Thank you.
“…even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.”
A fine quotation.
Psalm 36:9: “For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.”