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Wisdom from St. John of the Cross

alec vanderboom

"The honing of [St. John of the Cross] spirit came to a head in circumstances where his weakness was extreme; months of imprisonment in Toledo for his part in the Teresian reform. Transferred to a tiny, dark dungeon, where hunger, squalor and isolation could set to work. John was pushed there beyond the thresholds he had never had to cross before, into the unfamiliar regions, where his emotional and physical weakness would have made him very vulnerable.

And it is precisely here that John began composing his most personal poetry, from which his writings derive.

That then is the first indication for us from John about prayer; the place within us where not everything is all right, where the wound that is in you aches, John says: go there.

Go to that place of need, because that is the threshold at which Christ stands; our need is an evidence of God. . .

Let your need be your prayer.

This, then is one of the seasons of prayer in St. John of the Cross. We have been led by him to Cana, the family wedding where the wine runs out. Mary sees the anxiety, and has a quiet word with her Son just pointing out what she has noticed.

this is a scene with cosmic scope: the wedding of the Lamb, espousing humanity, a humanity in peril. The mother of Jesus perceives what is lacking, and names it, without dictating a solution: "They have no wine." Hers is a prayer of need; her perception of need is a prayer. She takes it, hold it. allows it to ache before Him. And that precipitates glory. He "manifested his glory, and his disciples believed in him."

This, then, is a way of prayer; to feel our way to the wound that is in us, to the place of our need. Go there, take it, name it; hold it before Christ.

To feel our way to the wounds of the world, to those people or situations in dire need of healing. Go there, take them, name them, and hold them before Him.

Go there, not to dictate to Christ what the answer should be or what he should do about it; but to hold the wound before Him.

"They have no wine." John of the Cross sees wisdom here. A love which does not spell out "what it needs or wants, but holds out its need so that the Beloved might do what pleases him" is especially powerful.

"St. John of the Cross and the Seasons of Prayer," Iain Matthew, O.C.D.