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Archive for the ‘Mysticism’ Category

For a number of years my husband and I belonged to a “mystics book group.”  We were an odd assortment of seekers, cynics, and gadflies from a variety of faith traditions, and we read some wonderfully thought-provoking books. 

What became clear after several years was that while there are real and substantive differences between religions, there is an underlying commonality between their mystical traditions.  Put St. Theresa of Avila, Sri Ramakrishna, Isaiah, Hildegard of Bingen, and Hafiz in a room together and they’d find a lot of talk about. 

One of the commonalities is their frequent use of the metaphor of the Beloved in relation to the divine.  You can see that imagery in the Song of Solomon, for example, and in the poems of the Sufi poet Rumi.  Through the centuries, in many places, eras, and cultures, these mystics have addressed God in passionate and erotic imagery, in a way that often scandalized their contemporaries.

One of the greatest mystics was the 16th-century Spanish friar St. John of the Cross.  His life is a good example of why there should be a song entitled, “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Mystics.”  Though he was eventually embraced by the church and named a saint, he was first accused of being a heretic, investigated by the Spanish Inquisition, thrown into prison, beaten, and nearly starved to death.

And what does he do while in prison?  He creates one of the most exquisite love poems to God ever written, The Dark Night of the Soul, which has been an inspiration for countless artists and seekers ever since. 

Here’s a modern rendition of that famous poem, sung by Loreena McKennitt.  Through the song, the voice of St. John of the Cross still speaks to us across the centuries.  (Lyrics are given below.)

Loreena McKennitt – The dark night of the soul

Upon a darkened night
the flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright
I fled my house while all in quiet rest

Shrouded by the night
and by the secret stair I quickly fled
The veil concealed my eyes
while all within lay quiet as the dead

Chorus
Oh night thou was my guide
oh night more loving than the rising sun
Oh night that joined the lover
to the beloved one
transforming each of them into the other

Upon that misty night
in secrecy, beyond such mortal sight
Without a guide or light
than that which burned so deeply in my heart

That fire t’was led me on
and shone more bright than of the midday sun
To where he waited still
it was a place where no one else could come

Chorus

Within my pounding heart
which kept itself entirely for him
He fell into his sleep
beneath the cedars all my love I gave
And by the fortress walls
the wind would brush his hair against his brow
And with its smoothest hand
caressed my every sense it would allow

Chorus

I lost myself to him
and laid my face upon my lovers breast
And care and grief grew dim
as in the mornings mist became the light
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair

 

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