There is something powerfully therapeutic in the poetry of Saint John of the Cross. Reading his stanzas one will understand that in these mystical poems there is far more going on than the re-centering of self on God. John’s mystical theology helps us understand what it means to live ‘externally’ to authentic life. The more we discover the personal presence of God within, the more we feel that staying outside our genuine life is something real. Actually, this collective ebbing away from our own flourishing (as individuals and as culture) is taking place right now.
The Spiritual Canticle is about the soul’s quest for her love, the divine essence. The purpose of Christian life is not striving for a generally understood afterlife or heaven. Rather, our quest is for union with God’ divine essence, which union needs to be initiated already in this life.
Naming God’s invisible divine essence, as our personal destination is crucial. The gap between us and the divinity prompts the soul to observe that life is short, and a good part of our life has vanished. Our soul needs to give an account of everything, of the beginning of our life as well as the later part. Recognising what is ‘wasted’, the missing and totally ignored search for God’s love is the first crucial step in realising how externally we live to ourselves.
Contrasting our soul with the ‘absolute’ is pivotal. The longed for divine essence sheds light on how we - our world - live outside real time, outside life-bearing time; outside real love and real truths. That is why rereading the ‘essence-focused’ mystics like John of the Cross is, literally, of vital importance. Without this sense of God’s Personal (‘essential!’) presence in the human person, one can live only superfluously. Without reconnecting with his divine essence - through desire - we are forced to remain outside our own history. Sadly, this seems to happen to us today. We (our culture) are detached from the driving forces of our own history.
Greek philosophy names this living externally to our authentic self as fate. Fate mercilessly governs all with force, depriving humans of freedom, the ability to alter the course of their lives.
If Christian mystical anthropology has something to say amidst our present dealing with the ecological crisis, the climate change, it is the need to see what is essential. Without a personal reconnection with the divine essence, without reigniting our quest for the very source of life, we will never be able to go beyond the surface. That is why John’s programme with his fellow mystics is the only way to go beyond fate. This entry from fate to life, John teaches, is the God within! ‘It should be known that the Word, the Son of God, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is hidden by his essence and his presence in the innermost being of the soul.’ As Saint Augustine put in his Soliloquies, ‘I did not find you without, Lord, because I wrongly sought you without, who were within.’
I cannot help thinking that the Eucharistic ‘mystical’ theology of the Catholic tradition soon will necessarily have a momentum. At present, it seems, this is the only counter-cultural movement which reclaims reality at the very centre of the human being. I cannot help thinking either that a reappraisal of the great Marian appearances is coming. Saint Catharine Labouré, Saint Bernadette Soubirous − Lourdes, Fatima, Mejugorje are about far more than ‘popular religion’. Soon we will be able to see these movements as genuine power engines of our European civilisation. These apparitions of Mary, and the Eucharistic miracles, becoming intense again in the nineteenth century, were attempts to correct the rational, scientific and utilitarian excesses of the age, which have put our culture into the sarcophagus of fate. We should not cherish the illusion that it can be opened up from within. That is why, the mystics’ obsession with the union with the divine essence is so timely.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..