Thursday, May 25, 2006

Carmelite Spirituality for Amateurs

I really like this image of St. John of the Cross. It was painted by Pauline Martin, who was the older sister of “The Little Flower”, St. Therese of Lisieux . Not bad for an amateur painter, is it?

Pauline actually entered the Carmelite convent of Lisieux before Therese did, and she became the prioress. Maybe someone can help me out with the Latin words on it… I think they are a reference to the story in which St John of the Cross had a vision while praying in front of a painting of Christ. In the vision Christ asked “What do you wish from me?” St John answered “To suffer for you.”

I’m a great admirer of the great Discalced Carmelite mystics and Doctors of the Church. I admire the spirituality of St. John of the Cross in particular, even though some of what he wrote is hard to understand.

I thoroughly enjoy reading St Teresa of Avila and St Therese as well, although as a male, I find some of their references to Jesus as lover (especially by Therese) a little unsettling, and hard to relate to.

The popular spiritual writer Fr. Ron Rolheiser knows a lot about Carmelite spirituality, and writes about it in a way that is very accessible and easy for the “amateur” to understand. Here are some really good articles he’s written that are available in PDF format. They are worth taking a look at.

John of the Cross: The Man, The Myth and The Truth

John of the Cross and Human Development: The Dark Night of the Soul - A Contemporary Interpretation

Our Perennial Fascination with Therese of Lisieux

Key Elements in Therese's Spirituality: The Little Way, Noticing the Unnoticed Drops of Blood

On the less serious side, here is an old Connection radio program with Chris Lydon about St Teresa of Avila as saint, businesswoman, and feminist icon.


friar minor said...

John is one of those writers who just strikes me as so honest about prayer and the spiritual life.

Once I had a little Spanish one of the first things I did was look for a copy of his "obras completas" to read.

Paula said...

Very good links, thank you Jeff.
Interesting how John of the Cross wanted to suffer for Christ, while Teresa of Avila and Therese saw Him as a divine lover...It asked myself what kind of relationship do I have with Christ, (or I want to have with Him)?
Without forgeting that He is God,I see Him as friend I think, and as a mentor.

crystal said...

Jeff, one of the things I like best about Teresa of Avila is how she saw Jesus and her relationship with him - romantic. And John of the cross wrote some pretty romantic stuff himself. Here's a bit from the Dark Night ...

O night, my guide!
O night more friendly than the dawn!
O tender night that tied
lover and the loved one,
loved one in the lover fused as one!

On my flowering breasts
which I had saved for him alone,
he slept and I caressed
and fondled him with love,
and cedars fanned the air above.

Jeff said...

Sorry about the quality of the image. I scanned it out of a book and it didn't reproduce as well as I wanted it to. I think I used the wrong setting...

The Friar said,

John is one of those writers who just strikes me as so honest about prayer and the spiritual life.

Absolutely. I couldn't agree more. One the one hand he seemed like such a gentle character, but on the other hand he was filled with steadfastness and was willing to endure a lot for what he believed. He went through a lot in his determination to reform the Carmelite Order, and he prevailed. The same goes for his friend St. Teresa. They say that John was one of the few men who had the strength to stand up to her personality.


Hey, new photo! Hello! :-)

I probably should be more careful not to draw too strong a dichotomy between them. They were probably more alike than different. As Crystal has pointed out, the Carmelite writers are sensual, as the sculptor Bernini was well aware - The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.

At the same time, Teresa's "Interior Castle" and Therese' "Little Way" both require self-denial and self-discipline. They are not of the world, but see themselves as detached from it, rather than rejecting it, which is a big difference. To be detached from the world is not the same thing as to hate it.

Nevertheless, I don't think any of them would object to the notion of God as friend or mentor. I enjoy John’s saying of light and love (Dichos de Luz y Amor), which I have in my list of links.


Great poet, wasn't he? Not that I would know, but I read that St John was recognized as one of the greatest writers of verse in Spanish History.

These from the 'Spiritual Canticle'

He who is sick with love,
whom God himself has touched,
finds his tastes so changed
that they fall away
like a fevered man's
who loathes any food he sees
and desires I-don’t-know-what
which is so gladly found


My Beloved, the mountains,
And lonely wooded valleys,
Strange islands,
And resounding rivers,
The whistling of love-stirring breezes
The tranquil night
At the time of the rising dawn,
Silent music,
Sounding solitude,
The supper that refreshes, and deepens love.

And this from ‘The Ascent of Mt. Carmel’ is almost like Zen...

In order to arrive at having pleasure in everything,
Desire to have pleasure in nothing.

In order to arrive at possessing everything,
Desire to possess nothing.

In order to arrive at being everything,
Desire to be nothing.

In order to arrive at knowing everything,
Desire to know nothing.

In order to arrive at that wherein thou hast no pleasure,
Thou must go by a way wherein thou hast no pleasure.

In order to arrive at that which thou knowest not,
Thou must go by a way that thou knowest not.

In order to arrive at that which thou possessest not,
Thou must go by a way that thou possessest not.

In order to arrive at that which thou art not,
Thou must go through that which thou art not.

When thy mind dwells upon anything,
Thou art ceasing to cast thyself upon the All.

For, in order to pass from the all to the All,
Thou hast to deny thyself wholly in all.

And, when thou comest to possess it wholly,
Thou must possess it without desiring anything.

For, if thou wilt have anything in having all,
Thou hast not thy treasure purely in God.

Liam said...

Yeah, St John is absolutely gorgeous en espanol.

I couldn't read the words of the Latin on the picture becaue of the picture quality. If you tell me what they are, I can probably tell you what they mean.

Jeff said...

Hi Liam,

As best as I can tell...

Diagonally, on the words running past his head, it says,

"Joannes, quid vis pro laboribus?"

Across the top it says,

"Domine, pati et contemni pra te!..."

Liam said...

Yeah, that's basically it: "John, what do you wish for your labors?" "Lord, to suffer and be despised for you."