Monday, April 11, 2005

The End of the Dark Night

As I'm sure anyone who reads this blog will be gratified to know, I have finished Mirabai Starr's wonderful translation of St. John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul and will at last move on to something else. I just wanted to post Chapter 21 of the book, which is titled: “An explanation of why the soul says that she is in disguise, and a description of the colors of the disguise the soul wears in the night.” "Disguise" refers to verses in St. John's original poem, "Songs of the Soul."* John analogizes by way of wardrobe - the soul's garments, of three colors, representing three virtues - something I find charming and beautiful. I'll reprint here the whole chapter, separating posts by color, because....well....because it's so Krzysztof Kieslowski:

We disguise ourselves by hiding under a garment that makes us look different from who we really are. We use our disguise to please and charm our Beloved or to elude our enemy and accomplish our mission undetected. We choose the clothing that most clearly reflects our heart’s desire and also most carefully conceals us from discovery by those who would do us harm.

The soul, filled with love of God and longing for his friendship, leaves her house dressed in the vivid hues of her affection. She goes out covered in love and she is safe, invisible to her three adversaries: the world, the animal nature, and the Spirit of Evil. She wears garments of three different colors: white, green, and red, which symbolize the three virtues: faith, hope, and charity.

Don't forget to read these in reverse-blog order!

I have to add that I adore St. John of the Cross. What sweetness, and what lovely gentleness in this man! He wrote the poem first, and added Dark Night of the Soul as an explication; some think the poem far surpasses the explanatory prose, but I love much of what he has to say in the book. When he speaks in the poem of "my house," he is referring to physical human existence, which encompasses all of our sensual and spiritual passions: "The exquisite risk begins once the soul finds all the members of her household asleep. It is God who has put all the passions and appetites - both sensual and spiritual - to bed." Perhaps I would have understood this eventually, but I was glad for lengthy discussions of sleeping household members, the climbing of secret ladders, and the wearing of various colorful robes, shawls, and cloaks. Incarnation, indeed!

* "Secure in the darkness,
I climbed the secret ladder in disguise -
O exquisite risk! -
Concealed by the darkness.
My house, at last, grown still."

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