Mystics. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Wha' cha gonna do, eh? They can be difficult to understand and are couched mainly within the 13th to 16th centuries which can also remove them from our lingua franca using terms and references we may not understand. At the same time they are also declared Doctors of the Church, which means that they have deep insights into the Faith which are important for us to delve into.
John is one such saint. He was urged on by Theresa of Avila and her desire for reformation; he pursued God and wrote about what he found. Mystics as we think of them today, though, can seem a bit removed from us mere mortals. They see and speak of things which seem far beyond us. For John, what does it take to get through all of that as well as the historical baggage to the true meat of his thought? Does he even hold anything for us in this age of skepticism and science?
John can seem very strict - even harsh, but he writes at a time crisis in the Church and in Europe as a whole. His poetry cuts through to the heart of the matter, images calling us to cast aside the corruption, the division, the human sinfulness and re-focus on what is important: Christ.
John is very Christocentric; his nickname, "of the Cross" tells us a lot about his focus. He definitely holds high the Cross and admonishes us with it. We call him a "mystic" but I doubt that he would have understood the term. He spoke about "mystical theology", the finding of God not in the images and concepts of God but in the depths of the heart. God is the revealed and ineffable mystery.
John is probably best read by us mere mortals in his poetry. Like Dante for the Italians, he is considered one of the greatest Spanish writers. But it is in his message that we seek him out. Agony leads to ecstasy, dark to light, suffering to redemption, denial of self to God. Discipleship has a cost, but it is a purification to union with God. And, John asks, what could be greater than that?
On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy chance!–
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.
In darkness and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised–oh, happy chance!–
In darkness and in concealment,
My house being now at rest.
In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my
This light guided me
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me–
A place where none appeared.
Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!
Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.
The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.
I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.
-- Dark Night