Put love in

When you looked at me
your eyes imprinted your grace in me;
for this you loved me ardently;
and thus my eyes deserved
to adore what they beheld in you.
Do not despise me;
for if, before, you found me dark,
now truly you can look at me
since you have looked
and left in me grace and beauty.
                                                     — St. John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle
Today is the feast of St. John of the Cross, a new commemoration in the Episcopal Church.  St. John’s vision of the transformative love of God is the more poignant for having emerged out of the experience of deep betrayal and apparent abandonment by all who loved him. In his life, the fire of adversity produced the living flame of love.
     John was born Juan de Yepes in the mid-sixteenth century. Turning down a promising career in the church, he entered the Carmelite order, taking the name John of the Cross.  He was an idealistic young man, deeply drawn to prayer, penitence, and union with Christ, which are at the heart of the Carmelite vocation. He  found, however, that his order had been corrupted by luxury, sloth, and worldliness. And so he fell into the orbit of Teresa of Avila, a young woman who was energetically working to reform the women’s branch of the Carmelites and restore them to their original purity of intent and passion for Christ. The two of them formed a close spiritual friendship and lifelong partnership in mission.
          Both encountered stiff resistance from within their orders and from the wider church. John was eventually imprisoned by his own monastic brothers, held for nine months in a dark dungeon without access to scriptures or Holy Communion. While he was there, he began to experience the love of Christ at the deepest level of his heart, and composed religious verse of great lyrical beauty. In the dark night of his abandonment, when he was cut off from all human love, Christ came to him and transgifured his soul with beauty, imprinting in his heart the grace of divine love. From this experience, he adopted the core teaching which would shape the rest of his life: Where there is no love, put love in.

Salvador Dali, based upon an image by John of the Cross

      John saw this as the principal work of Christ, who, when our world was captive to sin and death, entered it willingly, poured out his love even upon people who despised him, and, in so doing, redeemed the world. He saw it as the truest vocation of every Christian to seek out the places of un-love — in ourselves, in one another, and in our world — and to pour into them the transforming love of Christ. Only in prayer could we receive the strength to do this work, and only through such work could we draw closer to God.
      Today, there are many like John who come to the church spiritually hungry, yearning for an authentic experience of God, only to encounter hypocrisy, dogma which seems to have little connection to their lives, and a church which looks all too simliar to the culture it is supposed to transform. John’s witness reminds us that tepid witness doesn’t transform lives. Neither does strident, judgmental behavior. People begin to come to church out of some deep need, barely felt or able to be expressed, for greater beauty, greater faithfulness, an authentic experience of the transcendent. They look to us, who are already here, for signs that we are trying to live what we believe, however imperfectly we manage it. They look for us to give love in response to adversity, mercy in response to weakness, quiet strength when tested, joy even when the darkness comes. Where there is no love, put love in.
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1 Response to Put love in

  1. Christian says:

    Wow. What a story.

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