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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Devotional Classics Unit 1 Chapter 5

Introduction to Spirituality
John of the Cross
Purifying the Soul

John was born in Fantiveros, Castile Spain in the year 1542.  He was enrolled at the Carmelite College in Salamanca where he studied philosophy and theology.  Ordained in 1567 he impressed Teresa of Avila with his rigorous lifestyle and leadership ability.  He started several new orders with her guidance.
      His leadership and writing lent themselves to the Catholic Reform, for which he was arrested and confined.  Because of his suffering and commitment, he was called John of the Cross.  During his confinement he wrote The Dark Night of the Soul which describes God's work in the soul as one not contained in joy and light but rather by sorrow and darkness.  The dark night of the soul has become an integral part of the understanding of the spiritual journey even today.

Smith and Foster selected The Dark Night of the Soull to excerpt for this book on spiritual development which uses the following topical headings:
  1. To Purify the Soul
  2. Secret Pride
  3. Attached to the Feelings
  4. Three Causes
  5. Saints in a Day
  6. Beyond the Limits of Moderation
  7. Weary With Spiritual Exercises
  8. God Works Passively
     The Bible selection is approtriately Psalm 42(here HCSB)

As a deer longs for streams
of water,
so long I for You, God.
I thirst for God, the living God.
When can I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
While all day lohng people say
to me,
"Where is your God?"
I remember this as I pour out
my heart:
how I walked with many,
 to the house of God,
with joyful and thankful shouts.

Why am I so depressed?
Why this turmoil within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will still
praise Him,
my Savior and my God.

I am deeply depressed;
therefore I remember You from the
land of Jordan
and the peaks of Hermon, from
Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of
Your waterfalls;
all Your breakers and Your billows
have sweprt over me.

The LORD will send His faithful
love by day;
His song will be with me in the
a prayer to the God of my life.

I will say to God, my rock,
"Why have You forgotten me?
Why must I go about in sorrow
because of the enemy's oppression?"

My adversaries taunt me,
as if crushing my bones,
while all day long they say to me,
"Where is your God?"

Why am I so depressed?
Why is this turmoil within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him,
my Savior and my God.

     As the Psalmist asks, "Why am I so depressed", even we are encouraged to know that God is working within our souls at times like this to purify our soul that we may grow deeper and more mature spiritually.

     Of the seven capital sins:  pride, greed, luxury, wrath, gluttony, envy and sloth, I find myself dealing most often with pride and wrath.  The pride comes, just as John says, when I am feeling the center of God's attention. I begin to think that I deserve His blessing and that the people around me should naturally realize my great spiritual bearing.  When this pride then begins to interfere, and it always does, with my submission to God's will for me and my obedience to His plan for me and those with whom I seem destined to relate His love, then God removes me from the realization of His manifested grace and Spirit so that I become angry.  Angry with God and those about me who should know better than to rob me of my just desserts.

     Of course, one of my most obvious sins is sloth, I do just love to sit and think about almost anything and nearly always nothing.

     But then I think that perhaps this sloth as I have called it is more of a dark night of the soul as John of the Cross calls it.  But not quite.  I know God is working in my life and accomplishing His will all about.  I often think that I have been left out of the loop on many of the things I see going on around me.  Many times the reason for this is that I have just sequestered myself from the action and the center of planning.  I have chosen to be uninvolved and I have decided to take the time off and wait for the more fitting time and effort to involve myself.  On the other hand, once a while back in my youth, I was on a Vacation bible School trip.  It was the end of the week of two-a-day VBSchools, along with some door knocking for the church where we were staying, and on the Friday evening we were gathered together in the sanctuary, listening to our lead sponsor speak to us concerning some deep Biblical truths.  Many around me were becoming enthusiastically involved and getting louder and louder as youth often do when things are exciting.  I kept thinking to myself that here I was, one of the leaders of the group and yet I could hardly keep my eyes open much less feel the building Spirit in the air.  I was, God forbid, bored--no more than bored I was alone in a crowd of singing laughing, hugging, praying friends.  Some began to move out of the sanctuary and apparently a few moved toward the sidewalk and street of a busy residential neighborhood.  Here they clowned and clapped and hollered at passing cars, "Jesus loves You!" until the neighborhoods apparently complained or the local gendarme drove by and noticed the commotion.  In the meantime many of us were moving about on the inside of the building and when those who were outside were brought crying and wailing into our midst by-AVAST!-the cops, well to say the least, bedlam began to break loose.   The fact that one of our own sponsors was a Canine officer with the Lubbock PD made little difference and even brought the accusation that he of all people should know better--What did we think we were doing in this church anyway?!  
      This is when it dawned on me, what with all the fooferaw, that God had used the advent of a dark night for me to prepare me to be ready to appear calm and collected that the young friends who were beginning to see chinks in our armor and fret aloud and nervously, so they might be inspired to follow me into the basement and away from the center of the excitement so that we could pray and the adults could confer without having to stop and deal with wild eyed and panting youth.  Soon we were summoned back to the fellowship hall of the place where we learned that all was well and we need not worry, just stay away from the street and do not be yelling at passing cars or yelling period.

     I think we can see that John of the Cross believes that God often, perhaps more often, uses that feeling that we are alone and devoid of goodness and blessing to call to our attention the thing that He needs for us to focus on that we might be ready, willing, prepared and able to do the unexpected thing He has for us to do.   Or it may be that God is working on our soul to prepare it to accept the yoke of submission and obedience, correction and guidance that only the the humble heart is able to perceive and receive.  The dark night of the soul is necessary for us to be focused on the refreshing nature of God.

     John of the Cross mentions several virtues, humility, simplicity, contentment, peace, moderation, joy and strength.  Although I would like to think that I have a full cup of all of these I notice that many times, contentment seems to escape me more than the rest.  I am sure that this relates to the more prevalent sins in my life where rather than  reaching for God's Grace, though I could not touch it for trying, I reach for God's bullhorn and expect others to notice that 'I am the chosen one today'.  Naturally people don't really want to hear braggadocio, and when they turn that deaf ear, then I lose contentment with myself as I realize that I am placing myself above others rather than in loving service to others.

     An alarming suggestion here by the editors is that we abandon for one week the devotion(s) in which we have become so habitual(?!) thereby perhaps revealing to ourselves that hidden Demon, such as the performance trap, pride in spiritual works, religious addiction,  judging of the less missional than you.  Rather, relax and realize God loves you and is really wanting to communicate with YOU.

     I am going to try to learn the discipline of Gratitude--to be thankful for the simple things and to receive those things that God has ready for me.

     Reading what Richard Foster reflects for us, I am reminded of a time when a motivational speaker was stating that we must have some sort of release in our lives and relating that his was 'the blues'.  The blues of course, to be composed, need someone who has experienced the blues.  The best blues songs are those wherein the singer is conveying some heartfelt condition of his life that somehow seems to sweep us up into the moment and allows us to see ourselves in that role so described and at the same time allow us to see that even though we might experience some such bluesy bump, we have the hope of surviving and even overcoming whatever comes our way.  In the same way God uses the Dark Night of the Soul to purify our souls from pride, greed, luxury, wrath, gluttony, envy and sloth and imbue us with humility,  simplicity, contentment,  peace,  moderation,  joy, and strength.

Have a blessed week!

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