Archive for St. John of the Cross

Happy New Year from Art of the Spirit

Fountain

The Fountain
How well I know that flowing spring
in black of night.

The eternal fountain is unseen.
How well I know where she has been
in black of night.

I do not know her origin.
None. Yet in her all things begin
in black of night.

I know that nothing is so fair
and earth and firmament drink there
in black of night.

I know that none can wade inside
to find her bright bottomless tide
in black of night.

Her shining never has a blur;
I know that all light comes from her
in black of night.

I know her streams converge and swell
and nourish people, skies and hell
in black of night.

The stream whose birth is in this source
I know has a gigantic force
in black of night.

The stream from but these two proceeds
yet neither one, I know, precedes
in black of night.

The eternal fountain is unseen
in living bread that gives us being
in black of night.

She calls on all mankind to start
to drink her water, though in dark,
for black is night.

O living fountain that I crave,
in bread of life I see her flame
in black of night.
-St. John of the Cross

Wow!
I leave you with the beautiful poem describing the fecund stream of Divine Creativity. (And he describes it in feminine terms!)

My wish for you for the New Year: May you be blessed with deep connection to this stream, may your life and work abound with creativity, growth and love.

Thanks for reading this year. See you in 2008!
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I don’t believe in luck, but I’m going with this anyway! 8 is considered an extremely lucky number in China so this is going to be a very lucky year. (Every little bit helps, right?)

St. John of the Cross & Stomach Flu

I’ve been down with the flu for a couple days. I have a post brewing about the connection between sacred art & the earth. In the meantime, I submit this beautiful via negativa poem for your enjoyment…

I came into the unknown
I came into the unknown
and stayed there unknowing
rising beyond all science.

I did not know the door
but when I found the way,
unknowing where I was,
I learned enormous things,
but what I felt I cannot say,
for I remained unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

It was the perfect realm
of holiness and peace.
In deepest solitude
I found the narrow way:
a secret giving such release
that I was stunned and stammering,
rising beyond all science.

I was so far inside,
so dazed and far away
my senses were released
from feelings of my own.
My mind had found a surer way:
a knowledge of unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

And he who does arrive
collapses as in sleep,
for all he knew before
now seems a lowly thing,
and so his knowledge grows so deep
that he remains unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

The higher he ascends
the darker is the wood;
it is the shadowy cloud
that clarified the night,
and so the one who understood
remains always unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

This knowledge by unknowing
is such a soaring force
that scholars argue long
but never leave the ground.
Their knowledge always fails the source:
to understand unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

This knowledge is supreme
crossing a blazing height;
though formal reason tries
it crumbles in the dark,
but one who would control the night
by knowledge of unknowing
will rise beyond all science.

And if you wish to hear:
the highest science leads
to an ecstatic feeling
of the most holy Being;
and from his mercy comes his deed:
to let us stay unknowing,
rising beyond all science.
-St John of the Cross (trans. Willis Barnstone)

Tagore, St. John & the Artist

In my last post I talked about St. John of the Cross’ poem and it’s relationship to the artist. This Rabindranath Tagore poem says the same thing, but in a different way without all the Christian overtones. (God I wish I could read this in the original Bengali!)

If thou speakest not I will fill my heart with thy silence and
endure it. I will keep still and wait like the night with starry
vigil and its head bent low with patience.

The Morning will surely come, the darkness will vanish,
and thy voice pour down in golden streams breaking through
the sky.

Then thy words will take wing in songs from every one of
my birds’ nests, and thy melodies will break forth in flowers
in all my forest groves.

He’s saying its the Divine creative source following through him that creates his art. It is his stillness and waiting that allows this. Just as St. John says that the pregnant Virgin will come, if you take her in. My favorite line is “I will fill my heart with thy silence and endure it.” Being silent and still is not always so easy.

St. John of the Cross & the Artist

Of the Divine Word
Pregnant with the holy
Word will come the Virgin
Walking down the road
If you will take her in.

(The original Spanish is so much better…)
Del Verbo divino
La Virgen prenada
viene de carmino
si le dias posado.
St. John of the Cross

This beautiful poem is a road map for what a spiritual artist must do to hook into the flow of Divine creativity. The fundamentally creative nature of the Universe is represented here as the pregnant Virgin. Her pregnancy is physical creativity in potentiality. Her virginity is the state of her mind and soul; it has nothing to do with her sexuality. The pregnant Mary instructs us on how to make ourselves ready to receive the creative spirit. We must make ourselves as virgin ground, unstamped by the traumas & desires of life. We must be open and hold ourselves empty in order to be filled. St John reminds us that this is all that is necessary for the Divine to enter into us. It is the nature of the Divine to create, or as Plotinus would say, to emanate form. If we allow the Divine in, our own creative output is assured and, more importantly, sacred. It is the moment of creation, the intimacy an artist can feel with God that is the object. It is that union, which without effort, spontaneously produces the form which will be come a physical work of art. What’s more, art that is produced in this way captures the resonance of that experience and can, on some level, transmit some of that energy to its viewer. This is the ideal that the spiritual artist must continually strive for.