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Dark Night of the Soul (Dover Thrift Editions) Paperback – May 9, 2003
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Almost every believer feels forgotten by God sometimes. Even Christ cried out on the cross, "Oh God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Dark Night of the Soul, a 16th-century mystical text written by the Carmelite monk St. John of the Cross, ranks among Christianitys most helpful answers to this enduring question. In St. Johns vision of spiritual life, the pain of separation from God is to be embraced, not avoided. "The dark night is about being fully present in the tender, wounded emptiness of our own souls," explains translator Mirabai Starr--although she grants that modern culture makes such acceptance hard to attain. "We tend to see difficult feelings as a form of illness, which we hope to conquer, cure, and expel. [St. John of the Cross] has a far greater imagination of human life: his goal is not health but union with the divine." Several fine English translations of Dark Night already exist; Starrs, however, is distinguished by its ecumenism. Minimizing the explicit scriptural references of the original text, she makes the treasures of Dark Night more accessible to readers of all religious traditions. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Along with Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross remains one of the West's most well-known and beloved mystics. And like Teresa's, his writings are masterpieces of ecstatic poetry, depicting a lover the soul that seeks union with the Beloved, God. Starr, who teaches philosophy and religious studies at the University of New Mexico, offers an engaging and evocative new translation of John's most famous treatise, "Dark Night of the Soul." Composed as a result of his imprisonment, it follows the soul's journey from a state of abandonment and darkness to its profound ecstasy in finding God waiting to receive it. In order for the soul to achieve this rapturous union, John instructs, it must give up its complacent practice of prayer or other spiritual routines that separate it from a full union with God. John's now-classic spiritual commentary urges us to find rest in the emptiness of the dark night and to abandon ourselves to the love that is present at the center of this emptiness. Although John wrote "Dark Night of the Soul" for his Christian brothers and sisters, his rapturous mysticism provides a way to union with the divine for a wide variety of spiritual seekers. As Starr points out in her introduction, John's abandonment of self in order to achieve union with the Other mirrors contemporary spiritual practices of Buddhism and Hinduism. Starr's lyrical translation and her thoughtful introduction bring new life to John's powerful treatise on the life of the soul. (Feb. 18)Forecast: Although E. Allison Peers's monumental translation of "Dark Night of the Soul" remains definitive, it is wooden and literal, and emphasizes John's place in Christian theology and spirituality. Starr's lively translation transcends the narrowness of Peers's to reach a wide audience of contemporary spiritual seekers.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
St. John of the Cross is known as the Mystical Doctor, because in a pre-eminent way he is the director of men on their interior journey towards God. As a spiritual guide and deeply religious man, trained in theology at the best Spanish universities of his day, he was able, as few others, to elucidate scripturally and doctrinally the ways of the Lord.
Primarily, though, he is a poet, and his poetry speaks for itself in deeply symbolic language, the language of love. He is also a man of his country and era. His two poles Toda-Nada, All-Nothing, no doubt were associated for him with the rugged beauty of Castile--the blazing Spanish sky above arid ground, with the sun glinting upon walled cities, the freezing night with brigands concealed in the darkness.
John and Spain speak the language of extremes, just as St. Francis of Assisi was a man of the Umbrian hills set with flowers and vines among shaded valleys. There is a tendency to contrast the harshness of one with the sweetness of the other, but this is to do a disservice to both. Both at heart are similar because they see the way to God as the way of giving all-desiring nothing but him, and letting the rest go: "My God and my All."
In this, Jesus Christ is the model, and there is no spiritual growth apart from the earnest imitation of him. "Be continually careful and earnest in imitating Christ in everything, making your life conform to his," John writes in The Ascent of Mount Carmel, almost as a key sentence. Only in this light can we understand his insistence on the denial of desires.
What he has in mind are all those selfish and self-seeking ways we go about trying to have God and what we want as well. It is not that other people and other things are not lovable and desirable, or that God wants the way to him to be miserable. It is that the only true joy is found in Jesus, and having him we have all else besides.
John's writings sound demanding. He understood in an experiential way that God is not to be had on the cheap. Perhaps in our own day Bonhoeffer's works could be profitably re-read on the cost of discipleship, which John well knew--his had not been an easy life.
In the journey of the soul to God as John depicts it in the Ascent and the Dark Night he points to faith as the guide, and faith is dark to the understanding. We must just trust God and go forward with no assurance apart from his word.
The saint probes the causes of why many begin this journey but make no progress. It is that self-love insinuates itself, and this must be eradicated by persistent effort in action and loving attention to God in humble prayer, no matter if we feel dry or empty of inspiration: John reveals the way of prayer as a way of great self-denial. We must not rely on anything we can see, feel, taste, experience, for God is more than all these. Only dark faith touches and holds him, and in this there is nothing to delight the senses or boost the ego. By purifying the soul of all that is not God, God strips us in order to clothe us anew in Christ. Nothing gives place to the All, sorrow is turned into joy.
In The Spiritual Canticle and The Living Flame of Love, where John treats more explicitly of union with God, he does so in terms of lover and Beloved. In the former he bases his poem and commentary on the Song of Songs, in the latter upon the imagery of the Holy Spirit as flame, wounding and burning as it prepares the soul to be consumed in the fire of love's ecstasy.
But perhaps in his letters most of all we see John as an understanding counselor, warm and loving, yet allowing no compromises. The way of the Christian can only be the way of Christ and his cross, and John puts the Gospel demands before us in all their unadulterated strength.
His is not a path of visions, ecstasies, abnormal phenomena. Rather, he rejects all these as diverting us from the God whom we can only know by faith, not by the "spectacular" which many so-called spiritual people seek. Union is not felt bliss but "the living death of the cross," as he says in the Ascent. God has spoken his final word in his Son, we have no need to seek anything but him as he is revealed to us in his life and teaching. To want other words, other revelations, is to seek self.
..."Seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you." The words of Jesus are as true today as they ever were. Those who want God and seek him singlemindedly will find him to their everlasting Joy--as did St John of the Cross.
The work also gives so much to think about. I don't know that I agree with everything, but that's fine, and St John himself notes that each journey toward God will be somewhat different. But there is a lot that appeals to me. Truly, the journey toward God can be difficult. Reading about any character in the Bible from Abraham to David to Jesus confirms this. Life is such a strange mixture of the presence of God and the (at least seeming) absense, and persevering toward union with God means getting through these agonizing periods. In this book, St John of the Cross gives great hope as he accounts for those dark times and provides a framework for getting through them. This isn't a light read, and it is certainly a book that needs multiple readings. Nevertheless, it gives you a lot to think about and is ultimately well worth the effort.
Drawing from the experiences of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, he explores a journey of consciousness that leads us into the recognition of "our deep and irrevocable communion with the Divine".
It is a path through darkness, a path of letting go, a path of abandoning oneself, losing oneself, and in so doing ultimately finding what is real. The following quotes reveal something of this journey:
* The darkness of the night implies nothing sinister, only that the liberation takes place in hidden ways, beneath our knowledge and understanding.
* Although not knowing may itself seem like a bad thing, I am convinced it is one of the great gifts of the dark night of the soul.
* The spiritual life for Theresa and John has nothing to do with actually getting closer to God. Union with God is neither acquired nor received; it is realized, and in that sense it is something that can be yearned for, sought after, and - with God's grace - found.
* The dark night helps us to become what we are created to be: lovers of God and one another.
* ...we are not only born with God at our center, but we are born with a heart full of desire for God. This yearning is our fundamental motive force; it is the human spirit. It is the energy behind everything we seek and aspire to.
* Liberation, whether experienced pleasurably or painfully, always involves relinquishment, some kind of loss.
* Sometimes the only way we can enter the deeper dimensions of the journey is by being unable to see where we are going.
* ...in worldly matters it is good to have light so we know where to go without stumbling. But in spiritual matters it is precisely when we do think we know where to go that we are most likely to stumble.
* When we cannot chart our own course, we become vulnerable to God's protection, and the darkness becomes a "guiding night," a "night more kindly than the dawn."
* We cannot achieve our own liberation or fulfillment; we would not even know where to begin. But neither does God reach down from the sky and manipulate us like puppets. ...the process of the dark night is neither accomplished on our own nor worked within us by God alone.
* Though we don't realize it at the time, when habitual senses of God do disappear in the process of the dark night, it is surely because it is time for us to relinquish our attachment to them. We have made an idol of our images and feelings of God, giving them more importance than the true God that they represent.
* The darkness, the holy unknowing that characterizes this freedom, is the opposite of confusion and ignorance. Confusion happens when mystery is an enemy and we feel we must solve it to master our destinies. And ignorance is not knowing that we do not know. In the liberation of the night we are freed from having to figure things out, and we find delight in knowing that we do not know.
It is comforting to come to understand that what we may experience as painful, dry, and difficult periods of life are often seasons of deep becoming. It is another way by which we learn that, as the Lord said it to St. Paul, "My grace is sufficient; my power is made perfect in weakness".