Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dark Night of a Gay Soul: John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1991
“The Dark Night of the Soul,” a spiritual classic with homoerotic overtones, was written by 16th-century Spanish mystic Saint John of the Cross, also known as San Juan de la Cruz. His feast day is today (Dec. 14).

Like other mystics, John of the Cross used the metaphor of erotic love to describe his relationship with Christ. With Christ as male, his poetry inevitably celebrates same-sex love. Hear how passionately John speaks about Jesus in these verses translated by A.Z. Foreman:

O night that can unite
A lover and loved one,
A lover and loved one moved in unison.

And on my flowering breast
Which I had kept for him and him alone
He slept as I caressed
And loved him for my own.

(The poem is reprinted in full at the end of this post)

“The Dark Night of the Soul” is open to various interpretations, but is usually considered to be a metaphor of the soul’s journey to union with God. John wrote the poem, which is recognized as one of the world’s most beautiful mystical poems, while imprisoned in a latrine for trying to reform the church.

Gay writers explore the queer dimensions of the poem at the following links:

Toby Johnson, ex-monk, gay spirituality author and activist, connects the Dark Night of the Soul with gay consciousness at TobyJohnson.com.

Terence Weldon explains why John of the Cross is important for gay Catholics at the Queer Spirituality Blog.

In the icon for this post, Brother Robert Lentz shows John with the living flames that he described in this poetry. The inscription by his head puts his name in Arabic to honor the Arabic heritage that John received from his mother.

New Age singer Loreena McKennitt created a lovely musical version of “The Dark Night of the Soul.” Watch the video with Loreena’s singing accompanied by images from nature. It’s one of the most beautiful videos I’ve ever seen.

The Dark Night of the Soul
By John of the Cross

From: THE COLLECTED WORKS OF ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, revised edition (1991). Copyright 1991 ICS Publications.

1. One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
- ah, the sheer grace! -
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

2. In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
- ah, the sheer grace! -
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

4. This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
- him I knew so well -
there in a place where no one appeared.

5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

6. Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

8. I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, heroes and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Icons of John of the Cross and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores


Ann said...

Thanks for the video - it is beautiful

Trudie said...

I agree with Ann -- absolutely lovely; this whole post is exceptional!

Taryn Watkins said...

Have you read the commentary on this poem by St John of the Cross himself? Your interpretation is very far from what he was originally intending. I would love to discuss his poetry with you. May God bless you in your journey to Him and you are in my prayers, please pray for me as well.

Kittredge Cherry said...

The books that I’ve seen put the poem and commentary by St. John of the Cross together in one volume titled “The Dark Night of the Soul.” It’s been years since I read the whole book. The Jesus in Love Blog focuses on interpretations of special interest to lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people and our allies. I don’t see how anyone can deny that he, a male author, spoke of the Beloved (God) as male.

As I wrote in my original post, “The Dark Night of the Soul” is open to various interpretations, but is usually considered to be a metaphor of the soul’s journey to union with God

Mayra Alejandra Aversa said...

If you read it in Spanish (the language it was written in) it is actually about a male - female couple. The author writes as if he were a woman.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thank you for raising an interesting point about the genders of the lovers in “Dark Night of the Gay Soul.” Even if John of the Cross wrote it as if he were a woman, that still seems rather queer.