Wednesday, December 14, 2011

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

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.

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


Trudie said...

This is an exceptional post. Both the musical rendition and the poem itself would not have come to my attention except through your blog. You are so generous in the way you share the work of so many artists!

Josh Thomas said...

I posted Loreena's video today too on our Daily Office website, because you sent it. I think my congregation's pretty conservative, but I'm not sure about that, and I want to welcome everyone who's interested, including the New Age crowd. Any portal to Juan de la Cruz is a good thing.

You provide an amazing service. Sometimes I think you go too far (but so what?). I don't want or need a sexualized Jesus.

But it's very, very important to reach LGBTQ's with the love of God, and I don't know anyone who does that better than you. Gene Robinson, maybe? He has his style, you have yours. (For that matter, I have mine.)

Just know that I read you every day; you do good work and spread Good News; and I don't have to agree with your every decision to know that you are becoming an Apostle to the Suffering and the Happy.

Sail on, girl, into warm, steady winds.

Josh Thomas

KittKatt said...

I honestly enjoy the synergy of sharing the work of others, and I’m glad that these reflections on John of the Cross inspired both of you, Trudie and Josh. I believe that we are more than the sum of our parts.

Josh, your words of blessing and appreciation are a warm breeze that keeps me sailing along. I am going to save your quote and add it to the “What others are saying” section of next time we do a website update. You focused on my exact goal (“to reach LGBTQ's with the love of God”), so it is high praise indeed to hear that you don't know anyone who does that better than me. It is by God’s grace that I am able to do so.

Thank you, Josh and Trudie, for being part of the living “communion of saints” that surrounds and uplifts each other this purpose.