Friday, December 14, 2012

John of the Cross: Dark Night of a Gay Soul

"St. John of the Cross" by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, trinitystores.com

“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 (1542-1591) 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 whole poem is reprinted in the original Spanish and in English at the end of this post). John, a Carmelite friar who worked with Theresa of Avila, wrote these beautiful verses while imprisoned in a latrine for trying to reform the church.

“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 LGBT people of faith 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.


___
Original Spanish
En una noche oscura
por San Juan de la Cruz

1. En una noche oscura,
con ansias, en amores inflamada,
¡oh dichosa ventura!,
salí sin ser notada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada;

2. a escuras y segura
por la secreta escala, disfrazada,
¡oh dichosa ventura!,
a escuras y encelada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada;

3. en la noche dichosa,
en secreto, que naide me veía
ni yo miraba cisa,
sin otra luz y guía
sino la que en el corazón ardía.

4. Aquesta me guiaba
más cierto que la luz del mediodía
adonde me esperaba
quien yo bien me sabía
en parte donde naide parecía.

5. ¡Oh noche que guiaste!
¡oh noche amable más que la alborada!;
¡oh noche que juntaste,
Amado con amada,
amada en el Amado transformada!

6. En mi pecho florido,
que entero para él solo se guardaba,
allí quedó dormido,
y yo le regalaba,
y el ventalle de cedros aire daba.

7. El aire del almena,
cuando yo sus cabellos esparcía,
con su mano serena
en mi cuello hería,
y todos mis sentidos suspendía.

8. Quedéme y olvidéme,
el rostro recliné sobre el Amado;
cesó todo y dejéme,
dejando mi cuidado
entre las azucenas olvidado.

____
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

A Spanish version is available at:
San Juan de la Cruz: Noche Oscura del Alma Gay (Santos Queer)

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts
___

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





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