In Prison In Toledo
The goods of God, which are beyond all measure, can only be contained in an empty and solitary heart. St. John of the Cross
I am thinking of St. John of the Cross, one of the greatest of Christian mystics, alone in prison in Toledo, Spain in 1578, unjustly condemned. He is weak from illness, hungry, suffering from frostbite. His cell, about nine feet by five, had previously been a lavatory for an adjoining guest room and has only a tiny hole, high up in the wall, to give light. His bed is a board on the floor with two old blankets. Clothed only in the tunic of his habit and with only his breviary to read, he is feeling profoundly alone. He knows not how long he will be incarcerated. Perhaps he will die there. I imagine him visited by the demons of hopelessness and despair, of anger and hurt. Another dark night of his soul. Living mostly on only bread and water, subjected to public lashings, for the first six months he hasn’t been allowed to wash or change his clothes.
Most of us have not been in such dire circumstances, but perhaps we can imagine his condition.
Yet St. John of the Cross, embracing his aloneness, facing his abandonment by the world, stumbled yet again upon God. God who is nothing, God who is No-thing, God who is totally Other yet more ourselves than our blood – this Mystery he discovers again, now, alive within the very centre of his soul. Stripped of everything he finds that, wonder upon wonder, he is not stripped of God. Emptied of all he had come to rely on, deprived of contact with his friends, he again finds his cup overflowing. These prison walls do not contain him. This moment is a gift from God, a blessing from his innermost nature. Being here is being in just the right place for now. Gratitude flows.
During this period of imprisonment St. John of the Cross wrote some of the greatest lyric stanzas in Spanish literature, among them a major portion of The Spiritual Canticle
What happened next? In August of 1578 St. John of the Cross made a dramatic escape from the prison.
He went on to write The Dark Night of the Soul
and The Ascent of Mount Carmel
I don’t think we really value our Source until we discover how desperately in need we are of our Source and Centre and Resource. (Interview with Douglas Harding, His Life and Philosophy
Please send your comments to Richard
What a 'mind-expanding' reflection. Thank you very much. Ermelinda.