April 19th, 2008


A Love Song of John of the Cross

(sincere apologies to those who have seen this already)

Last Saturday night I participated in singing the premiere of a new work by Steven Sametz, Two Love Songs of St. John of the Cross. Steven wrote the songs following a conversation about my spiritual path. I had offered him two excerpts from John's poetry as the texts for the songs. The first of the two poems is the one after which this journal is titled, which I wrote about last September. I'd like to share the second one now.

As a spiritual director, John of the Cross wrote poetry for his directees. The poems were filled with captivating imagery, and easy to remember. Each line of each poem contained a deeper meaning, and John wrote out detailed explanations of his poems, line by line. Thus the reader could easily call to mind a rich and meaningful teaching, by remembering a simple phrase.

This poem, two stanzas from Cantico espiritual (The Spiritual Canticle) is typical of John's writing, in that it stands equally well as a romantic love song (a rather torrid one, in fact) or as a spiritual song. John of the Cross was a lover—in love with God; and he counsels us to approach faith as a deepening relationship of love. His wisdom has continued to guide spiritual seekers for over 400 years.

Mi Amado, las montañas,
los valles solitarios nemorosos,
las ínsulas extrañas,
los ríos sonorosos,
el silbo de los aires amorosos,
la noche sosegada
en par de los levantes de la aurora,
la música callada,
la soledad sonora,
la cena que recrea y enamora.

My Beloved, the mountains,
and solitary wooded valleys,
strange islands,
and resounding rivers,
the whistling of love-stirring breezes,
the tranquil night
at the time of the rising dawn,
silent music,
sounding solitude,
the supper that refreshes, and deepens love.

This is that sweet song, in which the soul sings of her Beloved. He is strong and magnificent as a mountain; comforting as the cool, shady woods; filled with unexpected delights like an exotic island; possesses her powerfully like a roaring river; thrills her with a touch like a breeze on the skin; fills her and satisfies her like a delicious meal; opens her eyes to the unexpected, like the dawn. As they rest together in the tranquil night, the soul delights in these feelings like being filled with glorious music that can be heard truly only in silence. There is a luxurious silence, and wonderful music in which we, too, may simply breathe, rest and delight in the presence of Love.

As an aside, I found an interesting article about the resonance of Sufi thought in John of the Cross, living as he did in 16th century Spain with its Islamic influences.