This spring, Fr. Richards tasked the parish staff with reading Fr. Iain Matthew’s book, The Impact of God: Soundings From St. John of the Cross. This request was a blessing in disguise. It’s a blessing, because the book, ultimately, is a beautiful and thought-provoking exploration of the Spanish mystic’s theology of nada and todo (nothing and all), his approach to prayer, his call to love and union with God. It was in disguise, because by most accounts, St. John of the Cross is not an easy read:
- first, because he begins with poetry — in particular, achingly breathless love poetry — to God;
- second, because his unpacking of these poems exposes layer upon layer of latent meaning — like God Himself, hidden within;
- and third, because his message of detachment and relinquishing control to a God whom we cannot hope to see clearly is a hard teaching.
- St. John writes of a hidden, but active God. Too often we think of God as “out there” — we set out to seek Him, and feel as though the effort is ours. According to St. John of the Cross, this is not the case: God is actively seeking us and inviting us to Himself. The first move is His, and when we respond, the reason He is difficult to perceive is not because He is far away, but because He is infinitely vast and incredibly close. God is not eclipsed by things closer at hand; He is all-eclipsing.
- God desires union, but needs space to achieve this — and complete union with the infinite God requires lots of space! This is why detachment is important: we must empty ourselves of the things of this world in order to receive the things of the next. When St. John speaks of nada (“nothing” in Spanish), he is talking about creating this space for God, who then makes of Himself a gift in Christ, which by its nature is todo (“all”). Put simply, the only space big enough for todo is nada. While we can work toward this goal of nada ourselves, remember that God is active: He seeks to make room. St. John says that those times of bewildering suffering in life, when God seems so hard to find, quite often are the times in which God is making room for Himself, in you — not forcibly, but by invitation, inviting you to let go and take His hand.
- Finally, St. John insists that spiritual advisors, teachers, and other guides exercise great care that they not become hindrances to the work of our seeking God. He writes, “God carries each person along a different road, so that you will scarcely find two people following the same route in even half of their journey to God.” This sensitivity to the individual reflects our nature and dignity as unique images of God.
The flexibility is fundamental because it alone does justice to the dignity of each person, a ‘most beautiful and finely wrought image of God’. It does justice too to the laws of growth. … John says that humanity, and each person, was wedded to Christ when he died on the cross, a wedding made ours at our baptism. But all that happens ‘at God’s pace, and so all at once’. It has to become ours at our pace, ‘ and so, little by little’ (Matthews, p. 15).
|The Thorplets, Winter 2013|
Belated Season’s Greetings! Our annual Christmas letter goes in the mail to most of you tomorrow morning — but in case you can’t wait, it’s online now! We miss you all, and wish you many blessings in this new year!
|The two of us.|
Seventeen years ago today, I promised my life to my bride. I do not say I married my best friend, though I may have thought so at the time and though it is certainly true today. We were young and barely knew ourselves, let alone each other.
In truth, I married my greatest challenge — as I have said before, “the rock, the glue, and the guide.” What we glimpsed during those first three summers in South Dakota was an unseen hand and an unimagined plan for us. Thank you, Jodi, for trusting Him, and teaching me to trust.
you were the word unspoken, love
the gift yet to bequeath
when light first pierced my darkness and
revealed the void beneath
i was an unformed wastrel then
a breath of dust, alone
you were a shaping vision, love
and carved from solid bone
you were a moving stillness, love
my unknown missing peace
a heartstring tug that drew me near
my bond and my release
i was a crash of water then
and you the softest stone
i broke myself upon you, love
and you returned me home
patter of autumn
rain on red leaves, dipping down —
tension, then release