John of the Cross on God’s wisdom in growing a soul

God takes time to prepare the soul that He wants to lead onward, with patience and gentleness. His Majesty allows us years to accustom ourselves to the spiritual life in general, and that is because of the limitless forbearance and kindness that flow from His vast love.

Yes, as we first begin our deeper walk in the Spirit, He will indeed lead us through intense trials of faith and emptiness, which feel like traveling through a spiritual wilderness. As you come out of such a time, you will feel as if you have been purged. You will find yourself in a place of great peace. It is as if you have made a breakthrough and escaped from a hard imprisonment into an open land of running springs.

The soul feels as if a new well  has been opened up within it. Up from this new stream of God’s Spirit, there flows a sense of greater freedom from the circumstances of life, which used to control and trouble the soul. The soul no longer has to work itself up with “spiritual thoughts,” in order to find this place of inner rest. For the waters of this stream continually flow without any help or effort by us at all. They are always flowing up from within to soothe the soul whenever it becomes fretful, distracted, or anxious.

In another way of speaking, it is as if the soul has climbed to a higher place, a place of serene rest. And from this new height, it can look down and examine both the earthly things that would attack it peace and its own inner weaknesses, which make it subject to attack.

So the soul experiences far more freedom and happiness than it did in the beginning, before it learned how to rise above the dark night of its natural senses and earthbound ways of thinking.

As I have said, God allows us time to become stronger and more proficient in our ability to walk this way, in the Spirit.

Others may notice striking changes in you–a new kind of light and purity coming from inside. And even this is only a beginning. It is like the hopeful radiance of a bride who is preparing for union with her Lover. To think–this is the same Light that shines upon those who have already passed into the untellable joy of heaven. And it shines upon those of us here below, who are still being made ready.

And now, if God so chooses, the soul may be led at some later time through another kind of “dark night.” This is not the same as before, a quieting of its lower thoughts and base emotions. In this night, the soul may encounter the torment and deadness of despair. It may feel itself abandoned to the terrors of the night–that is, it may feel itself slipping into the open mouth of spiritual death itself.

How could God be part of such a thing? Why would He allow the soul to suffer in this way?

The first thing I will show you, in answer to this, is the fluency of God’s Wisdom. For it is so much higher than our own, and is of an altogether different quality. When this Spirit of Wisdom comes we cannot miss the sharp distinctions. The Wisdom of God is swift, clear, without taint, irresistible, full of benevolence, compassionate and humane, steadfast and sure, freeing from anxiety, all-powerful, with gentle care it oversees all things.

This is the Spirit who works to penetrate and suffuse all spirits that are open to the intelligence of God, pure in their desire to see Him become all in all. It is the breath of God, the might of His Spirit–the purest emanation of the glory of the Almighty.

As this eternal light approaches, you may easily understand how the soul–no matter how far it has progressed–will begin to perceive its utter insignificance. So there arises the sense of vileness, the overwhelming darkness of despair.

It will help you to understand this, as I refer to the wisdom of the ancients. They knew that the more clear and pure the divine things are that God wants to show us, the darker and more hidden they appear at first. This makes sense if you consider the sun: The brighter it shines, the more it overwhelms and blinds the eye–for the eye is too weak to take in such brightness. In the same way, the divine light that prepares us for greater union with God overwhelms the soul with “darkness.” And for a time, the soul is pitched into a terrible state, because God, in His greater intelligence, is coming closer to the far lesser intelligence of the human soul….

David has told us that the nearer God comes to us, the greater are the clouds and darkness that overtake us before His presence is revealed. Not that God himself is dark (see 1 John 1:5). But surely you must see that, weak in our own understanding, we must first be blinded and darkened by so tremendous a light….

And this is what will occur if God chooses to send out from himself this ray of Wisdom, in order to lift and transform us, and to make us closer to Him….


David Hazard, You Set My Spirit Free: A 40-Day Journey in the Company of John of the Cross, 133-137.

prayer for third Sunday after Pentecost

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer