02
Mar
13

Dark Night of the Soul, Lenten Observance, Day 30, 2013

Bk II, Ch. XVII: Explains how this dark contemplation is secret.
This whole process is secret in that it is “secret wisdom,” not something that can be learned through academic means. It is, as Aquinas notes, “communicated and infused into the soul through love.” And it is something beyond the ken of “understanding” and the “other faculties.” I remember in Hannah and her Sisters, Woody Allen, quoting some philosopher, notes that “the heart has reasons that reason knows not of.” In other words, there are other ways of knowing than rationality and deductive reasoning. One can know something immediately through instinct and intuition.
This chapter continues with the idea that the workings of all this are beyond everyone except God (“the Master Who teaches the soul”). Even the Devil cannot get to this as it is working inside the soul itself. So the soul cannot get a handle on it, as it is working within itself. This sounds like what we hear about people in relationships. They cannot look at the relationship as outsiders, as they are inside the bubble. And so, this work goes on without our firmly grasping the nature of it.
Later he speaks of the “language of God” as something “intimate and spiritual in its relations with the soul” and that it “transcends every sense.” This makes me think of the statement attributed to one of the Sophists. The statement goes something like this: 1) There is no absolute Truth; 2) if there were, you couldn’t know it, as it transcends us; and 3) if you could somehow know it, you couldn’t communicate it, as it transcends language as well. In other words, we live in a world that is known through language (we categorize the world, analyze it, and use those categories to discuss it), but language has its limitations, and so we can only get so far. Whatever is beyond the pale of language, we may be able to know, but we cannot then replicate that knowledge in language, and so we cannot fully communicate it to another.
And yet, though I agree with the premise, I am a bit skeptical of pure acceptance of something that is beyond language or some means of analysis. I think we often “know” something to be right or wrong, without knowing for sure why, but when we give up on language and analysis and logic and reason, we can easily go down the path of fundamentalism which is a different type of craziness. And I wonder, though we do not see him this way, if his own Carmelite brothers saw St. John as a bit of a crazy guy. How could they be sure he was right? And how could he speak that truth he knew in a way they would understand? In a way, he couldn’t – it is a mystic truth, and so beyond apprehension through language – it must be apprehended directly In some way.

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