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Monday, April 16, 2007

St. John of the Cross (poem) 

The following poem from St. John appeared on Ivan Granger's Poetry Chaikhana today. Ivan did the English version and also the beautiful interpretation, which demonstrates how the literal terms of Christianity can be viewed in more symbolic ways, and hence removed from the realm of the purely patriarchal. Of course, for John, these terms would have referred specifically to the familiar Trinity of Christianity. Ivan's interpretation is more archetypal or universal.

(After I wrote the above, I received the following information from Ivan:

Actually, John of the Cross very likely did know of other traditions. He lived in Spain not long after the Muslim kings were expelled. There was still very rich mystical, philosophical, and academic interactions between Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam. He lived in areas that had once been strong Sufi and Kabbalistic centers, and likely still retained some remnants of those mystical communities. In fact, some historians argue from intriguing (but incomplete clues) that John's mother was, in fact, from a Muslim family.

So, it makes you wonder how eclectic John of the Cross really was in his understanding of Catholic theology...)

Here is the poem and Ivan's interpretation:

On the Communion of the Three Persons (from Romance on the Gospel)

By John of the Cross
(1542 - 1591)

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Out of the vast love
born of them both,
the Father spoke to the Son
with words of celebration,

with words of such full delight
that none can know;
only the Son, only he took joy,
since they were breathed in his ear alone.

But here is what
can be understood:
-- "Nothing, my Son, pleases me,
but your company.

"If something is sweet,
through you alone do I taste it.
The more of you I see in its reflection,
the wider my smile;

"What is unlike you,
has nothing of me.
In you alone is my delight,
life of my life!

"You are the fire of my fire,
my knowing;
the form of my substance,
in you am I well pleased.

"Whoever gives his love to you, my Son,
to him I give myself,
and him I fill
with the love I feel for you
just for making you beloved,
my Beloved."

Here is Ivan Granger's Interpretation

This is a deep meditation on the Christian mystical concept of the Trinity of the Godhead, in the form of a conversation that delves into the relationship between the Father and the Son, and extending out to all of creation.

Does this feel a bit too "Christian" or "Catholic" for you? Let's see if we can remove some of the crust of dogma in order to see that a more universal esoteric truth is being sung here.

The Father is the Eternal aspect of God. The Absolute. The Mystery. Beyond form. Beyond name or concept. To call this aspect of God the "Father" reflects a limitation of language, since it has nothing to do with gender. We are not talking about some bearded old man in the sky. We are talking about the Source, the Foundation of Being. Other cultures just as naturally name this "Mother". We could use the more inclusive "Parent." In Hinduism, the Father is usually called Brahman, the Absolute, or sometimes the transcendent aspects of Shiva, Krishna, Kali... In Islam, the Eternal is Allah. In Buddhism, the pure spaciousness of Nirvana. Every tradition has the Father, for that is the source and goal of all.

The notion of the "Son" has a particularly Christian feel, but when properly understood, this aspect of God is found in all religions, as well. The Son is the Beloved. This is the personal aspect of God. When the individual yearns for an engaged and compassionate form of God, it is the Son we reach for. This is the face of God that comes to us when we cry out in anguish, whose smile melts all fear and separation, whose story inspires us. It is the intimate mask of God. It is the way we learn to conceive of the Eternal because it has become in some way like us. Through the personal form of God, we learn to see ourselves at one with God.

In Christianity, the Son is, of course, understood to be Christ. Christian dogmatists will take umbrage, but a mystic knows that the face of God smiles through many masks and in all religions. The personal form of God, Ishvara, is equally in Hinduism as Krishna, Rama, Shiva... The Son blesses through Boddhisattvas and guides through prophets. The Son, by connecting the Absolute with the endless diversity of creation, necessarily wears an endless variety of masks, bears countless names, and equally fills church, temple, mosque, grove, and every heart.

The Son understood this way is the point at which tangible creation touches intangible Spirit. It is where heaven meets earth. It is the bridge. The intersection, the crossroads, the cross.

Through this intermediary, the Infinite touches the individual, and vice versa. By presenting a face, Pure Essence or Being becomes specific, and proclaims "You are... the form of my substance." Through the medium of the Son, the Eternal witnesses and experiences the immense drama of creation, declaring "You are... my knowing."

The Beloved is the medium through which the devout experience the Eternal: "Whoever gives his love to you, my Son, / to him I give myself..." But this personal form of God is also the medium through which the Eternal participates in creation: "If something is sweet, / through you alone do I taste it."

This gives us a two directional relationship: Between the individual and the Son, the individual is lover and the Son is Beloved, leading the individual to the Ultimate. But between the Father and Son, the Father is lover and the Son is Beloved, leading the Ultimate to the individual.

And what about the third "Person" of the Trinity? We already have lover and Beloved. What is left? Love itself! The third aspect of this trinity is the "vast love" that is constantly flowing in all directions. It is the "full delight" and "joy." It is the substance that bathes and fills everything, and subtly connects all of creation in a vast, fluid unity.

Try reading that gorgeous final verse again, and see what it says to you now:

"Whoever gives his love to you, my Son,
to him I give myself,
and him I fill
with the love I feel for you
just for making you beloved,
my Beloved."

(copyright, Ivan Granger

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