Sunday, August 1, 2021(Day 57)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 57 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Grant me grace, God,
grant me grace,
for in You I have taken shelter,
and in Your wings’ shadow
do I shelter until disasters pass.
I call out to God the Most High,
to the god who requiets me.
The god who will send from the heavens and rescue me…
God will send steadfast kindness…
Loom over the heavens, O God.
Over all the earth Your glory.

An Opening Word
Psalm 57 has an effusively God-centered tone. It is directed to God and describes God with evocative language: the one who is shelter and wing, the one who requiets, is steadfast, bears glory. As Hebrew poetry, Psalms have their own meter and rhythm, and one of the strong feature of such poetry is duplication: a repetition that happens in order to double down on and emphasize what is most important. And so we get “grant me grace/grant me grace,” the same phrase twice. Then “I have taken shelter/do I shelter.” And “the god who requiets/the god who will…rescue me.” That literary echo punctuates what is most important to the Psalmist and gives us a vision of who God might be for us.

Today’s mystic, St. John of the Cross is a foundational one. He is mentioned in just about every book on mysticism because his text known as “The Dark Night of the Soul” is read by almost anyone who wants to now follow a mystic path. In trying to describe the soul’s journey toward pure divine connection, he points out the many pitfalls of a spiritual life (among the pitfalls, spiritual gluttony: a sin where someone over-indulges in spiritual practices that might in some way, lead to the “feeling” of divine presence, fasting for example). St. John of the Cross then moves to explain the loss of control we ultimately accept as we fall deeper and deeper into “The Dark Night” in which we long to and seek to meet God.

One of the reasons I love St. John of the Cross is because Teresa of Avila was his teacher (she was in her fifties and he in his twenties when they met). We don’t get many narratives like this in Christian history, where a renowned female spiritual guide mentors and inspires a male spiritual guide, and so it deserves to be spotlighted. They meet. She mentors him. They make moves to bring their religious order—the Carthusians—back to their more austere roots, which ends in them forming a new order, the Discalced (a.k.a. barefoot) Carmelites. The Catholic leadership of the day did not think favorably of reformations or even simple reshaping (because this was mid-Reformation, capital “R” and religious schism was drawing round on all sides). St. John of the Cross was put in prison because of his work with Teresa of Avila, and it is during that time of imprisonment, that he writes his famous “Dark Night of the Soul.”

Prayer from the Mystics: John of the Cross (1542–1591)
O Blessed Jesus,
Give me stillness of soul in you.
Let your mighty calmness reign in me.
Rule me, O King of Gentleness,
King of Peace.
Amen.