If John could have summarized his teaching on the Dark Night, I imagine he would say: the “truth will set you free”, echoing the words from St John’s Gospel. This is why he takes so much effort in his commentary on the Dark Night to reveal such an all-embracing God – a God who is totally in love with us. John draws very heavily on Scripture and the Church’s teaching that resonates so beautifully with our Carmelite charism.
The way of the nada depicted by John in his illustration is his way of showing that to follow the path of the gospel we can dwell in the place where God’s glory dwells. However, we cannot avoid this path in order arrive at union with God. It is the way of detachment that brings true freedom to those who embark on it. It is through God’s initiative that we are invited into union with God and our response must be to enter wholeheartedly and generously into this way of the nada.
So what does this mean for us today?
Here we encounter something of in John’s poetry and his commentary. One could easily say of John that he was demanding, serious, rigorous and self-disciplined to the point where he (and his writings) become inaccessible. Not so! Here is a man who loved nature, who walked into the sun and delighted in the beauty of creation as Gerard Manley Hopkins expressed so well, “the world is charged with the grandeur of God”. When he felt the friars were getting too serious and difficult, John would send them out on picnics into the countryside to be amongst God’s creation, to free them up from becoming too self- absorbed in their own importance.
John is so aware of the importance and necessity of detachment – asceticism – he knows that it too can also become another form of attachment, another idol. He knows that a person can easily use asceticism for some form of self-glorification. While not at all denying that every human being is an event of God’s self-communication love, he carefully insists that God is everything and union with God is our ultimate destiny.
John recognizes that each person is unique and that God is calling us into a loving, dynamic relationship with him. He is at pains to warn us not to put anything else before God. That is why nada is the true freedom that is meant to take us away from everything that is negative in our lives and free us for God’s loving, intimate union with us.
For us, today, these words may sound difficult and unattainable. Not simply is it a question of what keeps us at a distance from God by the way we choose to spend our time can actually make some things more god for us than God.
Certain things become essential and often dominate our lives such as the need to be accessible to people always, having the latest computer technology, iPhone or iPad as a way to stay so connected to my world that there’s very little time for silence and solitude. God can certainly be in these times and situations but do we recognize His presence? These and many more things often blind us, as John teaches, and prevent us from allowing God to be at the center of our lives. These “attachments” easily become idols for us and block us from being open and receptive to God’s loving action drawing us into union with Him.
During this season of Advent, how will you recognize the way God is present in your life? What ways do you need to “let go and let God be God in your life”? How are you prepared for God’s coming, today and everyday?