High Contemplation

As readers of my blog already know, I am drawn to thinking about the space between uncertainty and hope. At this time of year, I often find myself revisiting “Stanzas Concerning an Ecstasy Experienced in High Contemplation” by St. John of the Cross, which moves me to thinking about the mysteries of life and what’s to come. I’d like to share his words with you.

I entered into unknowing,
yet when I saw myself there,
without knowing where I was,
I understood great things;
I will not say what I felt
for I remained in unknowing
transcending all knowledge.

That perfect knowledge
was of peace and holiness
held at no remove
in profound solitude;
it was something so secret
that I was left stammering,
transcending all knowledge.

I was so overwhelmed,
so absorbed and withdrawn,
that my senses were left
deprived of all their sensing,
and my spirit was given
an understanding while not understanding,
transcending all knowledge.

He who truly arrives there
cuts free from himself;
all that he knew before
now seems worthless,
and his knowledge so soars
that he is left in unknowing
transcending all knowledge.

The higher he ascends
the less he understands,
because the cloud is dark
which lit up the night;
whoever knows this
remains always in unknowing
transcending all knowledge.

This knowledge in unknowing
is so overwhelming
that wise men disputing
can never overthrow it,
for their knowledge does not reach
to the understanding of not
understanding,
transcending all knowledge.

And this supreme knowledge
is so exalted
that no power of man or learning
can grasp it;
he who masters himself
will, with knowledge in
unknowing,
always be transcending.

And if you should want to hear:
this highest knowledge lies
in the loftiest sense
of the essence of God;
this is a work of his mercy,
to leave one without
understanding,
transcending all knowledge.

How often in life do we find ourselves saying, “why is this happening?” I’ve heard this refrain countless times when someone is unexpectedly diagnosed with a serious illness. Sometimes, there are explanations but, more often, we’re at a loss to make sense out of unwelcome news. Nonetheless, we search for answers. Yet, we may never understand. Through the words of St. John of the Cross, one can “without understanding transcend all knowledge.”

I invite you to share what these words mean to you.

One Comment

  1. dorothy zeide

    Very on point

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