In this episode, Saints and Sonnets, guest teacher, Mirabai Starr, shares with us the poetry and stories of two Spanish mystic saints who shared a deep devotion and who held a love for God in their heart that burned like fire. Mirabai gives a rich historical context to the lives of St. Teresa of Ávila and St. John of the Cross, and brings many parallels to the eastern spiritual experience. How do we turn our suffering in the darkest of times into a candle of hope?
01:15 – After a brief introduction Mirabai begins to tell us of the intertwined stories of, St.John of the Cross and Teresa of Ávila. Both were influenced by the teachings of Judaism and Islam before converting to Catholicism. We are given a better understanding of how their cultural background and Spain’s history of mysticism informed their teachings and work.
04:44 – The early life and visionary experiences of Teresa are explored. It is explained via these experiences, that Teresa calls raptures, are very similar to what the Indian saints call samadhi. It is not long however before she attracted the attention of the Inquisition which would come to a head later in life.
09:50 – We jump forward one generation to St. John of the Cross. Born in 1542 to a poor family, John worked as a boy in a nearby hospice to support his parents and siblings. He quickly drew notice with the unique loving-kindness and care he showed the patients there. John is sent by the church to the University of Salamanca on scholarship to study Catholicism, where he is exposed to Islamic teachings as well.
12:15 – Back to 1535, we find Teresa entering the Order of the Carmelites on mount Carmel in modern day northern Isreal. She sees the order as having strayed from its roots and given into materialism and political corruption. Teresa begins a reform that seeks to return to the more contemplative tradition. This is a labor she spends most of her life seeing through to completion.
12:55 – Much later in 1571, struggling with her reformation of the Carmelite Order, Teresa hears stories of the 23-year-old John and summons him to her. John shared her views on reformation and agreed to help Teresa with her efforts. They met quick success and formed the Discalced (barefoot) Carmelite Order, which quickly spreads across the Catholic world.
15:25 – In return for his efforts in helping Teresa reform the order, John is imprisoned by the Inquisition. For nine months he was kept isolated in a cell atop a Spanish monastery. John passed the days by creating and reciting poetry. Through unknown means, John eventually escapes his captivity. Miraculously, he follows a black dog away from the monastery and is led to a local Discalced convent whose nuns brought John back to health. While recovering at the convent, John writes his most famous poem “Dark Night of the Soul”, which John called an outpouring of love for God from his soul.
19:40 – Mirabai reads an excerpt from “Dark Night of the Soul”, and discusses the meaning behind some of the stanzas.
24:35 – A comparison between Ram Dass’s teachings of ego, soul, and with the Christian teachings of Via Negative, the way of negation.
28:11 – A reading of “Keeping Quiet”, by Pablo Neruda.
31:40 – Reflections on the journey of the soul.
33:15 – A reading of “Love Dogs”, by Rumi.
34:55 – Question and Response with Mirabai and crowd. Starting with a question on how we know the difference between legitimate accounts of saints and hagiography.
40:10 – How to maintain faith during our personal “dark night of the soul” experience.
46:20 – Mirabai continues the “Q&R” with questions on dealing with paradoxes and trying to grasp at epiphanies.
For events news and more from Mirabai, visit her website.
Mirabai Starr writes, speaks and leads retreats on the inter-spiritual teachings of the mystics. Known for her revolutionary translations of John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Julian of Norwich, Mirabai renders mystical masterpieces accessible, beautiful, and relevant to a contemporary circle of seekers. Her commentaries on the interconnected wisdom of all traditions are lyrical and evocative. She builds bridges not only between religious traditions, but also between contemplative life and compassionate service, between cultivating an inner relationship with the Beloved and expressing that intimacy in community, between the transformational power of loss and longing for the sacred.
Dark Night of the Soul translation by Mirabai Starr
Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation by Mirabai Starr