Jul 08 2009
The Sum of Perfection
by John of the Cross
English version by Ivan M. Granger
Creator only known,
Attention turned inward
In love with the Beloved alone.
— from For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics, by Roger Housden
/ Photo by bran.deann. /
Where else is the mystic path stated so succinctly yet so blissfully? These four lines by St. John of the Cross contain all the instructions necessary.
“Creation forgotten… Attention turned inward” To forget creation is the heart of self-restraint and concentration. Instead, the awareness turns inward, the senses are withdrawn. St. John of the Cross is reminding us to drop all attachment to the constant activity and sensory input of phenomenal reality, of manifest creation.
Doing this, creation is seen as having no fundamental reality of its own; it is only an expression or emanation of God. It is like watching a movie. The movie may seem real while we are caught up in the story, but if we pause, look around the auditorium, we can see that the movie is actually streaming through the darkness in a funnel of light. It’s source is really the projector.
“Creator only known.” Remembering this on every level, one is only aware of the Creator. Creation itself then becomes simply a reflection of the Divine. Knowing only the Creator, the Divine fills all of perception — that is true meditation.
Seeing through the insubstantial nature of mundane reality, one is filled with ecstatic, uncontainable love and bliss. This is not a surface happiness directed at exterior objects or people, but for all of creation and, more fundamentally, for the life that brings that creation into existence. “In love with the Beloved alone.”
The original Spanish verse has a fluid, chant-like rhythm that’s difficult to reproduce in English translation:
Olvido de lo criado,
memoria del Criador,
atencion a lo interior
y estarse amando al Amado.
PS – Check for my translation of this poem in For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics, edited by Roger Housden (due out in November 2009). Roger Housden’s contemplative collections of poetry are always worth reading.
|John of the Cross|