How gently and lovingly thou awakenest in my bosom,
Where thou dwellest secretly and alone!
And in thy sweet breathing, full of blessing and glory,
How delicately thou inspirest my love!

St. John of the Cross

¡Cuán manso y amoroso
recuerdas en mi seno
donde secretamente solo moras,
y en tu aspirar sabroso
de bien y gloria lleno,
cuán delicadamente me enamoras!

San Juan de la Cruz

 

Advent is about preparing for a divine encounter. How does one prepare for a divine encounter? St. John of the Cross, (Juan de la Cruz), fourteenth-century Spanish mystic, poet, artist and co-reformer of the Carmelite Order in Spain, whose feast day is today, suggests to us that it is through the development of the soul. Preparing for the coming of the divine, according to John, is the journey of the soul for a mystical union with God.

Traditionally, we think of preparing for the divine entrance of Christ into the world as a time to make everything perfect and like new. It’s time to put up a new tree and make shiny the old decorations we have stored away, time to clean the house and time to buy new presents.

Even from a non-secular perspective, Advent is when the church prepares to be at its most glorious, devoting time to polishing the silver and cleaning the brass. We spend the season preparing for a beautiful and perfect divine encounter. When something bad happens at this time of year, we say, “It’s such a shame that had to happen at Christmas.” Our notion of the divine as a newborn pristine baby is disturbed.

But St. John of the Cross teaches that greater union with God includes suffering through grief and adversity, growing in faith, not giving up hope and being inspired by God’s love in times of crisis and in times of happiness. He awakens in us gently. His sweet breath of life is our divine encounter.