Recently, I have been able to return to some art work following a change of assignments in the monastery. It had been a long absence. The futility of my initial attempts to handle rough sketching, water color paint and brush slowly dispelled some imaginary illusions I had been carrying for several days. These drifted away and evaporated like an early morning mist after sunrise. It was a trifle blow to my self-confidence as reality came to the foreground and I pondered for a few moments. Out of necessity I returned to a few rudimentary basics garnered from previous art lessons. A quick perusal recalled such things as: basic shapes, perspective, shadows, texture and composition. I found myself using odd bits of free time usually after our night prayer to brush up on these fundamentals.
During the daytime, a quick cut across our center courtyard to answer a bell or enjoy a more leisurely Sunday walk has served to awaken and impress images so often taken for granted. One begins to notice the rapid changes of seasons and its effect on the natural surroundings; light, shade, shadow and color. The rough texture of an oddly shaped piece of dry timber layered with green moss near the pond invites notice. Admiration and gratitude naturally well up within the spirit. All of this with its innumerable variety invites wonder and awe as a reflection of Beauty Itself.
One of the fruits gleamed from formation classes on St. John of the Cross was his keen observation of images to explain and set forth human, theological and spiritual realities. His marvelous use of images and their properties embeds the principles of his sound doctrine more easily than mere static doctrinal statements. Some of these images are more salient than others and find repetition in his commentaries. His use of the image of fire and its effects on a damp piece of wood spitting forth moisture with its pungent odor is a fine example. (Dk. Nt. II Ch. 10 .1). John used this image to describe the painful but necessary purification of our unwieldy desires of one kind or another on the path to union with God. Later he uses the same image of fire in conjunction with the cautery or wound of love. (LF II 2.3.). In both instances, fire as representative of the Holy Spirit both purifies and enkindles. On evenings when we as a community enjoy a “cook out” with logs burning in a fire pit, the incandescent beauty of the fire quietly burning the dried wood is beautiful to behold.
The use of light and its interplay with darkness are also favorite images used by John and one may find some outstanding passages descriptive of both in the general index of his complete works by ICS. Growing up with his brother, Francisco, the two would sometime spend whole nights sleeping under the stars. Perhaps, this enabled him to notice the gradual changes and degrees of light and darkness such as oncoming twilight, midnight darkness and early morning dawn. It is not only the delight that I find in these and other images that appear in his writings, but especially, their value in teaching me to make similar associations in my own life.