I entered into unknowing

Yet when I saw myself there

Without knowing where I was

I understood great things

Spanish Mystic St John of the Cross (1542 – 1592) was an incredible poet and was willing to dive deeply into the place of unknowing, even calling it “an ecstasy”!

The accompanying mediation are several verses from his poem “Stanzas Concerning an Ecstacy Experienced in High Contemplation”. John is incredibly humble – knowing that he does not know, can never know, and doesn’t even need to know!

Mirabai Starr who has translated St John’s Dark Night of the Soul into modern day language says…

The soul in the dark night cannot, by definition, understand what is happening to her. Accustomed to feeling and conceiving of the Beloved in her own way, she does not realise that the darkness is a blessing. She perceives God’s gentle touch as an unbearable burden. She feels miserable and unworthy, convinced that God has abandoned her, afraid she may herself be turning against him. In her despair, the soul does not recognise that God is teaching her in a secret way now, a way with which the faculties of sense and reason cannot interfere.

At the same time that the soul in the night of spirit becomes paralysed in spiritual practice, her love-longing for God begins to intensify. In the stillness left behind by its broken-open senses and intellect, a quality of abundance starts to grow inside the emptied soul. It turns out that the Beloved is longing for union with the lover as fervently as she has been yearning for him. . . . God will whisper to the soul in the depth of darkness and guide it through the wilderness of the Unknown until it is annihilated in the flames of perfect love.

Here are the stanzas and below is a short meditation where you can listen to them. Let these words connect with your heart rather than trying to organise and understand them in a cognitive way. The heart will respond with a yes even when the mind is left wondering!…

I entered into unknowing

Yet when I saw myself there

Without knowing where I was

I understood great things;

I shall not say what I felt

For I remained in unknowing

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 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-


Transcending all knowledge.

For more on The Dark Night, James Finley is currently offering a wonderful podcast on St John of The Cross – Here.

Stanzas Concerning an Ecstacy Experienced in High Contemplation

by St John of the Cross

If you’d like to find out what it’s like having Spiritual Direction, I offer a free hour long taster session.  To find out more about me and to book a time, please visit my homepage.