Wednesday, November 2, 2011

St. Bill of the Dissertation


Bill is seven, but he's still pretty snuggly.
Bill is seven now, an age that sort of wavers between little kid and full blown kid... meaning that, he may be embarrassed when I sing in public, but he is still not ashamed to climb in bed with his mommy if he wakes up and it’s still dark. Tom gets up at 6, and I guess his movements must have woken Bill up one morning this week, because he wiggled in next to me around 6:20. When he was a 6-pound baby, he used to sleep on my chest, which I loved... so I honestly don’t mind anytime he wants to get a snuggly mommy fix. I know that all too soon, he’ll think I’m clueless and shun me whenever possible. 

Anyway, this particular morning, in the pitch black of my room, he threw his arm over me and whispered, “Mommy... I can’t see you, but I know you’re there because I love you.” How sweet was that, right?! Well, when I shared this dram of sweetness with my friend Grace later that day, she said, “That’s a pretty good summary of my dissertation.”

Again with the St.
John of the Cross...
Of course I had to have her explain because I don't have the brain power to sift through this kind of scholarly tome. I actually tried to help her proofread her book-length work on St. John of the Cross and his “dark night of the soul” when she was writing it... Sad to say, though, it took me a whole day to read the first chapter, and I got a whopping headache for my trouble! In her defense, that’s just how dissertations are, for the most part. She actually tried to write something that was a bit more accessible, but her director scorned it as “television writing.” So, because of his scorn, she produced, Thought and Poetic Structure in San Juan de la Cruz’s Symbol of Night, a document that I find as impenetrable as its subject. 

Grace's dissertation –
available on Amazon.com!
Anyway, Grace is the only reason I know anything  at all about Saint John of the Cross, his dark night of the soul, and the adjective “sanjuanist”... I think she would tell you that being in grad school and writing a dissertation summon a particular brand of dark night for the student. Just watching her go through it triggered my resolve to avoid grad school unless absolutely necessary... and so far I have managed to give it a wide berth. 

Anyway, her explanation, IF I understood it correctly, was that Spanish Golden Age poet and deep, deep mystic St. John of the Cross, suffered plenty – under the Spanish Inquisition, and also from his own order... AND from feeling a noticeable absence of God's presence and comfort. Nonetheless, he asserted that in the night / darkness of suffering and spiritual despair, we can know God strictly through our love for Him, or as Grace said, “love as an epistemological mode.” So... I had to look that up too... and, well... Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge. It addresses questions like  What is knowledge? How is knowledge acquired? How do we know what we know?

So, again, if I understand correctly, St. John said if you are suffering and can’t feel God with you, you can know Him through LOVE. (I guess it makes sense that St. John was all about the Song of Solomon, the Bible's great metaphorical love poem.) Or, to put it simpler, as Bill did, “I can’t see you, but I know you’re there, because I love you.” How sweet is that?!

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