Saint John of the Cross and the Dark Night

Note to readers: If you found this page by searching on St. John of the Cross or Dark Night of the Soul, you may be surprised to discover you've found an article on gay consciousness and gay men's spirituality. You may not have even ever considered that such a thing as gay men's spirituality exists. Let me invite you to read on. Even--or especially--if you're not gay, you may find you'll learn something relevant to your quest for spirituality and consolation

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Toby Johnson's books:

Toby's books are available as ebooks from, the Apple iBookstore, etc.

Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III

Gay Spirituality

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness

Gay Perspective

GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe

Secret Matter

SECRET MATTER, a sci-fi novel with wonderful "aliens" with an Afterword by Mark Jordan

Getting Life

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:  A Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods

The Fourth Quill

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil

Two Spirits
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams

charmed lives
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers

Myth of the Great Secret

THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell

In Search of God


Unpublished manuscripts

About ordering

Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series

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  Toby has done five podcasts with Harry Faddis for The Quest of Life

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  Articles and Excerpts:

Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"

About Liberty Books, the Lesbian/Gay Bookstore for Austin, 1986-1996

The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

Why gay people should NOT Marry

The Scriptural Basis for Same Sex Marriage

Toby and Kip Get Married

Wedding Cake Liberation

Gay Marriage in Texas

What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

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Gay Consciousness

Why homosexuality is a sin

The cause of homosexuality

The origins of homophobia

Q&A about Jungian ideas in gay consciousness

What is homosexuality?

What is Gay Spirituality?

My three messages

What Jesus said about Gay Rights

Queering religion

Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men

Is there a "uniquely gay perspective"?

The purpose of homosexuality

Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men

Varieties of Gay Spirituality

Waves of Gay Liberation Activity

The Gay Succession

Wouldn’t You Like to Be Uranian?

The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter

Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium

Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Mysticism of Andrew Harvey

The upsidedown book on MSNBC

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"It's Always About You"

The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara

You're Not A Wave

Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging

What is Enlightenment?

What is reincarnation?

How many lifetimes in an ego?

Emptiness & Religious Ideas

Experiencing experiencing experiencing

Going into the Light

Meditations for a Funeral

Meditation Practice

The way to get to heaven

Buddha's father was right

What Anatman means

Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal

The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika

Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva

John Boswell was Immanuel Kant

Cutting edge realization

The Myth of the Wanderer

Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss

World Navel

What the Vows Really Mean

Manifesting from the Subtle Realms

The Three-layer Cake & the Multiverse

The est Training and Personal Intention

Effective Dreaming in Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven

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Gay Spirituality

Curious Bodies

What Toby Johnson Believes

The Joseph Campbell Connection

The Mann Ranch (& Rich Gabrielson)

Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy

The Two Loves

The Nature of Religion

What's true about Religion

Being Gay is a Blessing

Drawing Long Straws

Freedom of Religion

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The Gay Agenda

Gay Saintliness

Gay Spiritual Functions

The subtle workings of the spirit in gay men's lives.

The Sinfulness of Homosexuality

Proposal for a study of gay nondualism

Priestly Sexuality

Having a Church to Leave

Harold Cole on Beauty

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Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption

Not lashed to the prayer-post

Monastic or Chaste Homosexuality

Is It Time to Grow Up? Confronting the Aging Process

Notes on Licking  (July, 1984)

Redeem Orlando

Gay Consciousness changing the world by Shokti LoveStar

Alexander Renault interviews Toby Johnson

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Mystical Vision

"The Evolution of Gay Identity"

"St. John of the Cross & the Dark Night of the Soul."

Avalokiteshvara at the Baths

 Eckhart's Eye

Let Me Tell You a Secret

Religious Articulations of the Secret

The Collective Unconscious

Driving as Spiritual Practice


Historicity as Myth


No Stealing

Next Step in Evolution

The New Myth

The Moulting of the Holy Ghost

Gaia is a Bodhisattva

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The Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey as archetype -- GSV 2016

The  Gay Hero Journey (shortened)

You're On Your Own


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Seeing Differently

Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

Allah Hu: "God is present here"

Adam and Steve

The Life is in the Blood

Gay retirement and the "freelance monastery"

Seeing with Different Eyes

Facing the Edge: AIDS as an occasion for spiritual wisdom

What are you looking for in a gay science fiction novel?

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The Vision

The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside

A  Most Remarkable Synchronicity in Riverside

The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis

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The Techniques Of The World Saviors

Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby

Part 2: The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara

Part 3: Jesus and the Resurrection

Part 4: A Course in Miracles

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The Secret of the Clear Light

Understanding the Clear Light

Mobius Strip

Finding Your Tiger Face

How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated

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Joseph Campbell, the Hero's Journey, and the modern Gay Hero-- a five part presentation on YouTube

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About Alien Abduction

In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Karellen was a homosexual

The D.A.F.O.D.I.L. Alliance

Intersections with the movie When We Rise

More about Gay Mental Health

Psych Tech Training

Toby at the California Institute

The Rainbow Flag

Ideas for gay mythic stories

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Kip and Toby, Activists

Toby's friend and nicknamesake Toby Marotta.

Harry Hay, Founder of the gay movement

About Hay and The New Myth

About Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first man to really "come out"

About Michael Talbot, gay mystic

About Fr. Bernard Lynch

About Richard Baltzell

About Guy Mannheimer

About David Weyrauch

About Dennis Paddie

About Ask the Fire

About Arthur Evans

About Christopher Larkin

About Mark Thompson

About Sterling Houston

About Michael Stevens

The Alamo Business Council

Our friend Tom Nash

Second March on Washington

The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"

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Book Reviews

Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook

Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer

The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter

The Gay Disciple by John Henson

Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry

Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr

Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois

Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson

Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low

Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman

The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman

Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor

Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine

The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada

The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook

The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther

The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel

Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak

Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez

Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

Occam’s Razor by David Duncan

Grace and Demion by Mel White

Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso

The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery

The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass

Love Together: Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen

War Between Materialism and Spiritual by Jean-Michel Bitar

The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal

Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal

The Invitation to Love by Darren Pierre

Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration by Daniel A Helminiak

A Walk with Four Spiritual Guides by Andrew Harvey

Can Christians Be Saved? by Stephenson & Rhodes

The Lost Secrets of the Ancient Mystery Schools by Stephenson & Rhodes

Keys to Spiritual Being: Energy Meditation and Synchronization Exercises by Adrian Ravarour

In Walt We Trust by John Marsh

Solomon's Tantric Song by Rollan McCleary

A Special Illumination by Rollan McCleary

Aelred's Sin by Lawrence Scott

Fruit Basket by Payam Ghassemlou

Internal Landscapes by John Ollom

Princes & Pumpkins by David Hatfield Sparks

Yes by Brad Boney

Blood of the Goddess by William Schindler

Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom by Jeffrey Kripal

Evolving Dharma by Jay Michaelson

Jesus in Salome's Lot by Brett W. Gillette

The Man Who Loved Birds by Fenton Johnson

The Vatican Murders by Lucien Gregoire

"Sex Camp" by Brian McNaught

Out & About with Brewer & Berg
Episode One: Searching for a New Mythology

The Soul Beneath the Skin by David Nimmons

Out on Holy Ground by Donald Boisvert

The Revotutionary Psychology of Gay-Centeredness by Mitch Walker

Out There by Perry Brass

The Crucifixion of Hyacinth by Geoff Puterbaugh

The Silence of Sodom by Mark D Jordan

It's Never About What It's About by Krandall Kraus and Paul Borja

ReCreations, edited by Catherine Lake

Gospel: A Novel by WIlton Barnhard

Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey by Fenton Johnson

Dating the Greek Gods
by Brad Gooch

Telling Truths in Church by Mark D. Jordan

The Substance of God by Perry Brass

The Tomcat Chronicles by Jack Nichols

10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Improve Their Lives by Joe Kort

Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love by Will Roscoe

The Third Appearance by Walter Starcke

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann

Surviving and Thriving After a Life-Threatening Diagnosis by Bev Hall

Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods by Ronald Long

An Interview with Ron Long

Queering Creole Spiritual Traditons by Randy Conner & David Sparks

An Interview with Randy Conner

Pain, Sex and Time by Gerald Heard

Sex and the Sacred by Daniel Helminiak

Blessing Same-Sex Unions by Mark Jordan

Rising Up by Joe Perez

Soulfully Gay by Joe Perez

That Undeniable Longing by Mark Tedesco

Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman

Wisdom for the Soul by Larry Chang

MM4M a DVD by Bruce Grether

Double Cross by David Ranan

The Transcended Christian by Daniel Helminiak

Jesus in Love by Kittredge Cherry

In the Eye of the Storm by Gene Robinson

The Starry Dynamo by Sven Davisson

Life in Paradox by Fr Paul Murray

Spirituality for Our Global Community by Daniel Helminiak

Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society by Robert A. Minor

Coming Out: Irish Gay Experiences by Glen O'Brien

Queering Christ by Robert Goss

Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage

The Flesh of the Word by Richard A Rosato

Catland by David Garrett Izzo

Tantra for Gay Men by Bruce Anderson

Yoga & the Path of the Urban Mystic by Darren Main

Simple Grace by Malcolm Boyd

Seventy Times Seven by Salvatore Sapienza

What Does "Queer" Mean Anyway? by Chris Bartlett

Critique of Patriarchal Reasoning by Arthur Evans

Gift of the Soul by Dale Colclasure & David Jensen

Legend of the Raibow Warriors by Steven McFadden

The Liar's Prayer by Gregory Flood

Lovely are the Messengers by Daniel Plasman

The Human Core of Spirituality by Daniel Helminiak

3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Religion and the Human Sciences by Daniel Helminiak

Only the Good Parts by Daniel Curzon

Four Short Reviews of Books with a Message

Life Interrupted by Michael Parise

Confessions of a Murdered Pope by Lucien Gregoire

The Stargazer's Embassy by Eleanor Lerman

Conscious Living, Conscious Aging by Ron Pevny

Footprints Through the Desert by Joshua Kauffman

True Religion by J.L. Weinberg

The Mediterranean Universe by John Newmeyer

Everything is God by Jay Michaelson

Reflection by Dennis Merritt

Everywhere Home by Fenton Johnson

Hard Lesson by James Gaston

God vs Gay? by Jay Michaelson

The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path by Jay Michaelson

Roxie & Fred by Richard Alther

Not the Son He Expected by Tim Clausen

The 9 Realities of Stardust by Bruce P. Grether

The Afterlife Revolution by Anne & Whitley Strieber

AIDS Shaman: Queer Spirit Awakening by Shokti Lovestar

Facing the Truth of Your Life by Merle Yost

The Super Natural by Whitley Strieber & Jeffrey J Kripal

Secret Body by Jeffrey J Kripal

In Hitler's House by Jonathan Lane

Walking on Glory by Edward Swift

The Paradox of Porn by Don Shewey

Is Heaven for Real? by Lucien Gregoire

Enigma by Lloyd Meeker

Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson

Toby Johnson's Books on Gay Men's Spiritualities:

Perspective cover
Gay Perspective

Things Our [Homo]sexuality
Tells Us about the
Nature of God and
the Universe

Gay Perspective audiobook
Gay Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Matthew Whitfield. Click here

Spirituality cover
Gay Spirituality

Gay Identity and 
the Transformation of
Human Consciousness

Gay Spirituality   is now available as an audiobook, beautifully narrated by John Sipple. Click here

charmed lives
Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling

edited by
Toby Johnson
& Steve Berman

secret matter
Secret Matter

Lammy Award Winner for Gay Science Fiction


Getting Life
Getting Life in Perspective

A Fantastical Romance

Life in Perspective audiobook
Getting Life in Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Alex Beckham. Click here 

The Fourth Quill

The Fourth Quill

originally published as PLAGUE

The Fourth Quill is available as an audiobook, narrated by Jimmie Moreland. Click here

Two Spirits: A Story of Life with the Navajo

with Walter L. Williams

Two Spirits
audiobookTwo Spirits  is available as an audiobook  narrated by Arthur Raymond. Click here

Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III
Finding Your Own True Myth:
What I Learned from Joseph Campbell

The Myth of the Great Secret III

Search of God in the Sexual Underworld
In Search of God  in the Sexual Underworld

The Myth of the Great Secret II

The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell.

This was the second edition of this book.

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Toby Johnson's titles are available in other ebook formats from Smashwords.

This article appeared in the May 2000 issue of GENRE.

Dark Night of the Soul

by Toby Johnson

The notion of the "dark night of the soul" has entered Western culture to refer to a particular kind of emotive/affective state, also called aridity, that supposedly precedes direct mystical experience. It refers generally to the notion that you have to go through a certain amount of suffering before you can realize joy and pleasure. The dark night is characterized by dissatisfaction and boredom with the way normal people live their normal lives. Underlying this dissatisfaction is a "spiritual hunger" for something more than the world offers. This is interpreted as the experience of union with God. While this image applies to all people, it has particularly appropriate application to the experience of gay men, especially spiritually conscious gay men.


There is a certain knowingness that goes with being gay, a sense of understanding a hidden dimension of reality that most people don't seem to realize is there. We learn this early in life. At first, it's just in reference to self. That is, we sense, often inchoately, that there's something about ourselves we have to keep secret, something only we (and God) can know. We may develop a magical or religious vision of the world out of this sense of secretness/sacredness.

As we grow older we likely come to understand that what we had understood to be the "secret dimension" was, in fact, the homosexual dimension, and that there have been others before us who've lived lives in secrecy and "darkness" as fellow homosexuals. We become fascinated with the homosexual slant which we--and our fellows--can see throughout history and culture. We want to know who was gay in the past, which movie stars, which politicians and celebrities, shared our secret (often in their own "darkness").

The people we--perhaps too cavalierly--call straight, the "normal" people, may not perceive this hidden dimension at all. There is, after all, no reason for them to mistrust what they're taught by authorities--at least, no reason felt in their flesh. Of course, as they develop and deepen their own psychological/spiritual lives, they too are liable to realize there is a secret dimension. That is, after all, the discovery of all those called "mystics." An important part of the gay contribution may be precisely the revelation of the hidden dimension to life.

To the gay man who can see through the secrecy, the spiritual classic, The Dark Night of the Soul, is an elaborate ruse to disguise a homosexual adventure. In its conceit there is wisdom gay men can appreciate in a way those who don't realize the secret/mystical dimension simply can't.

The book, written by the 16th-century Spanish Carmelite mystic San Juan de la Cruz, is a detailed commentary on a poem called "On a Dark Night." This poem is included in virtually every anthology of religious poetry (e.g. Andrew Harvey's The Essential Mystics). The commentary explains the various images in the poem as allegories for stages in development of the spiritual life. But if you read the poem with gay awareness, it is obviously an account of a homosexual liaison.


night sea journeySt. John of the Cross spent a grueling nine months as a prisoner in a  monastery of the Order in Toledo. He was kept locked up because, inspired by his friendship with his fellow reformer, the Carmelite nun Teresa of Avila, he was so insistent that the Carmelite friars practice mortification and austerities.  The other friars had him sent to his cell to keep him quiet. He was flogged in front of the community at least weekly. While locked away, he wrote numerous poems and elaborate commentaries on these poems. Like the spiritual poetry of the Persian Islamic Sufi mystics a few centuries before, St. John's poetry is hotly homoerotic.

"On a Dark Night" describes John's romantic fantasy of running off into the night to meet a lover. "On a dark secret night, starving for love and deep in flame," he begins, "...unseen I slipped away." Wearing a scarf over his face, he fled unseen, climbing down what he called a secret ladder (perhaps a trellis outside his cell?), guided only by the fire burning in his breast.

He goes out to a spot outside the fortress walls of the old medieval walled city of Toledo, a spot which he describes as "a place where no one comes." But there waiting for him is his Beloved. John rhapsodizes: "O night that guided me, O night more lovely than the dawn, O night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!" In the darkness then they make love.

Afterwards, the beloved falls asleep with his head on John's chest. As the wind blows through the cedars overhead, John caresses and fondles him and then falls asleep himself, now with his face lying on his beloved's breast (like his Apostle namesake who lay on the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper).

When the sun rises John wakes feeling that all his cares are gone, and he sees that he and his beloved are lying among a field of lilies.

The allegorical explanation is that this is about the stage of depression and aridity in the religious life, the so-called "dark night of the soul." The secret ladder is living faith; the disguise, the three theological virtues, faith, hope and charity. But that is not what's in the poem! There is nothing about depression or spiritual suffering, much less the theological virtues. It's about sexual passion. Perhaps the lover and beloved represent the soul and Christ, but that is still a homoerotic image.

Perhaps it is all allegory and St. John never left his cell. But it really sounds like he was sneaking out and engaging in 16th Century bush sex, or at least fantasizing it. What was mystical was that he probably was in such a state of religious intensity (and neurotic denial) that he truly experienced the men he was meeting out there in the bushes as palpable manifestations of Christ.


The notion of the "dark night of the soul" has entered Western culture to refer to a particular kind of emotive/affective state, also called aridity, that supposedly precedes direct mystical experience. It refers generally to the notion that you have to go through a certain amount of suffering before you can realize joy and pleasure. The dark night is characterized by dissatisfaction and boredom with the way normal people live their normal lives. Underlying this dissatisfaction is a "spiritual hunger" for something more than the world offers. This is interpreted as the experience of union with God.


Psychology calls this state depression, though certainly not all depression has such spiritual roots or can be solved by mystical experience. But there is clearly a parallel between the dark night of the soul and the depression of young adulthood with its angst about the meaning of life and the passing of childhood fantasy. In mid-life, this is experienced as the so-called "noonday devil," acedia, the apathy and boredom (not clinical depression) that come from doing the same thing every day and never seeing the world change because of it. This is what mid-life crises are about.

In the dark night, life seems flat because higher consciousness seeks deeper meaning. This is a stage in learning perspective and getting priorities in order. This is a plunging into the depths in order to reform one's personality and self-concept.  (See how Salvadore Dali's painting, The Christ of St John of the Cross, emphasizes perspective.)

The dark night is a common step in coming out as gay. That is, gay men often experience confusion, depression, and loss of social identity as they realize their homosexual orientation. First, perhaps, we sense that something is missing in heterosexuality, we long for something more. Then when we realize what it is we long for, we may feel humiliated or betrayed or at least may feel this is something we must keep secret. Later, often through a life-changing moment of emotional intensity, we come to understand what homosexuality really is. Then the guilt and misconceptions are transformed, and we experience relief and joy. We have gone through the dark night, through the way of purgation, and discovered a whole new world and new self-concept.

What St. John of the Cross was describing as a stage of the spiritual life--perhaps to keep his fellow monks from realizing he was tricking with an hallucinated Jesus out at the cruise park--was not the sadness and unhappiness of depression, but a state of uncertainty and not-knowing. This is a relatively enlightened stage of religiousness. And you find it among many of the mystics. They acknowledge that the spiritual life is not about being right. Rather it is about being in awe before a greater reality that just doesn't fit human ideas, because it is so much bigger, more wonderful, and more immediate.

This embrace of uncertainty is not something you find in popular religion, however. The televangelists never say God is unknowable and religious people ought to give up trying to know who's right and, especially, who's wrong. Just the opposite, they often maintain they themselves know exactly what is in the mind of God, that their translation of the Bible is absolutely true and inerrant, that Church teaching is infallible. No room for uncertainty and unknowing here. Tragically, little room for spiritual growth and enlightenment either!

Not surprisingly, gay men have a special access through the dark night. We go through that uncertainty as a necessary part of being who we are. And thus we potentially see the mystical message behind religion. We potentially discover what John of the Cross was talking about: in every man we meet, especially those we have sex with or fall in love with, we can see Christ. Indeed, this is what "Christ" means: not some Cosmic Pal in the sky who is the founder and CEO of Christianity, but the real divinity of human incarnate life, here and now. As Jesus said, "What you do to the least of my brothers, that you do to Me." And also: "The Kingdom of God is spread across the face of the Earth, and men do not see it." The trick is to open our eyes to see.

The New Age singer Loreena McKennitt, who has put St. John's poem to music, translates his rhapsodizing this way: "O night that joined the lover to the beloved one, Transforming each of them into the other." (You can hear Lorenea McKennet's song on YouTube: The Dark Night of the Soul)

That's a very homosexual take on lovemaking. While heterosexuals do experience love as a reuniting with their "other half" (following Plato's famous image), they generally don't experience transforming into one another. Straight men don't long to experience becoming women during sex; they don't confuse their penis with their partner's vagina. Gay men do. We can experience a blurring of identity in sexplay. In the fire of passion, we can sometimes confuse our own bodies and our beloveds'. We can experience transforming into one another.

More importantly, we can experience sex and lovemaking as an experience of Christ, of God. This is the mystical vision of the dark night.

Once Juan de la Cruz got out of his cell, by the way, by prying open the door to his cell and climbing out a window and down "a secret stair" (?), he continued his efforts to restructure the Carmelite Order according to the "Strict Observance," called "Discalced" (meaning barefoot or shoeless; Discalced Carmelites actually wear sandals, like most other mendicant friars in the Franciscan tradition). He was associated with the very dominant (and big-boned and butch) female saint, Teresa of Avila, who had first gotten the Carmelite nuns to discalce themselves and who had enlisted Juan to bring these reforms to the friars. Especially because of the Bernini sculpture of St. Teresa being pierced in the heart with a flaming arrow wielded by an angel, she has become famous for experiencing prayer-induced orgasm.


Remember John wakes to find himself and his Beloved lying in a field of lilies. A beautiful affirmation of love. Also an allusion to one of the loveliest of Jesus's sayings: Consider the lilies of John of the Crossthe field, they neither toil nor spin, yet even King Solomon in all his glory was not adorned as one of them. Do not be anxious therefore. Do not judge.

This is the message of the spiritual teachings: Live here and now. Find the Kingdom of God here and now. See Jesus in everyone you meet. This is not the wisdom of family values and householding which is understandably, desperately concerned with maintaining the status quo, holding on to certainty, protecting the nest for the sake of the children. But precisely because, as gay, we don't fit into the status quo, we don't experience certainty and righteousness, we have available to us the mystical vision of the dark night.

We can open our eyes and see in the darkness.

icon of St John of the Cross © 1991 Br. Robert Lentz, OFM
click on the image to see more Robert Lentz icons
& find ways to purchase reproductions.

Here's a lovely English translation of the poem by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD:

1. One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
- ah, the sheer grace! -
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.
2. In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
- ah, the sheer grace! -
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.
3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.
4. This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
- him I knew so well -
there in a place where no one appeared.
5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.
6. Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.
7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.
8. I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

You can hear Loreena McKennet's song on YouTube

The Dark Night of the Soul

Read  Toby Johnson's review of Queer God de Amor by Miguel H. Díaz, a wonderful book in Catholic mystical theology about John of the Cross and the symbolism of gay/queer/LGBTQ love.

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Toby Johnson, PhD is author of nine books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, four gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness. 

Johnson's book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.

His  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They remain in print.

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III tells the story of Johnson's learning the real nature of religion and myth and discovering the spiritual qualities of gay male consciousness.

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