top of page

Shabbat Message: John of the cross and the Mystical Marriage

John was born in 1542 just outside Ávila, Spain, into a family with a complex social and religious background. His father, a wealthy accountant from a converso family (descendants of Jewish converts to Christianity, during the Spanish Inquisition you either converted, left the country or you were executed), was disinherited and shunned by his family after marrying a widow of lower social standing. This left John's family in poverty, and when his father died when John was only seven, their situation became dire. The family’s hardships were such that John’s elder brother died of malnutrition.

Despite these challenges, John’s resilience shone through. He received food and education from a church school and later served as an acolyte to Augustinian nuns. He worked at a hospital and eventually studied humanities at a school run by the newly established Society of Jesus. His academic journey continued at the Carmelite College in Salamanca, one of Europe’s premier educational institutions at the time, where he studied philosophy and scholastic theology. At the age of 21, upon joining the Carmelites, he took the name John of the Cross (Juan de la Cruz).

John Meets Teresa

Shortly after his ordination, John became friends with Teresa of Ávila, a prominent mystic and reformer. Teresa, whose family was also Jewish converso, shared a deep affinity with John’s mystical inclinations. Inspired by her efforts to reform the Carmelite nuns, John aspired to similar reforms among the friars. Teresa recognized his zeal and invited him to join her at the monastery in Ávila. Together, they founded the Discalced Carmelites, a new order committed to extreme asceticism, symbolized by their practice of wearing either sandals or no shoes at all.

Imprisonment and Mystical Writings

The radical reforms of the Discalced Carmelites were seen as a threat by the old Carmelite order, leading to John's arrest during the Spanish Inquisition in 1577. His imprisonment at the Carmelite monastery in Toledo was marked by severe hardships. Confined in a cramped cell with little light, John endured torture and solitary confinement, receiving barely enough food to survive.

Yet, in the midst of such suffering, John’s spiritual depth flourished. It was during this dark period that he composed "The Dark Night of the Soul," an iconic poem that has become a classic of mystical literature. This work, which explores the profound and often painful journey of the soul towards divine union, reflects John’s intimate understanding of the trials and transcendence involved in spiritual growth.

John Escapes and Continues His Mission

After eight months of imprisonment, John managed to escape. However, the life he returned to was fraught with challenges. Internal dissension plagued the Discalced Carmelites, and John faced opposition and jealousy from within his own order. He was demoted from his role as director and made a simple friar once more. Despite the turbulence, John continued his writing and spiritual work, although much of it went unappreciated during his lifetime.

John of the Cross died on December 14, 1591, after falling ill with a fever. His contributions to mystical theology and his profound spiritual insights have since gained widespread recognition and admiration. His works continue to be studied and cherished by readers around the world, and he is honored in the Basilica in the Chapel of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.


St. John of the Cross’s life and teachings hold significant parallels with those of St. Teresa of Ávila, highlighting the profound influence of Hebrew mysticism in their spiritual journeys. Both saints, coming from Jewish converso backgrounds, embraced a deep and mystical approach to their faith. Their experiences of persecution and suffering only deepened their spiritual insights, illustrating the transformative power of inner trials.

The mystical path of John and Teresa teaches us that true spiritual growth often involves enduring and transcending profound hardships. Their commitment to divine union, reflected in their reforms and writings, challenges us to look beyond superficial practices and seek a deeper, more authentic connection with the divine.

John’s profound exploration of the soul’s journey towards divine union, especially through the lens of his own suffering and mystical experiences, invites us to embrace our own spiritual trials. By doing so, we can transform our desires and align ourselves more closely with divine will, moving from a state of receiving for self alone to a state of receiving for the sake of sharing, thus fulfilling our highest spiritual potential.

If we look at “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength.” by John of the Cross in the Dark Night of the Soul:

This is the V´Ahavta Prayer in Aramaic - Biblical Hebrew:

V’AHAVTA et Adonai Elohecha, b’chol l’vavcha uv’chol nafsh’cha uv’chol m’odecha.

LOVE ADONAI your God with every heartbeat, with every breath, with every conscious act.

We can clearly see how the Hebrew Mysticism is so present in many of his expressions.

The Mystical Marriage is a common and important theme in the writings of Teresa of ÁVila and John of the Cross and represents a transformation through divine love. They both describe how this union with ALAHA transforms the soul, filling it with divine light, love, and peace. This transformation is not merely an emotional experience but a profound change in the very essence of the soul, aligning it completely with Alaha’s will.

This is similar to the merging with the light of Alaha in Kabbalistic Mysticism, we, as vessels, long to embody the Light of Divine Presence.

This Mystical Marriage is what Shabbat is all about. Beyond religion or spiritual paths, Shabbat is about DIVINE UNION.

The path to the Mystical Marriage is fraught with trials and purification. Both saints describe the necessity of enduring hardships and dark nights of the soul to achieve this union. These experiences serve to purify the soul, making it worthy of divine union.

Kabbalistic Mysticism also teaches us that our challenges in life serve as a purification process to reach higher dimensions of our Soul Expression. The desire for spirituality to serve as a manifested expectation of always feeling good is actually a desire to receive only for the self. Of course spirituality makes us feel good, but we must remember that every experience in our day, whether categorized as spiritual or mundane, is connected to a heavenly message and teaching. To transcend the challenges is to gracefully go through them, knowing that the fear, pain and confusion they cause will clear when they are received, always knowing that these will pass and what is left for us is the blessing of wisdom.

We are in the month of Sivan - Gemini, the month of Mystical Marriage, of the true Wedding Feast, the Bridal Chamber, and for this reason I share the story of one of the greatest mystics. To think that longing for divine union with Alaha, and embodied spirituality, would be a threat to the power of the institution of the church can help us reflect on the amount of Mysteries that have been kept secret, even those mysteries that these powers didn´t even understand.

Let us embrace this Mystical Marriage of Alaha and Self, of Soul and Body, inner - outer, above - below, masculine - feminine.

As we light our Shabbat candles today, may this be our intention, and may balance be restored within our lives and humanity.

May our time here on Earth,  in this present incarnation , also be an opportunity to REMEMBER.

I lost myself. Forgot myself.

I lay my face against the Beloved's face.

Everything fell away and I left myself behind,

Abandoning my cares

Among the lilies, forgotten.

― Saint John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul



Ana Otero

Image of John of the Cross with Teresa of Ávila.

206 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page