John of the Cross was a Spanish ascetic of the 16th century who believed he came to understand Christ in suffering. Crucially, he arrived at this understanding through a sort of failure: by acknowledging the impossibility of describing a mystical experience that can’t be put into words or even rational discourse.
This point of exhaustion where language reaches a limit is the subject of his great poem and its accompanying commentary, known as Dark Night of the Soul.
“In searching for the spirit they lose the spirit,” John wrote. “The brighter the light, the more the owl is blinded; and the more one looks at the brilliant sun, the more the sun darkens the faculty of sight, deprives it and overwhelms it in its weakness.”
The solution is a dark abyss. By depriving the body, mind, and ego, man can allow God to enter, without His being misunderstood, into his impure soul.
“Through the annihilation and calming of my faculties, passions, appetites, and affections, by which my experience and satisfaction in God was base, I went out from my human operation and way of acting to God’s operation and way of acting. My intellect departed from itself, changing from human and natural to divine.”