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In Practice

It should be known that if a person is seeking God, her beloved is seeking her much more.

The soul, then, should advert that God is the principal agent in this matter, and that He acts as the blind man’s guide who must lead it by the hand to the place beyond the reach of the mind and senses.

Since the soul cannot function naturally except by means of the senses, it is God who in this state is the agent, and the soul is the receiver. The soul conducts itself only as the receiver and as one in whom something is being done; God is the giver and the one Who works in it, without the soul’s natural acts and discursive reflections.

Since God, then, as the giver communes with her through simple, loving knowledge, the individual also, as the receiver, communes with God, through a simple and loving knowledge or attention, so that knowledge is thus joined with knowledge and love with love. The receiver should act according to the mode of what is received, and not otherwise, in order to receive and keep it in the way it is given.

If as I say – and it is true – this loving knowledge is received passively in the soul according to the supernatural mode of God, and not according to the natural mode of the soul, a person, if she wants to receive it should be quite annihilated in her natural operations. A person should not bear attachment to anything, neither the practice of meditation, nor to any savour, whether sensory or spiritual, nor to any other apprehensions. She should be quite free and annihilated regarding all things, because any thought or discursive reflection or satisfaction upon which she may want to lean would impede and disquiet her, and make noise in the profound silence of her senses and her spirit, which she possesses for the sake of this deep and delicate listening. God speaks to the heart in this solitude, in supreme peace and tranquillity, while the soul listens to what the Lord God speaks to it, for He speaks this peace in solitude.

When it happens, therefore, that a person is conscious in this manner of being placed in solitude and in the state of listening, she should even forget the practice of loving attentiveness I mentioned so as to remain free for what the Lord then desires of her. She should make use of that loving awareness only when she does not feel herself placed in this solitude, this oblivion, this spiritual listening.

It is impossible for this highest wisdom and language of God, which is contemplation, to be received in anything less than a spirit that is silent.

Bring her to as complete a withdrawal and solitude as possible, for the more solitude she obtains and the more she approaches this silent tranquility, the more abundantly will the spirit of divine wisdom be infused into her soul.

The least that a person can manage to feel is a withdrawal and an estrangement as to all things, sometimes more than at other times, accompanied by an inclination toward solitude in the gentle breathing of love and life in the spirit.

The blessings this silent communication and contemplation impresses on the soul, without its then experiencing them, are inestimable. For they are most hidden unctions of the Holy Spirit and hence most delicate, and they secretly fill the soul with spiritual riches, gifts, and graces; since it is God who grants them, He does so in no other manner than as God.

  • St John of the Cross. The Living Flame of Love.

The vast emptiness

O lamps of fire bright-burning
with splendid brilliance, turning
deep caverns of my soul to pools of light!
Once shadowed, dim, unknowing,
now with their strange new-found glowing
gives warmth and radiance for my Love’s delight.

These caverns are the soul’s faculties: memory, intellect, and will. They are as deep as are the boundless goods of which they are capable, since anything less than the infinite fails to fill them.

It is noteworthy that when these caverns of the faculties are not emptied, purged, and cleansed of all accretions, they do not feel the vast emptiness of their deep capacity.

Any little thing that adheres to them in this life is sufficient to so burden and bewitch them that they do not notice the lack of their immense goods, nor know their own capacity.

It is an amazing thing that the least little thing is enough to so encumber these faculties, capable of infinite goods, that they cannot receive these infinite goods until they are completely empty.

  • St John of the Cross

Killing, you give me life

Ah, gentle hand whose touch is a caress,
foretaste of heaven conveying
and every debt repaying:
killing, you give me life for death’s distress.

For death is nothing other than the privation of life, because when life comes no vestige of death remains.

Let it be known that what the soul calls death is all that goes to make up the old man: the entire engagement of the faculties in the things of the world, and the indulgence of the appetites in the pleasures of creatures. All this is the activity of the old life, which is the death of the new spiritual life. The soul is unable to live in this new life, if the old man does not die completely.

Consequently, the soul is dead to all that it was in itself, which was death to it, and alive to what God is in Himself.

The soul can well repeat the words of St Paul: I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me.

  • St John of the Cross. The Living Flame of Love.

Wound of delight

Burn that is for my healing!
Wound of delight past feeling!

You detach and withdraw the soul from all the other touches of created things by the might of Your delicacy, and reserve it for and unite it to Yourself alone, so mild an effect do You leave in the soul that every other touch of all things both high and low seems course and spurious.

O Word, indescribably delicate touch, produced in the soul only by Your most simple being, which, since it is infinite, is infinitely delicate and hence touches so subtly, lovingly, and delicately.

This is a touch of substances, that is, of the substance of God in the substance of the soul.

The delicateness of delight felt in this contact is inexpressible. There is no way to catch in words the sublime things of God which happen in these souls. The appropriate language for a person receiving these favours is that she understand them, experience them within herself, enjoy them, and be silent.

  • St John of the Cross. The Living Flame of Love. (2:18-21)

Living flame

Flame, living flame, compelling,
yet tender past all telling,
reaching the secret center of my soul !

Since this flame is a flame of divine life, it wounds the soul with the tenderness of God’s life, and it wounds and stirs it so deeply as to make it dissolve in love. What the bride affirmed in the Canticle is fulfilled in the soul. She was so moved that her soul melted, and thus she says: “As soon as He spoke my soul melted.”[Ct. 5:6] For God’s speech is the effect He produces in the soul.

  • St John of the Cross. The Living Flame of Love.