The Living Flame

Flame, living flame, compelling,
yet tender past all telling,
reaching the secret centre of my soul!
Since now evasion’s over,
finish your work, my Lover,
break the last thread, wound me and make me whole!

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

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

Ah! gentle and so loving
you wake within me, proving
that you are there in secret and alone;
your fragrant breathing stills me,
your grace, your glory fills me
so tenderly your love becomes my own.

  • St John of the Cross.  (tr. Marjorie Flowers)

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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.

 

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In this first stanza the soul:

still lives in hope, in which one cannot fail to feel emptiness. 

Since it desires to be dissolved  and be with Christ, it laments that a life so weak and base impedes another so mighty and sublime.

The soul, then, conscious of the abundance of its enrichment, feels at the time of these glorious encounters to be almost at the point of departing for the complete and perfect possession of its kingdom.

 Since their purpose is to purify it and draw it out of the flesh, they are indeed encounters by which He ever penetrates and deifies the substance of the soul, absorbing it above all being into His own being.

And this is what happens, in an indescribable way, at the time this flame of love rises up within the soul.  The divine substance absorbs the soul in itself with its divine flame.

Immersion of the soul in wisdom.

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“Our Lord God is a consuming fire” [Dt. 4:24], that is, a fire of love, which being of infinite power, can inestimably consume and transform into itself the soul it touches. Yet He burns each soul according to its preparation

….  commensurate with the strength of the love, it divinizes and delights, burning gently.

 Through the delicacy of Your divine being, You subtly penetrate the substance of my soul and absorb it entirely in Yourself. O, then, very delicate, exceedingly delicate, touch of the Word

….  produced in the soul only by Your most simple being.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

In the first place, it is noteworthy that when these caverns of the faculties are not emptied, purged, and cleansed of every affection for creatures, 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 perceive the harm, nor note 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.

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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 it does not know how to reach (things of which neither its intellect, nor will, nor memory can know).

It is very important that a person, desiring to advance in recollection and perfection, take care into whose hands she entrusts herself, for the disciple will become like the master, and as is the father so will be the son. Let her realize that for this journey she will hardly find a guide accomplished as to all her needs, for besides being learned and discreet, a director should have experience. Although the foundation for guiding a soul to spirit is knowledge and discretion, the director will not succeed in leading the soul onward in it, when God bestows it, nor will he even understand it, if he has no experience of what true and pure spirit is.

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, by according spiritual goods in contemplation, 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 tranquility, 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.

When a person approaches this state, strive that she become detached from all satisfaction, relish, pleasure, and spiritual meditations, and do not disquiet her with cares or solicitude concerning heavenly things, and still less earthly things. Bring her to as complete a withdrawal and solitude as possible, for the more solitude she obtains and the more she approaches this silent tranquillity, 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.

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How often is God anointing a contemplative with some very delicate unguent of loving knowledge: serene, peaceful, solitary, and far withdrawn from the senses and what is imaginable, as a result of which a person cannot meditate, nor reflect on anything, nor enjoy anything heavenly or earthly….

the soul has reached the negation and silence of the senses and of meditation and has come to the way of the spirit, which is contemplation. In contemplation the activity of the senses and of discursive reflection terminates, and God alone is the agent and one Who then speaks secretly to the solitary and silent soul.

There is as much difference between what the soul does itself and what it receives from God as there is between a human work and a divine work, between the natural and the supernatural. In the one, God works supernaturally in the soul, and in the other, the soul only works naturally. What is worse is that by the activity of her natural a operations person loses inner solitude and recollection and, consequently, the sublime image God was painting within her.

Strive to disencumber the soul and bring it into solitude and silence so that it may not be tied to any particular knowledge, earthly or heavenly, or to any covetousness for some satisfaction or pleasure, or to any apprehension, in such a way that it may be empty, through pure negation of all phenomena, and placed in spiritual poverty. This is what the soul must do of itself, as the Son of God counsels: He who does not renounce all that he possesses cannot be my disciple.

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