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)
A selection of extracts from the commentary.
God’s speech is the effect He produces in the 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”.
This feast takes place in the substance of the soul where the mind and senses cannot reach. God is the doer of all without the soul doing anything. Since the soul cannot do any work of its own save by means of the corporal senses, from which in this event it is very free and far removed, its sole occupation now is to receive.
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.
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.
It is vital for a person to make acts of love in this life so that in being perfected in a short time he may not be detained long, either here on earth or in the next life, before seeing God.
When the soul feels in God an infinite longing for the ending of its life and that this wish goes unfulfilled, it is aware that He produces these divine and glorious encounters so as to perfect it and raise it out of the flesh. 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.
“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.
If applied to a wound not made by fire, it converts it into a wound caused by fire. Whether a soul is wounded by other wounds of miseries and sins or whether it is healthy, this burn of love immediately effects a wound of love in the one it touches, and those wounds due to other causes become wounds of love.
The more wounded the lover, the healthier he is, and the cure love causes is to wound and inflict wound upon wound, to such an extent that the entire soul is dissolved into a wound of love.
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.
Work in progress.