Dark Night and Living Flame of Love

Dark Night and Living Flame of Love – the stages of spiritual journey to God in Poetry of St John of the Cross

 St John of the Cross is not only mystical Doctor of the Church but also a poet who describes the steps followed by the soul on the way to reach God through classical purgative, illuminative and unitive way. In the first, purgative stage, the soul escapes from the dark night of the senses, annihilating the self through denials and practice of detachments. The next stage allows the soul to see and feel the presence of God and grow in the knowledge and love of the Creator. In the final stage, the soul is consumed in love of God which culminates in mystical union (esposo) when soul becomes one with God and experiences perfect peace and beatitude. The steps of spiritual growth are not easy but full of pain, darkness, aridity and annihilation of self. To get through this journey the seed of love of God must be planted and nourished in the heart of man from the beginning and this is absolutely vital to endure pains of spiritual development. St John describes the experiences of purgative way, or passive night of the soul, and gives the advice to those who are called to make this journey in his books, ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ and ‘Ascend to Mt Carmel’. However, in his poetry, in particular in two poems, “Dark Night” and “Living Flame of Love”, we find beautiful, nutshell-description of mystical experiences of the soul reaching to God:
“DARK NIGHT”
(Songs of the soul delighted at having reached the high state of perfection, the union with God, by way of spiritual negation.)
On a darkened night,
Anxious, by love inflamed,
— O happy chance! —
Unnoticed, I took flight,
My house at last at peace and quiet.

Safe, disguised by the night,
By the secret ladder I took flight,
— O happy chance! —
Cloaked by darkness, I scaled the height,
My house at last at peace and quiet.

On that blessed night,
In secret, and seen by none,
None in sight,
I saw with no other guide or light,
But the one burning in my heart bright.

This guide, this light,
Brighter than the midday sun,
Led me to the waiting One
I knew so well — my delight!
To a place with none in sight.

O night! O guide!
O night more loving than the dawn!
O night that joined
The lover with the Beloved;
Transformed, the lover into the Beloved drawn!

Upon my flowered breast,
For him alone kept fair,
There he slept
There I caressed,
There the cedars gave us air.

I drank the turret’s cool air
Spreading playfully his hair.
And his hand, so serene,
Cut my throat. Drained
Of senses, I dropped unaware.

Lost to myself and yet remaining,
Inclined so only the Beloved I spy.
All has ceased, all rests,
Even my cares, even I;
Lost among the lilies, there I die.
“THE LIVING FLAME OF LOVE”
(Songs that the soul sings in her intimate union with God, her beloved Bridegroom.)

O Love’s living flame,
Tenderly you wound
My soul’s deepest center!
Since you no longer evade me,
Will you, please, at last conclude:
Rend the veil of this sweet encounter!

O cautery so tender!
O pampered wound!
O soft hand! O touch so delicately strange,
Tasting of eternal life
And canceling all debts!
Killing, death into life you change!

O lamps of fiery lure,
In whose shining transparence
The deep cavern of the senses,
Blind and obscure,
Warmth and light, with strange flares,
Gives with the lover’s caresses!

How tame and loving
Your memory rises in my breast,
Where secretly only you live,
And in your fragrant breathing,
Full of goodness and grace,
How delicately in love you make me feel!
Where secretly only you live,
And in your fragrant breathing,
Full of goodness and grace,
How delicately in love you make me feel!
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