John of the Cross' Living Flame of Love

This poem and its commentary describe a "very intimate and elevated union and transformation of the soul in God". "The soul...is so inwardly transformed in the fire of love and elevated by it that it is not merely united to his fire but produces within it a living flame." The translation we used is actually available here.

This is the poem:

O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

O sweet cautery,
O delightful wound!
O gentle hand! O delicate touch
that tastes of eternal life
and pays every debt!
In killing you changed death to life.

O lamps of fire!
in whose splendors
the deep caverns of feeling,
once obscure and blind,
now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
both warmth and light to their Beloved.

How gently and lovingly
you wake in my heart,
where in secret you dwell alone;
and in your sweet breathing,
filled with good and glory,
how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

Stanza one: The living flame is the Holy Spirit, to whom a soul at this stage is intimately united. The soul is wounded in fulfillment of the sense in which one is wounded by Cupid's arrow. The soul is dying of love, is changed forever, is living for God, and is driven by the love of God. This love transforms your very centre. The soul's deepest center is where the heart rests; and "my heart is restless until it rests in you, my God". So the more you embrace, hold on to your faith, the more yourself you become; the more your heart rests in God. In asking the living flame to consummate, the soul is asking the Spirit to let her experience the fulness of union with him, i.e. mystical contemplation.

Stanza three: St John of the Cross says the lamps of fire are God's attributes. This poem is his attempt to describe the soul's transformation in God, in which "the soul becomes God from God through participation in him and in his attributes".
In commenting on "the deep caverns of feeling",St John of the Cross says,
Likewise, when the soul has reached such purity in itself and its faculties that the will is very pure and purged of other alien satisfactions and appetites in the inferior and superior parts, and has rendered its "yes" to God concerning all of this, since now God's will and the soul's are one through their own free consent, then the soul has attained possession of God insofar as this is possible by way of the will and grace. And this means that in the "yes" of the soul, God has given the true and complete "yes" of his grace.
Reading this, I thought of it as an explanation for the Immaculate Conception. All the imagery of the soul saying "yes" to God puts in my mind Mary's fiat.
3.34 "Since God, then, as the giver communes with individuals through a simple, loving knowledge, they also, as the receivers, commune with God through a simple and loving knowledge or attention, so 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." This spoke to me of docility, which was definitely a theme for me in the spirituality year.
The passivity of prayer is expressed when John of the Cross says that "contemplation lies in receiving". This most intimate form of prayer is a sort of shutting down of yourself, what you're doing, and receiving what God has to give you.

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