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VERSE 1. I am the flower of the field, and the lily of the valleys.
This, O my God, is a gentle reproach of my Spouse for desiring so soon to repose upon a flowery couch, before having rested with Thee upon the painful bed of the cross. I am the flower of the field, He says, a flower you will not find in the repose of the couch, but which must be culled in the field of combat, labor and suffering. I am the lily of the valleys, which only grows in annihilated souls. If, then, you would have me uproot you from earth that I may take root in you, you must be in the extremest annihilation; if you would find me, you must engage in combat and endure hardship.
2. As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.
By these words the Bridegroom signifies the progress of his beloved, since she is like a lily, very pure and pleasant, and of a sweet odor before Him; while the other daughters, instead of being docile and pliable, and suffering themselves to be fed by his Spirit, are like a thicket of thorns which is impenetrable, and wounds those who attempt to approach it. Such are souls self-possessed and immersed in their own wills, who refuse to be guided towards God. And this is a cause of suffering to an abandoned soul when placed among such; for they do all that lies in their power to draw her out of the way; but as the lily perfectly preserves both its purity and its perfume even when 48surrounded by thorns, so these souls are preserved by the Bridegroom, in the midst of the opposition which they experience from those who prefer to be their own guides and to dwell in the multiplicity of their own works, having no docility in following the movement of grace.
3. As the appletree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under the shadow of him whom I desired, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
How much simplicity is there in this comparison! The beloved beholding herself persecuted by such spiritual persons as do not understand her experience, addresses herself to them and to her Well-beloved at the same time. As the appletree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons; that is, among those most pleasing in the sight of God, whether saints in heaven or the righteous upon the earth. Be not surprised, then, if I sit down under His shadow, and remain at rest under His protection. I am only under the shadow of the wings of Him by whom I have greatly desired to be possessed; and although I have not yet arrived at so desirable an attainment, yet I can say that His fruit—that is, crosses, pain and abasement—is sweet to my taste. It is not sweet to the taste of the flesh; for the inferior part finds it bitter and ill-flavored; but it is sweet to the mouth of the heart, after it is once swallowed, and by me, whose taste is that of my Well-beloved, it is more to be desired than all other delights.
4. He brought me into the wine cellars and set love in order within me.
The beloved of the King, issuing from her delightful interviews with Him, appears to her companions to be intoxicated and beside herself. She is so in truth; for having tasted of the finest wine of the Bridegroom, she could not help being seized with the extremest ardor. Being quite sensible of it herself, she begs her companions not to be amazed at seeing her in so extraordinary a condition; my intoxication, she says, is excusable, 49for my King has brought me into his divine wine cellars, and there has set love in order within me. The first time He made me partaker of such singular grace, I was so feeble that I would rather have preferred the sweetness of the divine breasts to the strength of this excellent wine, and therefore He was content to show me its effects, suffering me to drink but little of it. But now that experience and His grace have rendered me wiser and stronger, I can no longer do so; I have drunk so abundantly of His strong and pure wine, that He has set love in order within me.
What order is this that God ordains in love? O Love! O God of Charity! Thou alone canst reveal it! He causes this soul, who by a movement of charity desired for herself every possible good in reference to God, to forget herself wholly that she may only think upon her Well-beloved. She becomes divested of every selfish interest in her own salvation, perfection, joy, or consolation, that she may only think of the interests of God. She no longer thinks of enjoying His embrace, but of suffering for Him. She no longer asks anything for herself, but only that He may be glorified. She enters fully into the designs of the divine righteousness, consenting with all her heart to everything it decrees with respect to her and in her, whether for time or eternity. She can love nothing in herself or in any creature except in and for God, and not in and for self, however important and necessary it may appear.
Such is the order of charity which God ordains in this soul; her love is become perfectly chaste. All creatures are nothing to her; she wills them only for her God, and none of them for herself. Ah! what strength does this well ordered charity impart for the terrible states that are to follow! But it can only be known and enjoyed of those who have experienced it; the others have not yet tasted of the Bridegroom’s wine.
5. Stay me with flowers, strew me with apples; for I am sick of love.
The Bridegroom has no sooner thus ordered charity in the soul, than He bestows upon her peculiar grace to prepare her for the sufferings that are to succeed. He gives her His transitory union in the centre, which from there expands into the senses and powers. And as she is not yet very strong, there is, as it were, an absorption or suspension of the senses which forces her to cry out, Stay me with flowers, help me with some little external practices, or strew me with apples, some of the fruits of the exercise of charity, that I die not under these powerful charms. For, I perceive that I am sick of love.
Poor child! what sayest thou? Why talk of being comforted by flowers and fruits, exterior consolations—trifles? Thou knowest not what thou askest; forgive my plainness. If thou faintest under this trial, thou fallest only into the arms of thy loved one! and happy wouldst thou be to expire there! But thou art not yet prepared for this.
6. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand shall embrace me.
She begins to understand the mystery, and, repenting of the foreign support she had sought, she says, His left hand is under my head; He bears me up with singular care, since He has honored me with union with Himself in the powers of my soul. What business, then, have I with flowers and fruits, that is, with things sensible and human, since He favors me with those which are divine? He is even going on to do more for me, uniting me to Himself in essence, and I shall then be fruitful and produce for my Bridegroom fruits incomparably more beautiful than those I desired, for He will embrace me with His right hand, which is His omnipotence accompanied by His love, the chaste embraces of which produce in the soul the perfect enjoyment of Him, which is only another name for essential union.
It is true that at first, this embrace of the right hand is the affiancing of the soul, but not its marriage. He will embrace me, 51she says; He will first bind me to Himself by the tie of betrothal, by which I have the hope of a future marriage, when He will so embrace me and so bind me to Himself that I shall fear no subsequent defection. For the peculiarity of essential union is to strengthen the soul so fully, that it no longer suffers those faintings which beset souls in their beginnings, who, grace being as yet feeble in them, experience eclipses and falls. In this state, the soul is confirmed in love, since it then dwells in God; and he who dwells in God, dwells in love; for God is love.—(1 John iv. 16.)
7. I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love till she please.
The soul is in a mystic slumber in this embrace of betrothal, in which she enjoys a sacred rest she had never before experienced. In her previous intervals of repose, she had indeed rested under His shadow by her confidence in Him, but she had never slept upon His bosom nor in His arms. It is strange how eager the creatures are, even those which are spiritual, to awake the soul from this gentle slumber.1717Those who are beginning to serve God, are commonly persecuted by the unregenerate, because their withdrawal is a public condemnation of the disorders which reign in the world; but the more they are proscribed by such, the more they are esteemed by people of probity. Not so, however, with those who devote themselves to the interior life; not only do they suffer persecution at the hands of a godless world and from people of regular lives, but far more severely from such pious and spiritual minded persons as are not interior. These latter do it as a matter of duty, not being able to recognize any other way as right but that in which they themselves are walking. But their most violent assaults come from pretended saints and false devotees, whose foul characters, wickedness and hypocrisies they detect as they are enlightened by the truth of God, and this gives rise to an opposition between such persons and those who are truly spiritual, like that between the angels and the devils.—Justifications, iii. 55. The daughters of Jerusalem are loving and meddlesome souls, who are anxious to wake her, though under the most specious pretexts; but she is so soundly asleep that she cannot be aroused. Then the Bridegroom speaks for her, and clasping her in his arms, charges them by what they esteem the most highly, the practice of the most 52impetuous and active virtues, not to awake His love, nor disturb her repose, for she is more pleasing to Him in this rest, than she would be in all her external activity. Wake her not, He says, neither directly or indirectly, nor use any far-fetched ingenuity to accomplish your purpose; let her rest, until she please, for she will please, whenever I please.
8. The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh, leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.
The soul, asleep to everything else, is only the more attentive to the voice of her Well-beloved; she hears and recognizes it at once.
The voice of my Beloved! she says I know it, I hear it, and its effects upon me removes all my doubts. But what sayest thou, O beloved one? Thou wert perchance dreaming from love; asleep in the arms of thy Bridegroom, thou yet seest Him, leaping upon the mountains and skipping upon the hills! How then can this be? The Bridegroom embraces his beloved and dwells in her. He surrounds her without and penetrates her within; she feels that, in this mystic slumber, he enters more deeply and becomes united to her, not only as heretofore, in the powers which are the hills, but in a much superior degree; He comes upon the mountains, that is, the centre, and there He touches her truly with his immediate union. She at once perceives that this influence is far different from that in the powers, and that it is the cause of very great effects, though it is but a transitory touch and not a permanent and lasting union.
9. My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold he standeth behind our wall; he looketh forth at the windows, showing himself through the lattice.
While the soul is thus receiving the sweet caresses of the Bridegroom, she thinks they will last forever; but if they are
the pledges of His love, they are also the tokens of His departure.
53Scarcely has she begun to taste the pleasantness of union before He is wholly gone,1818
To comprehend this, let us remember, that between the last trials, which John of the Cross calls the night of the spirit, and the first purgation or night of the senses, God communicates Himself to the soul in a far more perfect manner than He had ever done before. The same thing is here indicated
in the Canticles. The greater the purity and sublimity of this manifestation, the more terrible is the subsequent absence
of the Bridegroom and the following purification; the measure of His revelation seems to be the measure of His hiding.
These trials are rendered more agonizing, because, in addition to the absence of the Spouse, the soul is overwhelmed with a conviction of its own wretchedness, with frightful distress within and persecutions from men and devils without, so that no one can form an idea of its terrible tribulations except from actual experience. The hiding of the Spouse is well termed night and death, for it is He that is the light and life of the soul; and as the natural light renders frightful objects far more horrible and terrifying, so the darker night of the spirit and the less hope there is of beholding another dawn, the more distressing are the accompanying circumstances of the gloom.—Justifications, ii. 276. and she compares His rapid disappearance to the movements of a roe or a young hart. While she is fondly lamenting his strange abandonment of her and when she thought Him far distant, she suddenly perceives Him close at hand. He had only hid Himself to try her faith and confidence in Him; but he never removes His look from her, protecting her more carefully than ever, being more closely united to her than ever before by the new union that has just taken place. But although He always beholds her, she does not always see Him. She only perceives Him occasionally, that she may not be ignorant of his watchfulness, and that she may one day teach it to others. It is to be observed, that He standeth, since it is now no time to rest, nor even to be seated, but to run; He therefore stands, as if ready to depart.
10. Behold, my beloved speaketh to me and saith: Rise up, my love, my dove, my fair one, and come.
God having wholly turned the soul within and brought it to its centre, after having caused it to enjoy His chaste embrace to dispose it for its spiritual marriage; He causes it to take a 54road to all appearance totally opposite, He brings it out of itself by the mystical death. The Well-beloved coming in person to address the soul, invites it to go forth of itself in haste; He no longer bids it take its rest, but commands it to rise up. This is very different from His former conduct, then He forbade anyone from waking her, now He would have her rise up at once. He calls her so sweetly and so forcibly, that if she were not as eagerly bent upon doing His will as she is, she could not resist. Rise up, my love, whom I have chosen for My bride, my fair one, for I find thee lovely, reflecting a thousand traits of My own beauty. Rise up, My dove, simple and faithful, and come forth, for thou hast all the necessary qualities for leaving thyself. Having led thee deeply within, I have come out of thee that I may oblige thee, in following Me, to come forth of thyself also.
This coming forth is far other than the one before alluded to (chap. 1 verse 7), and much farther advanced, for the first was but a leaving of natural gratifications, that she might please her Well-beloved, but this is a departure from the possession of self, that she may be possessed by God only, and that, perceiving herself no more in self, she may be found in Him alone.—It is a transportation of the creature into its original, as will be shown by and by.
11. For lo! the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
There are two winters, one external, the other internal, and these two are reciprocally opposed. When it is winter without, it is summer within, by which the soul is induced to enter more deeply into itself, by an effect of grace operating a profound state of recollection. When it is winter within, it is summer without, thus obliging the soul to come forth from self by the enlargement produced by a more abundant grace of abandonment. The winter of which the Bridegroom here speaks, declaring that it is past, is the outward winter, during which the soul might have been frozen by the excessive cold, wet through 55by the rains, and overwhelmed by the tempests and snows of sins and imperfections, so easily contracted in commerce with the creature. The soul that has found its centre becomes so strong that it has nothing further to fear from without, the rains are dried up, and it would be impossible for it, without being guilty of the blackest infidelity, to take pleasure in anything external.
This expression, the winter is past, signifies, too, that as winter brings death to everything, so in this soul death has passed upon all outward things, so that there is none among them that could now satisfy it. If anything should appear to give it pleasure, it is only a return to its state of innocence in which there is no venom as there was before.
The winter rains are over and gone, also, she may go out without fear of the weather, and with this additional advantage, that the cold has destroyed what, to her, was formerly alive and would have destroyed her, as the rigor of winter delivers the earth from vermin.
12. The flowers have appeared on the earth; the pruning time is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
To compel her to come forth, He gives her to understand that He is about to lead her into His grounds; He calls them our land, because He has acquired them for her by His redemption, and they belong to Him for her, and to her through Him. He says that the flowers have appeared there, but they are flowers that never fade, and that fear the coming of winter no more.
The time of pruning the vine has come; the Spouse, who has compared herself to a vine, must now be pruned, cut down, stripped and destroyed.
The voice of the turtle, of My humanity, invites thee to lose and hide thyself with it, in the bosom of My Father, thou wilt hear that voice to more advantage than now, when thou shalt have come to the land, whither I call thee, which as yet thou knowest not. This voice of My simplicity and innocence with which I will satisfy thee, is very different from thine.
13. The figtree hath put forth her green figs, and the flowering vines give a good smell. Arise my love, my fair one, come.
There the spring is eternal, and is accompanied, at the same time, without incongruity, by the fruits of autumn and the heats of summer. The Bridegroom, by these flowers and fruits, points out three distinct seasons; but He no longer refers to winter, for, as has been already stated, when the soul arrives in this new land, she finds that not only the outward but the inward winter also is past.
To the soul that has reached God, there is no longer any winter; but there is a season composed of the other three joined in one, which is, as it were, immortalized by the death of winter. For, before reaching the inner winter, the soul had passed through all the seasons of the spiritual life; but afterward, it re-enters upon a perpetual spring, summer and autumn. The mildness of spring does not prevent the fervor of summer nor the fruitfulness of autumn; the heats of summer do not interfere with the beauty of spring nor the abundance of autumn, and the fruits of autumn interpose no obstacle to the enjoyment of spring, nor to the ardor of summer.
O blessed Land! happy they who are enabled to possess you! We are all entreated, with the Spouse, to come out of self that we may enter there. It is promised to all, and He who possesses it, and to whom it belongs by right of His eternal generation and of the purchase of His blood, earnestly invites us all to proceed thither. He furnishes us with all the means of doing so; He draws us by His urgent solicitations; why do we not make haste?
14. My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hollow of the wall, show me thy countenance and let thy voice sound in mine ears; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.
My dove, says the Bridegroom, my pure, chaste and harmless dove, who art ensconced in thyself as in the hollow of a wall, and who art there hidden in my wounds, which are the clefts of the living rock, show me thy countenance. But why sayest Thou so, 57O Bridegroom? is not Thy beloved wholly turned towards Thee? Why then dost Thou beg for a sight of her countenance? She is, as it were, wholly hidden in Thee, and dost Thou not behold her? Thou wouldst hear her voice, and she is dumb for every other but Thee!
O admirable invention of Divine Wisdom! the poor soul, thinking that to correspond to her Bridegroom she must continue, as formerly, to recollect herself, and sink still deeper within, endeavors to do so with all her strength; but the contrary is what is required. He here calls her without, and desires that she should leave herself, and for this reason He says, show me thy countenance, let thy voice sound in Mine ears without; turn towards Me, for I have moved My place. He assures her that her voice is sweet, calm and tranquil; that in that respect she is like her beloved, whose voice is not one that is heard by reason of loud speaking; thy countenance, He adds, is comely; the superior part of thy soul is already fair and has all the advantages of beauty; there is but one thing wanting; come forth!
If He did not thus sweetly and forcibly draw the soul without, she would never leave herself. It would seem that she now finds herself drawn outward with as much force as she formerly felt herself recollected and impelled inward, and even with greater; for it requires much more power to draw the soul out of self than to sink it within.1919Note here, that before the soul can come forth and abandon self, she must first be led into her own centre; having tasted the enjoyment to be found there, it is difficult to induce her to quit it. But, if she will only be faithful, she shall see how infinitely unworthy is the rest in the created centre, when compared with that enjoyed in the bosom of the Eternal!—Justifications, iii. 90. The sweetness she experiences in her savory recollection, is a sufficient inducement, but to leave this enjoyment within, to find nothing but bitterness without, is a very difficult matter. Besides, by recollection she lives and possesses herself; but by issuing forth from self, she perishes and dies.
15. Take us the little foxes that spoil the vines; for our vine is in blossom.
The faithful soul prays her beloved that He will take away the little foxes, which are numerous little defects that begin to appear; for they spoil the interior vine, which, she says, is in blossom. It is for this reason very delightful to her, and the more so as she expects soon to enjoy the ripe fruit.
How wilt thou be able, poor soul, to abandon this vine to which thou art so attached, without being aware of it? Ah! the Master himself will permit the little foxes to spoil it, destroy the flowers and make strange havoc with it! Were He not to do this, thou art so in love with thyself, that thou wouldst never come forth.
16. My beloved is mine and I am his; he feedeth among the lilies.
O inconceivable happiness of a soul wholly and unreservedly devoted to her beloved, and to whom the Well-beloved is all! The Spouse is here so enamored of the goodness and caresses of the Bridegroom manifested for the purpose of obliging her to leave herself, that she thinks she has already arrived at the height of felicity and summit of perfection, and that her marriage is now to take place. She says that her Beloved is hers, to dispose of as pleases Him, and that she is His, for the whole extent of His will; that He feeds among the lilies of her purity. He feeds upon His own graces and virtues; He lives upon innocence and purity, that He may nourish us with the same. He invites us to eat with Him the meat He likes the best, as He gives us to understand by these words in another place: Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved! (Cant. v. 1.) Hearken diligently unto me and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. (Isa. lv. 2.)
17. Until the day break and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.
The soul, beginning to be conscious that she no longer perceives the Word, believes that He is only hidden for a night, 59or rather, that He is sleeping in His place of rest. She says to Him, O my Beloved, since I am under the same roof with Thee and Thou art so near me, turn a little towards me, that I may perceive Thee! Let me enjoy the delights of Thy society until the day break, and I may have further evidence of Thy presence; until the shadows of faith flee away and yield to the soft light of vision and unclouded enjoyment! Then, remembering the transitory union which she formerly experienced, she cries: Run quickly, if it seem good to Thee, like a roe or a young hart that bounds, but let it be upon the mountains; let me once more enjoy that central union, that was so sweet and profitable when it was granted me before.
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