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STANZA XIII

Turn them away, O my Beloved!

I am on the Wing.

THE BRIDEGROOM

Return, My Dove!

The wounded hart

Looms on the hill

In the air of your flight and is refreshed.

EXPLANATION

AMID those fervent affections of love, such as the soul has shown in the preceding stanzas, the Beloved is wont to visit His bride, tenderly, lovingly, and with great strength of love; for ordinarily the graces and visits of God are great in proportion to the greatness of those fervors and longings of love which have gone before. And, as the soul has so anxiously longed for the divine eyes — as in the foregoing stanza — the Beloved reveals to it some glimpses of His majesty and Godhead, according to its desires. These divine rays strike the soul so profoundly and so vividly that it is rapt into an ecstasy which in the beginning is attended with great suffering and natural fear. Hence the soul, unable to bear the ecstasies in a body so frail, cries out, “Turn away your eyes from me.”

“Turn them away, O my Beloved!”

2. That is, “Your divine eyes, for they make me fly away out of myself to the heights of contemplation, and my natural force cannot bear it.” This the soul says because it thinks it has escaped from the burden of the flesh, which was the object of its desires; it therefore prays the Beloved to turn away His eyes; that is, not to show them in the body where it cannot bear and enjoy them as it would, but to show them to it in its flight from the body. The Bridegroom at once denies the request and hinders the flight, saying, “Return, My Dove! for the communications I make to you now are not those of the state of glory wherein you desire to be; but return to Me, for I am He Whom you, wounded with love, are seeking, and I, too, as the hart, wounded with your love, begin to show Myself to you on the heights of contemplation, and am refreshed and delighted by the love which your contemplation involves.” The soul then says to the Bridegroom:

“Turn them away, O my Beloved!”

3. The soul, because of its intense longing after the divine eyes — that is, the Godhead — receives interiorly from the Beloved such communications and knowledge of God as compel it to cry out, “Turn them away, O my Beloved!” For such is the wretchedness of our mortal nature, that we cannot bear — even when it is offered to us — but at the cost of our life, that which is the very life of the soul, and the object of its earnest desires, namely, the knowledge of the Beloved. Thus the soul is compelled to say, with regard to the eyes so earnestly, so anxiously sought for, and in so many ways — when they become visible — “Turn them away.”

4. So great, at times, is the suffering of the soul during these ecstatic visitations — and there is no other pain which so wrenches the very bones, and which so oppresses our natural forces — that, were it not for the special interference of God, death would ensue. And, in truth, such is it to the soul, the subject of these visitations, for it feels as if it were released from the body and a stranger to the flesh. Such graces cannot be perfectly received in the body, because the spirit of man is lifted up to the communion of the Spirit of God, Who visits the soul, and must therefore of necessity be in some measure a stranger to the body. Hence it is that the flesh has to suffer, and consequently the soul in it, by reason of their union in one person. The great agony of the soul, therefore, in these visitations, and the great fear that overwhelms it when God deals with it in the supernatural way,123123See St. Teresa, ‘Life,’ ch. 20 sect. 16, or ‘Las Mordadas,’ 6. ch. 11. force it to cry out, “Turn them away, O my Beloved!”

5. But it is not to be supposed, however, that the soul really wishes Him to turn away His eyes; for this is nothing else but the expression of natural awe, as I said before.124124Sect. 1. above. Yes, rather, cost they what they may, the soul would not willingly miss these visitations and favors of the Beloved; for though nature may suffer, the spirit flies to this supernatural recollection in order to enjoy the spirit of the Beloved, the object of its prayers and desires. The soul is unwilling to receive these visitations in the body, when it cannot have the perfect fruition of them, and only in a slight degree and in pain; but it covets them in the flight of the disembodied spirit when it can enjoy them freely. Hence it says, “Turn them away, my Beloved” — that is, Do not visit me in the flesh.

“I am on the wing.”

6. It is as if it said, “I am taking my flight out of the body, that You may show them when I shall have left it; they being the cause of my flight out of the body.” For the better understanding of the nature of this flight we should consider that which I said just now.125125Sect. 4. above. In this visitation of the divine Spirit the spirit of the soul is with great violence borne upwards into communion with the divine, the body is abandoned, all its acts and senses are suspended, because they are absorbed in God. Thus the Apostle, St. Paul, speaking of his own ecstasy, says, “Whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell.”1261262 Cor. 12:3 But we are not to suppose that the soul abandons the body, and that the natural life is destroyed, but only that its actions have then ceased.

7. This is the reason why the body remains insensible in raptures and ecstasies, and unconscious of the most painful inflictions. These are not like the swoons and faintings of the natural life, which cease when pain begins. They who have not arrived at perfection are liable to these visitations, for they happen to those who are walking in the way of proficients. They who are already perfect receive these visitations in peace and in the sweetness of love: ecstasies cease, for they were only graces to prepare them for this greater grace.

8. This is a fitting place for discussing the difference between raptures, ecstasies, other elevations and subtle flights of the spirit, to which spiritual persons are liable; but, as I intend to do nothing more than explain briefly this canticle, as I undertook in the prologue, I leave the subject for those who are better qualified than I am. I do this the more readily, because our mother, the blessed Teresa of Jesus, has written admirably on this matter,127127See ‘Relation’ 8. whose writings I hope in God to see published soon. The flight of the soul in this place, then, is to be understood of ecstasy, and elevation of spirit in God. The Beloved immediately says:

“Return, My Dove.”

9. The soul was joyfully quitting the body in its spiritual flight, thinking that its natural life was over, and that it was about to enter into the everlasting fruition of the Bridegroom, and remain with Him without a veil between them. He, however, restrains it in its flight, saying:

“Return, My Dove.”

10. It is as if He said, “O My Dove, in your high and rapid flight of contemplation, in the love with which you are inflamed, in the simplicity of your regard” — these are three characteristics of the dove — “return from that flight in which you aim at the true fruition of Myself — the time is not yet come for knowledge so high — return, and submit yourself to that lower degree of it which I communicate in this your rapture.”

“The wounded hart.”

11. The Bridegroom likens Himself to a hart, for by the hart here He means Himself. The hart by nature climbs up to high places, and when wounded hastens to seek relief in the cooling waters. If he hears his consort moan and sees that she is wounded, he runs to her at once, comforts, and caresses her. So the Bridegroom now; for, seeing the bride wounded with His love, He, too, hearing her moaning, is wounded Himself with her love; for with lovers the wound of one is the wound of the other, and they have the same feelings in common. The Bridegroom, therefore, says in effect: “Return, my bride, to Me; for as you are wounded with the love of Me, I too, like the hart, am wounded by love for you. I am like the hart, looming on the top of the hill.” Therefore He says:

“Looms on the hill.”

12. That is, “on the heights of contemplation, to which you have ascended in your flight.” Contemplation is a lofty eminence where God, in this life, begins to communicate Himself to the soul, and to show Himself, but not distinctly. Hence it is said, “Looms on the hill,” because He does not appear clearly. However profound the knowledge of Himself which God may grant to the soul in this life, it is, after all, but an indistinct vision. We now come to the third property of the hart, the subject of the line that follows:

“In the air of your flight, and is refreshed.”

13. The flight is contemplation in the ecstasy spoken of before,128128Sect. 1. and the air is the spirit of love produced in the soul by this flight of contemplation, and this love produced by the flight is here with great propriety called “air,” for the Holy Spirit also is likened to air in the Sacred Writings, because He is the breath of the Father and the Son. And so as He is there the air of the flight — that is, that He proceeds by the will from the contemplation and wisdom of the Father and the Son, and is breathed — so here the love of the soul is called air by the Bridegroom, because it proceeds from the contemplation of God and the knowledge of Him which at this time is possessed by the soul.

14. We must observe here that the Bridegroom does not say that He comes at the flight, but at the air of the flight, because properly speaking God does not communicate Himself to the soul because of that flight, which is, as I have said, the knowledge it has of God, but because of the love which is the fruit of that knowledge. For as love is the union of the Father and the Son, so is it also of God and the soul.

15. Hence it is that notwithstanding the most profound knowledge of God, and contemplation itself, together with the knowledge of all mysteries, the soul without love is worth nothing, and can do nothing, as the Apostle says, towards its union with God.1291291 Cor. 13:2 In another place he says, “Have charity, which is the bond of perfection.”130130Col. 3:14 This charity then and love of the soul make the Bridegroom run to drink of the fountain of the Bride’s love, as the cooling waters attract the thirsty and the wounded hart, to be refreshed therein.

“And is refreshed.”

16. As the air cools and refreshes him who is wearied with the heat, so the air of love refreshes and comforts him who burns with the fire of love. The fire of love has this property, the air which cools and refreshes it is an increase of the fire itself. To him who loves, love is a flame that burns with the desire of burning more and more, like the flame of material fire. The consummation of this desire of burning more and more, with the love of the bride, which is the air of her flight, is here called refreshment. The Bridegroom says in substance, “I burn more and more because of the ardor of your flight, for love kindles love.”

17. God does not establish His grace and love in the soul but in proportion to the good will of that soul’s love. He, therefore, that truly loves God must strive that his love fail not; for so, if we may thus speak, will he move God to show him greater love, and to take greater delight in his soul. In order to attain to such a degree of love, he must practice those things of which the Apostle speaks, saying: “Charity is patient, is benign: charity envies not, deals not perversely; is not puffed up, is not ambitious, seeks not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinks not evil, rejoices not upon iniquity, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”1311311 Cor. 13:4-7

NOTE

WHEN the dove — that is the soul — was flying on the gale of love over the waters of the deluge of the weariness and longing of its love, “not finding where her foot might rest,”132132Gen. 8:9 the compassionate father Noah, in this last flight, put forth the hand of his mercy, caught her, and brought her into the ark of his charity and love. That took place when the Bridegroom, as in the stanza now explained, said, “Return, My Dove.” In the shelter within the ark, the soul, finding all it desired, and more than it can ever express, begins to sing the praises of the Beloved, celebrating the magnificence which it feels and enjoys in that union, saying:


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