"God looks neither at long nor beautiful prayers, but at those that come from the heart."

The Cure D'Ars

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"O Lord, my God, who will seek you with simple and pure love, and not find that you are all one can desire, for you show yourself first and go out to meet those who seek you? "

St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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"This is the greatest wisdom -- to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. "

Thomas á Kempis

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 St John of the Cross   (1542 - 1591)




by St John of the Cross


Stanza 31


1. I believe it is clear that by means of these garlands, interwoven and placed in the soul, the bride wishes to describe the divine union of love between herself and God. The flowers represent the Bridegroom; he is the flower of the fields and the lily of the valleys, as he affirms [Sg. 2:1]. The hair of the soul's love is what unites and fastens her to this flower of flowers, for as the Apostle teaches: Love is the bond of perfection (which is union with God) [Col. 3:14]. The soul is like the peg on which the garlands are hung, since she is the subject of this glory and no longer appears to be what she was before. But by the perfection and beauty of all the flowers, she resembles the perfect flower himself. This thread of love joins and binds God and the soul so strongly that it unites and transforms them. So great is this union that even though they differ in substance, in glory and appearance the soul seems to be God and God seems to be the soul.

2. This union is more wonderful than all that can be said of it. Scripture mentions something about it in the First Book of Kings in reference to Jonathan and David. The love Jonathan bore David was so intimate that it knitted his soul to David's [1 Sm. 18:1]. If the love of one man for another was that strong, what will be the tie caused through the soul's love for God, the Bridegroom; especially since God here is the principal lover,1 who in the omnipotence of his fathomless love absorbs the soul in himself more efficaciously and forcibly than a torrent of fire would devour a drop of morning dew that usually rises and dissolves in the air! Undoubtedly the hair that so joins them must be thin and very strong, since it penetrates with such forcefulness the parts it binds. Accordingly, the soul describes in the following stanza the properties of this beautiful strand of hair.

You considered
that one hair fluttering at my neck;
you gazed at it upon my neck
and it captivated you;
and one of my eyes wounded you.


3. The soul wishes to express three things in this stanza:

First, she wishes to explain that the love that binds the virtues is no other love than solitary and strong love, for it must be this if it is to preserve them.

Second, she wishes to state that God was greatly captivated by this single hair of love when he beheld it alone and strong.

Third, she wishes to declare that God was intimately taken with love for her when he marked the purity and integrity of her faith. And thus she proclaims:

You considered
that one hair fluttering at my neck;

4. The neck, where the hair of love was fluttering, signifies fortitude. This hair of love weaves the virtues together, that is to say, loves with fortitude. In order to preserve the virtues it is not enough that love be alone; it must also be strong so that no contrary vice on any side of the garland of virtue may be able to break it. This hair of love binds the virtues in such a way that if it breaks where one of these virtues lies, it will immediately, as we said, fail in regard to them all. Just as all the virtues are present where one is, so they all fail where one fails.2

And she says that it was fluttering and flying about at her neck because in the soul's fortitude this love flies to God mightily and speedily without anything detaining it. And as the breeze causes the hair to flutter and fly about the neck, so too the breeze of the Holy Spirit moves and arouses the strong love to make its flight to God. Without this divine breeze to stir the faculties to the exercise of divine love, the virtues do not produce their effects, even though they are present in the soul.

In saying that the Beloved considered this hair fluttering at her neck, she points out how much God cherishes a strong love, for to consider an object is to look with very particular attention and esteem; and the strong love urges God to turn his eyes to look at it. And thus:

you gazed at it upon my neck

5. The soul makes this affirmation to show that God not only values this love of hers because he sees that it is alone, but also cherishes it because he sees that it is strong. With God, to gaze at is to love, just as to consider an object is to value it. She repeats the word "neck" in this verse, in speaking of the hair - "You gazed at it upon my neck" - because, as we mentioned, this is why he loved her so much; he saw that her love was strong. Thus it is like saying: You loved it on seeing that it was strong, without cowardice or fear; and alone, without other loves; and fluttering about quickly and fervently.

6. Until now this hair had not captivated God because he had not gazed at it, nor had he seen it alone and detached from other strands of other loves, appetites, affections, and pleasures, nor did it flutter about alone at the neck of fortitude. But after love, through mortifications, trials, and penance, becomes so detached and strong that no force or occasion can break it, then God looks at it and takes the flowers of these garlands and binds them with it, since it is strong enough to keep them fastened in the soul.

7. In the explanation of the four stanzas that begin "O Living Flame of Love," we mentioned something about the nature of these temptations and trials, and about how deeply they reach the soul that she might come to this fortitude of love in which God unites himself to her.3 Having passed through these tribulations, the soul has reached such a degree of love that she merits divine union. Hence she says:

and it captivated you;

8. Oh, how worthy of utter admiration and joy! God is taken captive by a hair! The reason this captivity is so estimable is that God wished to stop and gaze at the fluttering of the hair, as the preceding verse asserts. And as we pointed out: For God, to gaze at is to love. If in his infinite mercy he had not gazed at us and loved us first - as St. John declares [1 Jn. 4:10,19] - and descended, the hair of our lowly love would not have taken him prisoner, for this love was not so lofty in its flight as to be able to capture this divine bird of heights. But because he came down to gaze at us and arouse the flight of our love by strengthening and giving it the courage for this [Dt. 32:11], he himself as a result was captivated by the flight of the hair, that is, he was satisfied and pleased. Such is the meaning of the verses: "You gazed at it upon my neck and it captivated you." It is indeed credible that a bird of lowly flight can capture the royal eagle of the heights if this eagle descends with the desire of being captured. And she continues:

And one of my eyes wounded you.

9. The eye refers to faith. She says she wounded him with only one eye because if the soul's faith and fidelity toward God were not single, but mixed with some other human respect, it would not attain such an effect as to wound God with love. Thus it is only one eye that wounds the Beloved, just as it is only one hair that captivates him. And so intimate is the love with which the Bridegroom is captivated by the bride in this single-hearted fidelity he beholds in her that, if the hair of her love captivates him, the eye of her faith so tightens the bonds of his captivity as to cause a wound of love. This wound of love is the result of the tenderest affection with which he loves her, which means he introduces her further into his love.

10. The Bridegroom in addressing the bride in the Song of Songs makes this same statement about the hair and the eye: You have wounded my heart, my sister; you have wounded my heart with one of your eyes and with one hair of your neck [Sg. 4:9]. In this passage he declares twice that his heart was wounded - by the eye and by the hair. The soul accordingly mentions in this stanza the eye and the hair, for through them she denotes her union with God in the intellect and the will. Faith or fidelity, signified by the eye, resides in the intellect, and love, signified by the hair, resides in the will. She is then united with God in the intellect through faith, and in the will through love. She glories here in this union and thanks her Spouse for this favor received from his hands, and she values highly the fact that he should be satisfied and captivated by her love. Consider the joy, happiness, and delight the soul finds in such a prisoner, she who for so long had been his prisoner.

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