Saturday, May 14, 2005

Being that way about Jesus

I first read the poetry of St. John of the Cross when I was in college. This is probably his most-read poem:

1. One dark night, fired with love's urgent longings
- ah, the sheer grace! -
I went out unseen, my house being now all stilled.

2. In darkness, and secure, by the secret ladder, disguised,
- ah, the sheer grace! -
in darkness and concealment, my house being now all stilled.

3. On that glad night in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

4. This guided me more surely than the light of noon to where he was awaiting me
- him I knew so well -
there in a place where no one appeared.

5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

6. Upon my flowering breast, which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping, and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair, it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand, suspending all my senses.

8. I abandoned and forgot myself, laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.

It made me uncomfortable. It made me feel creepy. It was too romantic. It was too over the top. To feel THAT WAY about Jesus?

To deal with my discomfort, I assumed it was some sort of high code, some sort of allegory, that nobody could love God that way. How could you?

I kept checking back on that poem every couple of years, as I wandered in and out of faith, sinning and asking, running and sneaking back. There it was, still gushing and passionate, and I didn't know what to make of it. Maybe he was insane. He certainly had a single-track mind. But it made no sense to me at all.

Glory be to God, I'm starting to understand it. I don't mean that I am getting a handle on St. John's personality, I'm not understanding it in the light of him and his faith. I'm starting to understand this: that all love, all passion, all romance, all drawings of the spirit are from God and properly belong first and foremost TO God.

It's pretty easy to get a handle on loving the unfortunate because they were created by God and Christ lives as surely in them as in me. It's even sort of easy to understand loving my enemies because Jesus loved His. But God truly desires a true Union with us. Jesus calls Himself the Bridegroom of His Church; how clear a picture do you want Him to paint for you? We CAN love Jesus Christ passionately, with the language of love! Passionate language and emotions are not inextricably linked with sex (there's a big aha!) but are nobly spent on God first, then through Him, in proper ways and times, to those around us.

All loves given to God are purified and glorified by Him and then pass through Him to the rest of the world.

Phew. I'm relieved. Now I can go back to the Song of Songs and give THAT a try.


~m2~ said...

i am so glad you posted this.

there was one time i felt *that* way about Jesus, then guilt feelings rushed in like a torrent and i haven't explored that aspect of my relationship with Him since.

this is giving me a bit of leeway to do so.

don't quite think i am ready for song of songs, however...

From the Sea said...

I am of the opinion that St. John of the Cross cannot be understood except in the light of St. Therese of Lisieux (and vice verse). St. John is typically portrayed as "nada" and St. Therese as "sentimental." I am glad that you've pointed out that St. John was detached from love of the world - not Christ - and he loved Him with his feelings as well as his intellect. (I am also thinking of the woman who wiped Christ's feet with her hair.)

Therese Z said...

Well, they're both Carmelites, but I'm not sure how they fit together in your comment. You didn't mean St. Teresa of Avila, St. John's contemporary? She wouldn't be "sentimental," though. You picked the right word for St. Therese, that's for sure.

I'm glad you mentioned St. Therese because her sentimental romantic, almost "schoolgirl" love for Jesus bothered me for a long time too, for the same reason: I didn't think God could be really, really loved. Somewhere in there was a corollary lack of belief that God didn't really, really love us.

I know now that God really, really, REALLY loves us. That helps us to understand St. John and St. Teresa and St. Therese (go Carmelites! Go go go!)



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