On a heavily clouded day I amble down the beach and in that vast loneliness the longing comes on me. Something is missing that I desperately want and need. I realise that feeling this longing is good since it draws me closer to the centre of my soul where I ache for a relatedness much deeper than being with a person who wears flesh.
Longing is a major theme in art, poetry and music. Johann Wolfgang von Geothe uses an image of a silent candle burning in the dark to symbolise a higher longing. “When you see the silent candle burning…a desire for higher love-making sweeps you upward…
And finally, insane for the light
You are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow,
You are only a troubled guest
On the dark earth.”
I wonder about this longing to be burnt to death. Another great poet uses a similar image to make a similar point.
O living flame of love
That tenderly wounds my soul
In its deepest centre!
Tear through the veil of this sweet encounter.
John of the Cross makes this profound desire for being consumed much more personal and appealing. The flame will not destroy me (and perhaps this is what Geothe was alluding to), rather it will consume the veil of this sweet encounter until we are oned. Relatedness is still the source and end of longing. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” (St Augustine)
The veil is the separate ego that resist union since it is too self-absorbed, private, or over protective. Once this has been destroyed, then the pure and true self, the one that emanates from the “centre of your humility” (John of the Cross) is free to relate to the other wholly and completely and is able to convey to others God’s goodness undiluted, unthwarted and undistorted.
That’s who the Son is; that’s who the child will become; the one who knows the goodness of the Father. And that’s who I am meant to be. I don’t expect complete consummation this side of physical death. But I must approach it and beg for it to the best of my ability.
When I feel myself out of harmony with someone because I am too self-absorbed or preoccupied, too cranky or scattered, I can, by grace, melt and change course if I can recognise my folly, if only I focus on the Flame that can consume me.
Longing for Christmas goes beyond longing for Christ in the flesh. It is longing for a union with Him in the spirit. I am realistic enough to know I need God’s gift of purgation as well as love; purgation to break down the resistance to the Real Coming until “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Then I will know the rush of the Beloved’s gifts, such as mercy, peace and kindness, that I can freely give away like the smile of a child.
The Living Flame Of Love 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. St John of the Cross