Flame, Alive, Compelling

by Grace Weaver

I think most of us who have made a sustained search after Beauty, who have deeply longed for wholeness and restoration, can testify that there is a cost.

Desiring comes with the profound pain of being “at the mercy of” someone or something that could provide satisfaction but may not.

With desire comes the terrifying suspicion that what we most deeply long for may never satisfy our longing. There is the realization that the one hunger we were created to want most of all in this world will never be satisfied until we die. Perhaps this is why few are brave enough to deeply and consistently chase after beauty.

But what if there is another level of joy to be found? Consider the idea of finding joy in, or precisely because of, an unfulfilled desire. The idea that truest worship is a discovery of emptiness and a turning, a traveling (still unfulfilled) towards a distant longing. Not demanding to find completion and satisfaction but experiencing the keenness of hunger for that which is hopelessly beyond us.

St. John of the Cross discovered this devastating, unmet desire. Betrayed and imprisoned, the embodiment of ruin, he wrote this in “The Spiritual Canticle”:

Where have you hidden,
Beloved, and left me groaning?
You fled like a stag
having wounded me;
I went out in search of you, and you were gone.

Can you sense as I do his empty arms stretched towards an unresponsive sky? This longing only grew in him stronger and more beautiful.

Living Flame of Love

by St. John of the Cross
Translated by Marjorie Flower

Flame, alive, compelling,
yet tender past all telling,
reaching the secret center of my soul!

Since now evasion’s over,
finish your work, my Lover,
break the last thread,
wound me and make me whole!

Burn that is for my healing!
Wound of delight past feeling!
Ah, gentle hand whose touch is a caress,
foretaste of heaven conveying
and every debt repaying:
slaying, you give me life for death’s distress.

Ah, gentle and so loving
you wake within me, proving
that you are there in secret, all alone;
your fragrant breathing stills me
your grace, your glory fills me
so tenderly your love becomes my own.

G.K. Chesterton says in his book on St. Francis of Assisi

Joy is the discovery of an infinite debt. For the infinite creditor shares the joy of the infinite debtor because they are both creditors and both debtors. For debt and dependence to you become pleasures in the presence of unspoiled love. The man who really knows that he cannot pay his debt will be forever giving back what he cannot be expected to give back because the whole world is only one thing. It is a great debt.

Desire is immanent, even fundamentally ingrained in the fabric of our soul. We and the world are all one in a great debt that we will be forever paying. And if we do not follow the road of instant gratification on to its destiny of addiction, we will know the jaws of pain and writhe under its weight.

Yet once we see this truth and embrace it we have already begun to transcend it. We are on the journey of transformation, the hunger pains leading us on towards the source of life.


Artwork: An Overturned Basket of Fruit and Vegetables, Hubert Bellis (1831-1902).