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 thy 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 fervours 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 thine eyes from me.’

‘Turn them away, O my Beloved!’

2. That is, ‘Thy 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 thee now are not those of the state of glory wherein thou
desirest to be; but return to Me, for I am He Whom thou, wounded
with love, art seeking, and I, too, as the hart, wounded with thy
love, begin to show Myself to thee on the heights of
contemplation, and am refreshed and delighted by the love which
thy 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, [123] 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. [124] Yea, rather,
cost they what they may, the soul would not willingly miss these
visitations and favours 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 Thou mayest 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. [125] 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, saith,
‘Whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell.’ [126] 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 subtile 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, [127] 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 thy high and rapid flight
of contemplation, in the love wherewith thou art inflamed, in the
simplicity of thy regard’–these are three characteristics of the
dove–’return from that flight in which thou aimest at the true
fruition of Myself–the time is not yet come for knowledge so
high–return, and submit thyself to that lower degree of it which
I communicate in this thy 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, saith in effect:
‘Return, my bride, to Me; for as thou art wounded with the love of
Me, I too, like the hart, am wounded by love for thee. 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 thou hast
ascended in thy 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 thy flight, and is refreshed.’

13. The flight is contemplation in the ecstasy spoken of before,
[128] 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 Ghost 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
cometh 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 nothing worth, and can do
nothing, as the Apostle saith, towards its union with God. [129]
In another place he saith, ‘Have charity, which is the bond of
perfection.’ [130] 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 hath 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 ardour of thy 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 practise those things of which the
Apostle speaks, saying: ‘Charity is patient, is benign: charity
envieth not, dealeth not perversely; is not puffed up, is not
ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinketh
not evil, rejoiceth not upon iniquity, but rejoiceth with the
truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all
things, endureth all things.’ [131]

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,’ [132] the
compassionate father Noe, 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: