wounds of love

"You fled like the stag

15. It is noteworthy that in the Song of Songs the bride compares the Bridegroom to the stag and the mountain goat: My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag [Sg. 2:9]. She makes this comparison not only because he is withdrawn and solitary and flees from companions like the stag, but also because of the swiftness with which he shows and then hides himself. He usually visits devout souls in order to gladden and liven them, and then leaves in order to try, humble, and teach them. Because of his visits his withdrawals are felt with keener sorrow, as is evident in the following verse: After wounding me;

16. This is like saying: The pain and sorrow I ordinarily suffer in your absence was not enough for me, but having inflicted on me a deeper wound of love with your arrow, and increasing my desire to see you, you flee as swiftly as the stag and do not let yourself be captured even for a moment.

17. In further explanation of this verse, it should be known that be-sides the many other different kinds of visits God grants to the soul, in which he wounds and raises it up in love, he usually bestows some secret touches of love that pierce and wound it like fiery arrows, leaving it wholly cauterized by the fire of love. And these wounds, mentioned here, are properly called wounds of love.8 They so inflame the will in its affection that it burns up in this flame and fire of love. So intense is this burning that the soul is seemingly consumed in that flame, and the fire makes it go out of itself, wholly renews it, and changes its manner of being, as in the case of the phoenix that burns itself in the fire and rises anew from the ashes. David said in this regard: My heart was inflamed and my reins have been changed, and I was brought to nothing, and I knew not [Ps. 73:21-22].

18. The appetites and affections, which the prophet refers to as reins, are all changed to divine ones in that inflammation of the heart, and the soul, through love, is brought to nothing, knowing nothing save love. The change of these reins at this time is accompanied by a kind of immense torment and yearning to see God. So extreme is this torment that love seems to be unbearably rigorous with the soul, not because it has wounded her - she rather considers these wounds to be favorable to her health - but because it left her thus suffering with love, and did not slay her for the sake of her seeing and being united with him in the life of perfect love. In stressing or declaring her sorrow, she says, "After wounding me," that is, leaving me thus wounded, thus dying with wounds of love for you, you have hidden as swiftly as the stag.

19. This feeling is so strong because in the love-wound that God produces in the soul, the affection of the will rises with sudden rapidity toward the possession of the Beloved, whose touch was felt. Just as quickly, she feels his absence and the impossibility of possessing him here as she wants. And together with this feeling, she then experiences "moaning" over his absence. These visits are not like others in which God refreshes and satisfies the soul. He bestows these to wound more than heal and afflict more than satisfy, since they serve to quicken the knowledge and increase the appetite (consequently the sorrow and longing) to see God.

These are termed spiritual wounds of love and are very delightful and desirable. The soul would desire to be ever dying a thousand deaths from these thrusts of the lance, for they make her go out of herself and enter into God. She explains this in the following verse:

I went out calling you, but you were gone.

20. No medicine can be gotten for these wounds of love except from the One who causes them. Thus the wounded soul, strengthened from the fire caused by the wound, went out after her Beloved who wounded her, calling for him that he might heal her.

This spiritual departure, it should be pointed out, refers to the two ways of going after God: one consists of a departure from all things, effected through an abhorrence and contempt for them; the other of going out from oneself through self-forgetfulness, which is achieved by the love of God. When the love of God really touches the soul, as we are saying, it so raises her up that it not only impels her to go out from self in this forgetfulness, but even draws her away from her natural supports, manners, and inclinations, thus inducing her to call after God.

Accordingly, this verse is like saying: My Spouse, in that touch and wound of your love you have not only drawn my soul away from all things, but have also made it go out from self - indeed, it even seems that you draw it out of the body - and you have raised it up to yourself while it was calling after you, now totally detached so as to be attached to you." St. John of the Cross "The Spiritual Canticle"
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