How is it I can love You

by Symeon the New Theologian

English version by Ivan M. Granger
Original Language Greek

How is it I can love You
     within me,
     yet see You from afar?

How is it I embrace You
     within myself,
     yet see You spread across the heavens?

You know. You alone.
     You, who made this mystery,
     You who shine
like the sun in my breast,
     You who shine
     in my material heart,
          immaterially.

-- from Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey, by Ivan M. Granger

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

The mystic's riddle: How can such immensity be found within? How can the Eternal be discovered within such a limited space as the human body and awareness? And yet, at the same time, the Eternal permeates the vastness of creation, which itself is ultimately limited. How can this be?

How is it I can love You
     within me,
     yet see You from afar?

Symeon is not asking these questions as an intellectual game, however. This is not a dry theological exercise. His questions arise from the genuine surprise at this paradox as it reveals itself through direct perception: The Divine is both intimate and all-encompassing, within yet everywhere.

How is it I embrace You
     within myself,
     yet see You spread across the heavens?

In blissful states, we look within and see God. We look outside ourselves, and equally we see God. Near and far, God. Above and below, God. The mountain seats God, but so too does the pebble, and also the mote of dust that settles upon it. Friend — God; enemy — God; self -- God.

It cannot be. And yet it is. The intellect balks, yet the mystic is confronted with it undeniably. This is not just a lovely idea; when we really learn to look, this is what we see.

You know. You alone.
     You, who made this mystery,
     You who shine
like the sun in my breast,
     You who shine
     in my material heart,
          immaterially.

Let theologies try — and fail — to solve this riddle. Let us, instead, join with the world's mystics and watch in wonder.



Recommended Books: Symeon the New Theologian

Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul's Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives Hymns of Divine Love: Songs of praise by one of the great mystics of all church history Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages
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How is it I can