Mar 01 2019

Symeon the New Theologian – How is it I can love You

Published by at 8:37 am under Poetry

How is it I can love You
by Symeon the New Theologian

English version by Ivan M. Granger

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 The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology), Edited by Ivan M. Granger


/ Image by JudiLiosatos /

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 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. 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 at it, yet the mystic is confronted with it undeniably. This is not just a pleasant 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

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World 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
More Books >>


Symeon the New Theologian, Symeon the New Theologian poetry, Christian poetry Symeon the New Theologian

Turkey (949 – 1032) Timeline
Christian : Eastern Orthodox

Symeon was born into an aristocratic family in Asia Minor (Turkey) and was given the name George. This was when the region was still part of the Christian Byzantine Empire. From boyhood George was groomed for a life in politics. At age eleven, he was sent to the capital Constantinople (Istanbul) to live with his uncle who guided him in his early education.

When he was 14, George met a monk at the monastery of Studios named Symeon the Pious. George accepted Symeon the Pious as his spiritual director while continuing to prepare for a life in politics.

Somewhere around age 20, George was overcome by an ecstatic state in which he experienced God as a living presence of radiant light.

Despite this radically transformative experience, he spent several more years attempting to fulfill his family’s expectations, eventually becoming an imperial senator. However, his continuing mystical experiences were not compatible with such a public life and, at age 27, he renounced his previous life and became a monk, entering the monastery at Studios to continue under the direct guidance his spiritual director, even taking on the same monastic name — Symeon.

The closeness teacher and disciple shared worried the monastic authorities and the two were separated. The young Symeon was given the choice of remaining at Studios and no longer receiving spiritual guidance from the elder Symeon, or he could go to another monastery and keep his spiritual director.

So as not to lose the guidance of Symeon the Pious, the young Symeon chose to move to the monastery of St. Mamas in Constantinople. There, Symeon was ordained a priest and eventually became the abbot of the monastery, reviving the monastery’s life of prayer and meditation. While abbot of St. Mamas, Symeon wrote extensive treatises (called the Catecheses) as guidelines for the ideal monastic and God-focused life, emphasizing the power of contemplative prayer and meditation.

The mystical spiritual practices that he advocated led to further conflicts with authorities and Symeon was exiled in 1009 to a small hermitage on the far side of the Bosphorus.

Disciples began to gather around Symeon and soon the small hermitage grew into a full monastery. It was there that Symeon wrote his most personal work, Hymns of Divine Love, a collection of poems describing his mystical experiences.

Symeon’s doctrines and poetry emphasize not only the possibility, but the necessity of personally experiencing the Divine. He also stated that one need not be a monk or renunciate, saying that one “who has wife and children, crowds of servants, much property, and a prominent position in the world” can still directly experience communion with the divine.

He is called Symeon the New Theologian to distinguish him from John the Evangelist (called John the Theologian in Greek) and Gregory of Nyzanius (also called Gregory the Theologian in the Eastern Orthodox tradition).

More poetry by Symeon the New Theologian

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Symeon the New Theologian – How is it I can love You”

  1. CAROL BURNSon 02 Mar 2019 at 3:27 am

    Beautiful poem. Had heard his name, but none of his writing. Thank you for posting
    this and giving his bio. Thank you for your translation. Much to be learned here.

  2. Elaon 03 Mar 2019 at 12:56 pm

    SHIV
    Many a mysteries come and cross the minds
    Many great minds have tried to know God
    God can only be experienced not seen
    Many times we try to know people
    People whom we always see in front of us still
    We misunderstand them as
    Everyone knows about oneself better
    God must have come that is why we call Him
    God comes and creates Brahma Vishnu Mahesh
    Through these three heaven is created and
    Most Mysterious One keeps Himself Incognito
    People call God with many different names
    SHIV Means The World Benefactor
    People celebrate Shivaratri today for
    Shiv comes when ignorance blinds us totally

  3. Nanci Warneron 10 Mar 2019 at 4:02 pm

    I love your thought for today, Ivan.

    This poem speaks to my relationship with God. I see the omnipotence and mystery, but experience it on a personal level. Sort of a paradox, but am comfortable with it.

    Nanci

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