Love's Living Flame

by John of the Cross

English version by Ivan M. Granger
Original Language Spanish

O love's living flame,
so softly do you sear
the deepest center of my soul!
Now that you no longer shy away,
end this game, I beg of you, today:

Rip open the veil separating us
in this sweet rendezvous!

O tender burn!
O burning boon!
O gentle hand!
O delicate caress,
that infers eternal life
and renders all debts paid!
death into life you have made!

O beacons of fire,
in whose splendor
the blind, dark
deep grottoes
of the senses,
with strange and stately art,
warm and enlighten,
and win my love!

How tenderly is your memory
cherished in my breast,
where you alone reside and in secret rest:
Here I taste in your perfumed breath
goodness a-flood with glory--

How gracefully you've won my love!

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

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

A poem today to explore the soul's journey of wounding and death, leading to renewed life and openness and integration.

John of the Cross gives us several important themes here worth exploring:


In the ecstasy of deep communion, there is often a sense of heat -- filled with immense love -- that permeates the body. As this fire moves through the body, it also moves through the awareness, consuming all thoughts (or, more accurately, the tremors from which thoughts emerge). This fire burns away even the thought of "I" -- only the sense of this living flame remains.

This is such a wonderful fire that mystics often describe it as a flame of love, so enchanting that, like the moth, you want to dart in and be utterly consumed.

This is why John of the Cross refers so passionately to "Love's living flame."

Pain and Wounding

The notion of wounding as part of the spiritual path has particular significance within mystical Christianity, but we find similar language in all spiritual traditions:

This "pain" has a few levels of meaning and types of experience.

On one level, the pain can be quite literal and even physical. But it might be more accurate to refer to this as "intensity" rather than "pain." It can be as if the senses and the perceptual mind's ability to process it all gets overloaded. The mystic then experiences a searing, cleansing sort of intensity, that might be called pain.

Through profound opening, one feels everything more completely, a sort of universal empathy. There is a lot of hidden suffering in the world and, at a certain point, we feel it as our own. (Actually, we always feel it anyway, but the walls of denial fall away, and we become aware of it for the first time.) In a directly sentient way, we become aware of the interconnectedness of life. Initially, that flood of feeling is intense, even painful, but that is the pain of the heart breaking open. It becomes a sort of wound one carries, but it resolves itself to a beauty and sense of unity that manages to integrate even the most terrible suffering.

Other mystics speak of a wounding in a more metaphorical sense. The pain experienced is the perception of one's separation from God. But that pain itself is the doorway to reunion. By allowing oneself to become completely vulnerable to that pain, to surrender to it, the mystic finds the pain transformed into the blissful touch of the Beloved.

Ultimately, all of these forms of pain is the pain of the pierced ego. For one with inner balance, where the protective but limiting shell of the ego is no longer necessary, that pain points the way to freedom.

For this reason, mystics and saints describe the pain as being joyful or beautiful. It is the, in fact, the beginning of bliss.

With all this talk of pain, let's not forget that this pain is not a negative. When we acclimate to the intensity, when the reflex to contain the flood eases, we discover the overriding sensation is one of bliss.

Recommended Books: John of the Cross

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics
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Love's Living Flame