We have been looking at some of the key themes in the Spiritual Canticle in recent blog postings. I would like to turn to consider and reflect on some ideas in the Living Flame of Love. In the prologue to the Living Flame of Love John says, “There is no reason to marvel at God granting such sublime and strange gifts” (F. Prologue .2). Many people who read and study John of the Cross can readily identify with the challenges and struggles he describes in climbing Mount Carmel. They can see their own dark experiences in his descriptions of the dark night of the soul. They can also identify with the longings for love and union in the encounter of the lovers in the Spiritual Canticle. Yet, many of these devotees of John of the Cross do not find themselves in the Living Flame of Love. It is simply not for them—so they think. They know it describes the final stage of the spiritual life and are convinced few ever get there and feel their time and energy are best spent on the struggles of the journey. However, there is something about the Living Flame that helps put everything else into focus and makes everything else worthwhile. John tells us what it is—get used to God’s generosity to us all.
The Living Flame describes how the Holy Spirit makes a person live in God. This transformation in the depths of one’s personality is an encounter with the mystery of God that gives one a new source of identity and destiny. In this poem and commentary, the person is on fire with love, inflamed in divine union, immersed in the revelations of the Trinity, and so gifted that only a veil separates him or her from complete union. Of course, no one earns this. It is God who draws us to divine life, for God always takes the initiative, being the primary Lover. It is the nature of God to be love and to love. Always moved by infinite love, it is of the essence of God to extend love—it is who God is. Salvation history describes God’s strategy of love for us all, and it tells us how God constantly takes a risk with us, sharing and inviting us to love. Moreover God’s gifts of love are not just for a small elite group. John reminds us that God “is not closefisted but diffuses Himself abundantly, as the sun does its rays, without being a respecter of persons” (F. 1.15). But, this is where John wants his readers to be real in appreciating God’s awesome gifts of love, and so he insists, “There is no need to marvel at God granting such sublime and strange gifts” (F. Prologue.2). “Do not wonder that God brings some souls to this high peak” (F. 2. 5). Really, “There is no need to be amazed” (F. 2.36). John wants his readers to get used to God acting in this way.