Discalced Carmelite Friars

Province of St. Therese


Reflections on an analysis of The Spiritual Canticle


“A lyric creation by a poet does not necessarily show concern for the logical demands of a theologian.”
— The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, p. 465

Alone in his cramped prison cell,
John of the Cross erupted with
a melodic chorus
of love so deep,
his soul burst forth,
filling his confinement
with dazzling light,
his freedom gained
as he soared to
the One he loved.

And as his soul exploded,
his union with Love complete,
did he ponder for an instant
the symbolism
of stags and shepherds,
watersides and wild beasts?

When Love’s fire consumes
there is no room 
for thought
nor interpretation
nor commentary,
but only an
all-encompassing awe,
like swimming
in the ocean
on a moonless night,
wrapped entirely in darkness,
girdled by soft waves,
enveloped in briny sound,
all senses and thought
overpowered by the sea.

A poem is but a grimy glass
through which to view Heaven,
not disclosing God’s true essence,
nor the poet’s true ecstasy.

But what comes closer 
to showing God’s face
than a poem
vomited by John
onto the cold stone floor 
of a prison cell?

And what better
road map to Heaven
than a saintly prisoner’s 
holy euphoria shouting:
“My soul is united
with my Lord!
Forsake all, 
follow Him
and your joy
will be complete!”

Written by Time Bete, OCDS
Tim Bete is a Secular Discalced Carmelite from Dayton, OH
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