{    Cnytr   }

{Thursday, February 17, 2005  }

.:{On Love, Seeking, Sehnsucht, and the Troubadours}:.

Submit to God; resist the devil and he will take flight. Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you backsliders. Be humbled in the sight of the Lord and he will raise you on high.
~James 4:7-8 (the reading from Thursday's Evening Prayer)

So often in the spiritual life I think one forgets that we're human.

We are like an old cathedral, we are built of mortal stone yet breathed of God. We are not spiritual beings trapped in the vileness of a body like the gnostics would hold, nor are we only creatures of this life -- there is a union of body and soul, and we can't really be human without both.

And so we glorify God in our humanity, because it is the way we now how to glorify God. Furthermore, our humanity has been redeemed by the "sarkothenta", the enfleshing of Christ, Christ's being made man, fully man, with a human body and a human soul.

It is through the veil of our humanity that we know and see things, that we understand God. St. Bernard of Clairvaux most beautifully captured this in his Commentary on the Song of Songs, interpreting the most beautiful love poem of the Song of Songs as symbolic of the soul's union with God:

How I pray that a burning desire and a longing of heart may be aroused in me by these words, “Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth.” How great would be the grace released by the touch of those lips. I am no longer content with what Moses says, for he sounds to me like someone who cannot speak well. Isaiah is a man of unclean lips and Jeremiah a child who does not know how to speak. All the prophets are empty to me. But He, He of whom they speak, let him speak to me. Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth, whose gracious presence and eloquence of wonder causes a spring of living water to well up in me to eternal life.

Shall I not find that a richer grace is poured upon me from whom the Father has anointed with the oil of gladness more than all his companions, if he will deign to kiss me with the kisses of his mouth? His living and effective word is a kiss, not a meeting of the lips, which can sometimes be deceptive about the state of the heart, but a full infusion of joys, a revelation of secrets, a glorious and inseparable mingling of the light from above and the mind on which it is shed, which, when it is joined with God, is one spirit with him. It is with good reason then that I have nothing to do with dreams and visions, reject figures and mysteries, and even the beauty of angels seems tedious to me. For my Jesus outshines them so far in his beauty and loveliness. That is why I ask him, not any other, to kiss me with the kiss of his mouth.

The Bride although she is bold in many things, does not dare say, “Let him kiss me with his mouth,” for that is reserved for the Father alone. The kiss of the mouth is the Son in the Father and the Father in the Son. O happy kiss, this wonder of amazing self-humbling is not a mere meeting of the lips but the union of God with humanity in the Word who is Christ. But the Bride asks seemingly something less. “Let him kiss me,” she says, “with the kiss of his mouth.” The Bride receives her kiss not from the Bridegroom’s mouth, but from the kiss of his mouth. It satisfies her to receive the Bridegroom’s kiss even though it is not from his mouth. For she thinks it not a small or light thing to be kissed by the kiss, for that is nothing less than to be given the Holy Spirit. Surely if the Father kisses and the Son receives the kiss, it is appropriate to think of the kiss itself as the Holy Spirit, the imperturbable peace of the Father and the Son, their secure bond, their undivided love, their indivisible unity. So when the Bride asks for a kiss she begs to be flooded with this threefold mystery -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- as much as mortal flesh can bear.

*Most* beautiful is this excerpt of St. Bernard's -- and how relevant to us in our humanity.

We indeed are the objects of the Divine Love that would suffer all kinds of torments for us, the beloved. He the bridegroom and we the bride. The entirety of Salvation History is for the objects of salvation -- us men. The entirety of history and Salvation History is a story of passionate love for us.

But "what return to the Lord shall I offer for all His goodness to me? I will offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving" -- and that is the purpose of this Lenten season. That sacrifice we make -- a humbled, contrite heart through prayer and fasting -- is for that ultimate union with God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. We prepare ourselves for the kiss of His mouth.

But we must also remember our humanity isn't perfect. Our love seeks to be perfected but falls short in this life. The soul's marriage is even imperfect through our own sinfulness and our own weakness, and St. Augustine echoing St. Paul speaks of the dichotomy of willing the good (velle) and doing the good (posse) -- For I do not that good which I will: but the evil which I hate, that I do (Romans 7:15).

And the Song of Songs reflects this as well --

In my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, and found him not.
I will rise, and will go about the city: in the streets and the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, and I found him not.
The watchmen who keep the city, found me: Have you seen him, whom my soul loveth?

This may on our part very well reflect the saddest of all states, spiritual dryness. But notice that the seeker never gives up... and in the next verse, she says, When I had a little passed by them, I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him: and I will not let him go, till I bring him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that bore me. This reminds of "seek and you shall find..."

The spiritual dryness that especially seems to disappoint people in Lent is actually a time of great grace and trial. Our Lord and our God says to us, "blessed are they that have not seen and have believed." And so if nothing seems to be happening, we feel nothing, we nevertheless must continue to draw close to the Lord, as the beginning quote said. We are told to do such seeking as shown in the Song of Songs. Persevere.

The 12th century Troubadours, such as Bernart of Ventadorn, even have much to say on this subject, although from an even more human point of view (instead of speaking of the Divine in human terms like Bernard of Clairvaux does, they often speak of the human in Divine terms, yet it does not make it less relavent or true): "...he who does not know how to stay firm in love is hardly worthy of chivalrous. Love will be worth more than any other good, even if it causes you so much grief; for if it causes pain, it will compensate later on. A man can seldom have any real good without pain, but the joy always surpasses the weeping." Indeed, such an intense human longing, sehnsucht, especially when we cannot find him whom our soul loves, is terrible and painful. But though we are faithless, our Lord remains ever faithful. Though we may *feel* far away, we must persevere from the heart not only as lovers of Christ, but as his vassals --

"There is no use in singing if the song does not spring from the heart; and the song cannot spring from the heart if there is no true love there... may God never give me the strength not to desire love, even if I knew that I would never have anything from it, but that each day would bing me sorrow. At least I would always have a good heart, and I have much joy because I have a good heart and I strive hard....
I love and fear no one more than [Him]; and nothing would ever be a hardship if only it pleased my [Lord]!"

Yet returning to the seeking in the Song of Songs, it may also be read as Christ our Love's seeking of us. Though we are far from Christ, Lent is a time when he comes to seek us, like a bereft lover. Shall we disappoint him? Rather, we should cleanse our hands and purify our hearts! We are sinners, we are backsliders, how can we return Divine Love as we ought? Realizing this, we stand humbled before the Lord, but after our trial he will not leave our soul among the dead, nor let his beloved know decay!

St. Aelred of Rievaulx writes, "He who is more fair than all the sons of men offered his fair face to be spat upon by sinful men; he allowed those eyes that rule the universe to be blindfolded by wicked men; he bared his back to the scourges; he submitted that head which strikes terrors in principalities and powers to the sharpness of the thorns; he gave himself up to be mocked and reviled, and at the end endured the cross, the nails, the lance, the gall, the vinegar, remaining always gentle, meek and full of peace...

Who could listen to that wonderful prayer, so full of warmth, of love, of unshakable serenity --
Father, forgive them... Is any gentleness, any love, lacking in this prayer?

Yet he put into it something more. It was not enough to pray for them: he wanted also to make excuses for them.
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. They are great sinners, yes, but they have little judgment ... they are nailing me the cross, but they do not know who it is that they are nailing to the cross... they think it is a lawbreaker, an impostor claiming to be God, a seducer of the people. I have hidden my face from them, and they do not recognize my glory; therefore, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

If someone wishes to love himself he must not allow himself to be corrupted by indulge his sinful nature. If he wishes to resist the prompting of his sinful nature he must enlarge the whole horizon of his love to contemplate the loving gentleness of the humanity of the Lord...

But if he wishes to prevent this fire of divine love from growing cold because of injuries received, let him keep the eyes of his soul always fixed on the serene patience of his beloved Lord and Savior.

"Why art thou sad, O my soul? and why dost thou trouble me? Hope in God, for I will still give praise to him: the salvation of my countenance."

Our human weaknesses need not be a cause for despair. In our dryness and in our sadness Our Lord will seek us out. We too must persevere in seeking him, and prepare our soul for the union with the Beloved who humbled himself to share in our humanity. Let us remember this and let our humanity be a source of glorification and praise in loving God as we know how and as He has shown us in his own becoming flesh and his own dying for love of us.
*(Thanks to Pontifications [Anglican] for the full excerpt; I like that translation.)
posted by Lauren, 11:48 PM


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