That Which Burned in My Heart

Today is the feast day of St. John of the Cross, Carmelite saint and mystic. I have a great affection and appreciation for his poetry, in particular, “The Dark Night of the Soul”. It’s the beautiful story of a soul experiencing union with God after a period of struggle and darkness.

I’m nearing the end of my first year of novitiate, or at least my year of novitiate in the Philippines (I celebrated my entry to second year on December 10 – the feast of Our Lady of Loreto), and I’m in the process of reflecting on the past year. Without intending to be too dramatic, I can see that certain parts of the past year have felt similar to “a dark night of the soul”. It has been a year of profound self-awareness and discovery, as well as a purgation of some unhealthy habits and ways of thinking. Although I have not had the same kind of mystical experience of union with God as described by St. John, I have experienced an unshakeable and unconditionally loving friendship with God through Jesus.

God’s love has been burning in my heart all of my life but the flame has grown brighter and hotter over the course of this year. It is a flame that dances within me and joins the other flames of love that burn throughout creation.


“The Dark Night of the Soul”

On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy chance!–
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.

In darkness and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised–oh, happy chance!–
In darkness and in concealment,
My house being now at rest.

In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my

This light guided me
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me–
A place where none appeared.

Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.
– St. John of the Cross


Here is a beautiful adaptation of the poem by Canadian singer Loreena McKennitt:

One thought on “That Which Burned in My Heart”

  1. Hi Sarah

    Do you know ???? Our Sr Frances Nims, Professor of English at St Michael’s College, deceased, had a brother, John Fredrick Nims who did a beautiful translation of the works of St John of the Cross in the 60s or 70s. Also, Loreena Lives in my home-town (and Mary Lavertty’s) of Stratford !




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Malcolm Guite

Blog for poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite

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