“Hide yourself, my love; turn your face toward the mountains, and do not speak; but look at those companions going with her through strange islands.”–Stanza 19, Spiritual Canticle, St. John of the Cross
The great mystical Doctor of the Church, St. John of the Cross, wrote a beautiful commentary on Stanza 19 of his Spiritual Canticle, on prayer–the desire of the soul to communicate with God, the need of silence on the part of the soul, and the darkness or obscurity of faith in the soul who is seeking God’s Face.
St. John says that the bride-soul asks four things of the Bridegroom (Christ): First, that He “communicate very inwardly” in the hidden place of the soul. Second, that He inform and “shine on her faculties” with His glory. Third, “that this communication be so sublime and profound that she may neither desire nor know how to give a description of it…” Fourth, that He be enamored of the graces and virtues He has placed in her.”
“Hide yourself, my love;”
St. John says this means to ask God “to communicate Yourself in secret, manifest Your hidden wonders, alien to every mortal eye.”
“turn your face toward the mountains”
“The ‘Face’ of God is the divinity and the ‘mountains’ are the soul’s faculties (memory, intellect, and will).” The verse is saying: “Let your divinity shine on my intellect by giving divine knowledge, and on my will by imparting to it divine love, and on my memory with the divine possession of glory.” The soul, St. John writes, “can only be satisfied with God’s Face.”
“and do not speak”
The communication God grants to the soul are too high and deep to be apprehended by the senses. “Let the depth of the hiding place, which is spiritual union, be of such a kind that the senses will be unable to feel or speak of it…,” says St. John of the Cross.
“but look at those companions”
“When God looks, He loves and grants favors. And the companions whom the soul tells God to look at are the many virtues, gifts, perfections, and other spiritual riches He has placed in her as the pledges, tokens, and jewels of betrothal.” This verse, says St. John is like saying, “But, Beloved, first turn to the interior of my soul, and be enamored of the company–the riches–You have placed there, so that loving the soul and through them You may dwell and hide in her. For, indeed, even though they are Yours, since You gave them to her, they also belong to her.
“going with her through strange islands.”
Here the soul is saying, “Since I go to you through a spiritual knowledge strange and foreign to the senses, let Your communication be so interior and sublime as to be foreign to all of them.”
To “seek God’s Face” is to seek Him in prayer; to “look at Him” is to take the time to contemplate Him. When we do this, St. John of the Cross tells us, God is doing great things in our soul…He shines His Face upon us!
The Lord is the Spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17-18)