I've been studying Spiritual Canticle by St. John of the Cross as part of my OCDS Secular Carmelite formation program.
Every Friday afternoon, I spend an hour in the Adoration Chapel at church. Today, I had the idea to practice lectio divina with the stanzas. I was surprised by some of the reflections I had. For some reason, I was pulled to the topic of mental illness, specifically anxiety disorder, panic attacks and borderline personality disorder.
The first twelve stanzas struck me as "angsty" and full of longing and distress. Anxiety permeates the entire section. The "bride" has seen God, who is "the bridegroom," only for an instant, and then He was gone. If she had not seen Him or known He was there, she could not feel the pain of loss, and because he caused the sense of loss, only He could heal her.
The phrases of the Canticle are intense and dramatic,such as, "If you shall see Him Whom I love the most, Tell Him I anguish, suffer, and die," and, "all wound me more and more, and something leaves me dying, I know not what, of which they are darkly speaking."
Anyone who has suffered from anxiety disorder or panic attacks knows that feeling- the fear that you will die. When we are infants, we cannot be abandoned, or we will certainly die. People suffering from borderline personality disorder have an intense fear that others will abandon them, often because one of their primary caregivers did as a child, so this type of anxiety is common. Threats like, "Don't leave or I will die," or "Come back or I will kill myself," are based on the same primal terror.
The truth is that we will die without God. We are dependent on him for our breath and our heartbeat. We are dependent on him for eternal life as well. Once we have "experienced" God (which usually is an emotional experience,) we become filled with the desire to fully merge with Him, the source of life itself.
If a person suffering emotional turmoil were to turn to God rather than to a human person in order to heal from such deep wounding, that person will not be disappointed, for God will never leave her.
Only an infinite God can fill the infinite hole in our hearts. God offers the ultimate medicine.
Those who turn to God will understand St. John of the Cross, when he says,
Quench my troubles,
For no one else can soothe them;
And let my eyes behold You,
For You are their light,
And I will keep them for You alone.
Reveal Your presence,
And let the vision and Your beauty kill me,
Behold the malady
Of love is incurable
Except in Your presence and before Your face.