In reading John Donne’s poetry over the past few months, one witnesses Donne’s search for love, a journey full of distortion and dead-ends. In some writings, he almost treats the concept of love as a deity (“Negative Love”); in other works, he writes of his travails with love on a human level, ascribing his happiness to his relationships with women. But in his later Holy Sonnets, one sees that Donne finally realizes that love is found in Christ.
“Marke in my heart, O Soule, where thou dost dwell,
The picture of Christ crucified, and tell
Whethet that countenance can thee affright,
Teares in his eyes quench the amasing light,
Blood fills his frownes, which from his pierc’d head fell.
And can that tongue adjudge thee unto hell,
Which pray’d forgivenesse for his foes fierce spight?”(1)
I imagine Donne gazing upon the crucifix and thinking of the love that Christ has for humanity. I imagine that this love hit him harder at that moment than any other, and that he experienced what St. Thomas of Villanova once wrote on the Passion of Jesus – “O man, look on that cross on those torments, and that cruel death, which Jesus Christ has suffered for thee: after so great and so many tokens of his love, thou canst no longer entertain a doubt that he loves thee, and loves thee exceedingly.”(2)
It is as though Christ calls out to us from the cross, “O ye that love, if ye will have fire, come light your lanterns at my heart; if water, come to my eyes, whence flow the tears in streams; if thoughts of love, come gather them from my meditations.”3 He implores us with this call from the cross, though I always imagine that this call is heard only in silence. One must simply turn from the world and gaze at Christ crucified to hear it, and by hearing it, see it. Christ’s heart burns for mankind: I picture it as a beacon of light shining on Calvary, a light whereby “the soul is moved by a divine love and ardor when, on seeing the beauty and glory of the WORD of God, it falls in love with his splendor and is thereby struck with a kind of arrow and suffers a wound of love”(4) – “the soul would always wish to be dying of this wound.”(5)
This wound is a kind of burning love within the soul, for if Christ dwells within us, and comes to dine with us in our hearts, then it must be that the interior burning of the heart is the burning of the love of Christ. The words of St. Seraphim of Sarov seem to confirm the idea: “The heart boils, being kindled by Divine fire, only when there is living water in it; but when this is poured out, it grows cold and a man freezes.”(6)
Without Christ, the world itself grows cold, and sings “neither in night nor in winter.”(7)