Desiring God

"My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice." Songs of Solomon 2.9


To explore further the notion that seeing God (the beatific vision) is the true and only path to fulfilment, Gregory of Nyssa wrote 12 homilies on the Old Testament poem 'Song of Solomon'. In each he traces the groom's pursuit by his bride and demonstrates how each gain fuels further desire, transporting the bride to further levels of ecstasy, all the while refining the purity of her desire.


Gregory interprets the poem as an allegory, with the bride representing the human soul and the groom, Jesus Christ. Other details embellish the allegory. So, for instance, the latticed window represents the Law and the prophets, the glass being the medium through which God speaks via the prophets and the lattice the legal strictures through which his word is applied. Only when the groom himself appears is there full and unmediated illumination. And hearing the groom's voice is never enough. Just as contemplation trumps mere learning, so the bride is only satisfied when in the arms of her lover and then that simply fuels her desire for more!


If all this sounds esoteric, Gregory brings us back to earth with a bump. The purpose of his devotional peroration is not his own intellectual satisfaction or to mesmerise us with the power of his imagination. It is a desperate appeal not to mis-direct the restlessness that exists in every human soul. That restlessness, insists Gregory, is our instinctive desire for God as he is fully revealed in Jesus. To focus our desire on anything or anyone else is to doom us to frustration and worse. Only in purifying our desire "that (we) may see God" is satisfaction to be found. And that satisfaction is not a static experience, like gaining the summit of a mountain; it is a constantly unfolding revelation of limitless delight.

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