Moist and liquid things easily receive the figures and limits which may be given them, because they have no firmness or solidity which stops or limits them in themselves. Put liquid into a vessel, and you will see it remain bounded within the limits of the vessel, and according as this is round or square the liquid will be the same, having no other limit or shape than that of the vessel which contains it.
The soul is not so by nature, for she has her proper shapes and limits: she takes her shape from her habits and inclinations, her limits from her will; and when she is fixed upon her own inclinations and wills, we say she is hard, that is, self-willed, obstinate. I will take away, says God, the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh. To change the form of stones, iron, or wood, the axe, hammer and fire are required. We call that a heart of iron, or wood, or stone, which does not easily receive the divine impressions, but lives in its own will, amidst the inclinations which accompany our depraved nature. On the contrary, a gentle, pliable and tractable heart, is termed a melting and liquefied heart. My heart, said David, speaking in the person of our Saviour upon the cross, is become like wax melting in the midst of my bowels! Cleopatra, that infamous Queen of Egypt, striving to outvie Mark Antony in all the excesses and dissolutions of his banquets, at the end of a feast which she made in her turn, called for a vial of fine vinegar, and dropped into it one of the pearls which she wore in her ears, valued at two hundred and fifty thousand crowns, which being dissolved, melted and liquefied, she swallowed it, and would further have buried, in the sink of her vile stomach, the pearl which she wore in her other ear, if Lucius Plautus had not prevented her. Our Saviour's heart, the true oriental pearl, singularly unique and priceless, thrown into the midst of a sea of incomparable bitternesses in the day of his passion, melted in itself, dissolved, liquefied, gave way and flowed out in pain, under the press of so many mortal anguishes; but love, stronger than death, mollifies, softens and melts hearts far more quickly than all the other passions.
My heart, said the holy spouse, melted when he spoke. And what does melted mean save that it was no longer contained within itself, but had flowed out towards its divine lover? God ordered that Moses should speak to the rock, and that it should produce waters: no marvel then if he himself melted the heart of his spouse when he spoke to her in his sweetness. Balm is so thick by nature that it is not fluid or liquid, and the longer it is kept the thicker it grows, and in the end grows hard, becoming red and transparent: yet heat dissolves it and makes it fluid. Love had made the beloved fluid and flowing, whence the spouse calls him oil poured out; and now she tells us that she herself is all melted with love. My soul, said she, melted when he spoke. The love of her spouse was in her heart and breast as a strong new wine which cannot be contained in the tun; for it overflowed on every side; and, because the soul follows its love, after the spouse had said: Thy breasts are better than wine, smelling sweet of the best ointments, she adds: Thy name is as oil poured out. And as the beloved had poured out his love and his soul into the heart of the spouse, so the spouse reciprocally pours her soul into the heart of her beloved; and as we see a honeycomb touched with the sun's ardent rays goes out of itself, and forsakes its form, to flow out towards that side where the rays touch it, so the soul of this lover flowed out towards where the voice of her beloved was heard, going out of herself and passing the limits of her natural being, to follow him that spoke unto her.
But how does this sacred outflowing of the soul into its well-beloved take place? An extreme complacency of the lover in the thing beloved begets a certain spiritual powerlessness, which makes the soul feel herself no longer able to remain in herself. Wherefore, as melted balm, that no longer has firmness or solidity, she lets herself pass and flow into what she loves: she does not spring out of herself as by a sudden leap, nor does she cling as by a joining and union, but gently glides as a fluid and liquid thing, into the divinity whom she loves. And as we see that the clouds, thickened by the south wind, melting and turning to rain, cannot contain themselves, but fall and flow downwards, and mix themselves so entirely with the earth which they moisten that they become one thing with it, so the soul which, though loving, remained as yet in herself, goes out by this sacred outflowing and holy liquefaction, and quits herself, not only to be united to the well-beloved, but to be entirely mingled with and steeped in him.
You see then clearly, Theotimus, that the outflowing of a soul into her God is a true ecstasy, by which the soul quite transcends the limits of her natural form of existence (maintien) being wholly mingled with, absorbed and engulfed in, her God. Hence it happens that such as attain to these holy excesses of heavenly love, afterwards, being come to themselves, find nothing on the earth that can content them, and living in an extreme annihilation of themselves, remain much weakened in all that belongs to the senses, and have perpetually in their hearts the maxim of the Blessed Mother (S.) Teresa: |What is not God is to me nothing.| And it seems that such was the loving passion of that great friend of the well-beloved, who said: I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me, and: Our life is hid with Christ in God. For tell me, I pray you, Theotimus, if a drop of common water, thrown into an ocean of some priceless essence, were alive, and could speak and declare its condition, would it not cry out with great joy: O mortals! I live indeed, but I live not myself, but this ocean lives in me, and my life is hidden in this abyss?
The soul that has flowed out into God dies not, for how can she die by being swallowed up in life? But she lives without living in herself, because, as the stars without losing their light still do not shine in the presence of the sun, but the sun shines in them and they are hidden in the light of the sun, so the soul, without losing her life, lives not herself when mingled with God, but God lives in her. Such, I think, were the feelings of the great Blessed (SS.) Philip Neri and Francis Xavier, when, overwhelmed with heavenly consolations, they petitioned God to withdraw himself for a space from them, since his will was that their life should a little longer appear unto the world; which could not be while it was wholly hidden and absorbed in God.