The wounded stag

Environment creates religious experience. If you put that theologically you might say there is a revelation of God in nature, and through nature God draws us into his presence. I’ve never visited a desert, but can see how that might lead to a feeling of being emptied out; in the same way walking in a forest you can have a feeling of the richness of God’s creation. In this way nature which is God’s creation can become a symbol of our inner frame of mind – including the unconscious, and affects us spiritually and psychologically.

In his discussion of Christian mysticism William Johnston uses the symbol of the wounded stag – he takes this from a line from St John of the Cross:

‘the wounded stag is in sight on the hill, cooled by the breeze of your flight.’

John of the Cross tells us in his commentary on his Spiritual Canticle that the wounded stag is Jesus himself – he is wounded because we are wounded. This seems so apt in our current situation. We have deeply wounded nature and so we too are deeply wounded. Our very destruction of God’s creation inevitably leads to our own suffering. The virus is merely a symptom of the terrible actions we have taken.

In his commentary St John of the Cross writes:

‘It is characteristic of the stag that he climbs to high places and when wounded races in search of refreshment and cool waters. If he hears the cry of his mate and senses that she is wounded, he immediately runs to her to comfort and caress her.’

In the same way Jesus hearing our wounded cry is wounded with love for us and joins us in our suffering.

‘Among lovers, the wound of one is a wound for both, and the two have but one feeling’.

In contemplative prayer John says we can take our selves spiritually to a high place where God begins to show himself to the soul in this life, but not completely. We can glimpse him, like the wounded stag, but as if from a great distance. Our relationship is not about our love for Jesus but rather is about the mystery of his great love for us. The flight of contemplation causes a breeze and this is the spirit of love – the Holy Spirit who refreshes, heals and sustains us in the deepest part of our soul.