A few months ago, we dipped into one of the letters of Hadewijch of Antwerp, a thirteenth-century mystic who was probably a beguine. Hadewijch wrote many letters and is also well known for her spiritual love poetry. In her poems, love is personified and is to be understood as God’s love, which consumes all things and which fills the lover with a terrible and wonderful longing.
Sometimes poetry can help us approach our faith with new eyes. So today, let’s read one of Hadewijch’s poems. In Poem 8 below, Hadewijch speaks of the the “awesome calling” of being in love and also of its responsibilities and rewards.
Born is the new season as the old one that lasted so long is drawing to a close.
Those prepared to do love’s service will receive her rewards: new comfort and new strength.
If they love her with the vigor of love, they will soon be one with love in love.
To be one with love is an awesome calling and those who long for it should spare no effort.
Beyond all reason they will give their all and go through all.
For love dwells so deep in the womb of the Father that her power will unfold only to those who serve her with utter devotion.
First the lover must learn charity and keep God’s law.
Then he shall be blessed a hundredfold, and he shall do great things without great effort, and bear all pain without suffering.
And so his life will surpass human reason indeed.
Those who long to be one with love achieve great things, and shirk no effort.
They shall be strong and capable of any task that will win them the love of love, to help the sick or the healthy, the blind, the crippled or the wounded.
For this is what the lover owes to love.
He shall help the strangers and give to the poor and soothe the suffering whenever he can.
He shall pay loyal service to God’s friends, to saints and men, with a strength that is not human, by night and by day.
And when his strength seems to falter he will still place his trust in love.
Those who trust in love with all their being shall be given all they need.
For she brings comfort to the sad and guidance to those who cannot read.
Love will be pleased with the lover if he accepts no other comfort and trusts in her alone.
Those who desire to live in love alone with all their might and heart shall so dispose all things that they shall soon possess her all.