Fiona Townley reviews Elizabeth Obbard’s potted, illustrated classic.
The Living Flame of Love of St John of the Cross
[New City Magazine]
It isn’t often that the book lives up to the expectations promised by the blurb on the back. We rely on them so much in our busy lives that a terrible sense of disappointment can be all that remains after a dismal first chapter. The Living Flame of Love by Elizabeth Ruth Obbard is, I’m happy to say, not one of those disappointments. It does what it says on the tin when it promises ‘mysticism for everyone’ and it does so in a friendly and down-to-earth style. The works of St John of the Cross are not something I would approach generally for some light reading, or even for a moment of distraction from the turmoil of life with toddlers. The 16th century Spanish mystic is rightly famous for his profound and complex spiritual writings that have been quoted and explained by many saintly people both past and present. The joy of reading this book is that the author leads one into the story gradually with a comprehensive yet simple introduction and then continues that simplicity with short sections from one of the greatest saints and writers in European history. This book has been written for the modern age when readers want a quick delivery of wisdom in one hundred pages or less, chicken soup for the soul and other best sellers have catered for this need to great success. The Living Flame of Love with its whimsical illustrations and less than one hundred pages does just as well, while not diluting the essential essence of a Soul in love with God and burning with the desire to spread that love. The Living Flame of Love, as the author explains to us, was written for a widow, and perhaps that is the reason for my favourite metaphor in the book. ‘We must be like a child resting in our mother’s arms, not crying and struggling to walk unaided before we are ready. God is carrying us like a mother, even though we are not aware of going anywhere. In fact, we are going somewhere although we are not conscious of the fact.’
This is the third in Elizabeth Obbard’s popular series of spiritual biographies with a difference. She is able to communicate the amazing depth of St John of the Cross’ spiritual experience in the simplest of ways in this book, beautifully illustrated by the author herself.