Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Which Surpasseth Understanding

All the best stuff comes from Mount Carmel, it seems. A very wise priest suggested The Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross -- it was tough to get into at first, but very nutritious. Really squirmed on reading this:

"During the time, then, of the aridities of this night of sense [i.e., the lower element of the human soul] ... spiritual persons suffer great trials, by reason not so much of the aridities which they suffer, as of the fear that they have of being lost on the road, thinking that all spiritual blessing is over for them and that God has abandoned them since they find no help or pleasure in good things. Then they grow weary, and endeavor (as they have been accustomed to do) to concentrate their faculties with some degree of pleasure upon some object of meditation, thinking that, when they are not doing this and yet are conscious of making an effort, they are doing nothing. ...
"The way in which they are to conduct themselves in this night of sense is to devote themselves not at all to reasoning and meditation, since this is not the time for it, but to allow the soul to remain in peace and quietness, although it may seem clear to them that they are doing nothing and wasting their time, and although it may appear to them that it is because of their weakness that they have no desire in that state to think of anything. The truth is that they will be doing quite sufficient if they have patience and persevere in prayer without making any effort. What they must do is merely to leave the soul free and disencumbered and at rest from all knowledge and thought ... but contenting themselves with merely a peaceful and loving attentiveness toward God, without the ability and without desire to have experience of Him or to perceive Him."

This is rough stuff. For one like myself, whose instinct is generally to go and do something in any given situation, the counsel "Be still and know that the Lord is God" is unwelcome.

It's very easy and pleasant to be a Christian at first. God gives us many of what are technically called "sensible consolations," positive emotions and mental illuminations and the like. Conquering temptation is easy -- graces are abundant. But of course, as C. S. Lewis notes in The Screwtape Letters and St. John of the Cross here, this state of affairs does not last for ever. Physical children must be weaned from their mother's milk; spiritual children must also be weaned, given adult food -- "bread with crust," as the Carmelite mystic charmingly says in another passage.

We must not be discouraged by a loss of consolations; admittedly it is unpleasant to not have pleasant feelings, but that is why sacramentalism is such an important element of the Catholic faith. In every sacrament -- in the Blessed Sacrament -- there is something objective going on, something that does not depend upon our emotional state at the time. The Eucharist depends upon the spiritual office and intention of the priest, and that is one of the precious things about it: it exhibits the objectivity of God. ("Reality is that which, when you stop thinking about it, doesn't go away." -- Philip K. Dick.) We believe it is far more than a reminder, yet it is a reminder, that our faith is a faith in reality and not in ourselves.

1 comment:

  1. Gabriel, this is the core truth of our journey towards the Lord. What a beautiful image to draw, the parallel between an infant being fed so intimately by their mother and our spiritual life, being children of God, we are also fed intimately with an overwhelming sense of His presence that takes us far distances. Scratching the surface of the analogy at hand, it seems so unfortunate to seperate the intimate relationship between the mother and child but we also know that it is a moment of grace that nows takes on the child in a deeper way. The child now has to seek to be nurished outside of this physical intimacy with the mother, and grow in a more spiritual and psychological relationship with the mother. It seems to us that God is distancing Himself as spiritual consolations are fading away, but the reality is, as we stand on our own two feet, we must seek to be fed and this will grow in a more mature intimacy with God. As a child grows into an adolescent and even an adult, no one "feeds" you as an infant, but the food is set on the table, and if you are hungry you know that you must come home and sit at the table. We grow more intimate with our Lord as we learn to trust Him, that whenever we are hungry, He will have food on the table for us. This will ultimately lead to a more intimate relationship with Our Father. This is what will take us from infant, to adolescent, and finally adulthood.

    Thank you so much for sharing and I look forward to more. God Bless you brother.