Talk About Dismaying


Talk About DismayingIn my study of The Ascent of Mount Carmel I was sent by footnote to the first few chapters of Dark Night of the Soul The first chapter of this great work will require greater explication and discussion at another time, because right now I wish to make a public confession, hoping that it will help me amend my behavior. In the third chapter of the first book we have the following description:

from Dark Night of the Soul Book 1, Chapter 3 St. John of the Cross

MANY of these beginners have also at times great spiritual avarice. They will be found to be discontented with the spirituality which God gives them; and they are very disconsolate and querulous because they find not in spiritual things the consolation that they would desire. Many can never have enough of listening to counsels and learning spiritual precepts, and of possessing and reading many books which treat of this matter, and they spend their time on all these things rather than on works of mortification and the perfecting of the inward poverty of spirit which should be theirs. Furthermore, they burden themselves with images and rosaries which are very curious; now they put down one, now take up another; now they change about, now change back again; now they want this kind of thing, now that, preferring one kind of cross to another, because it is more curious. And others you will see adorned with agnusdeis and relics and tokens, like children with trinkets. Here I condemn the attachment of the heart, and the affection which they have for the nature, multitude and curiosity of these things, inasmuch as it is quite contrary to poverty of spirit which considers only the substance of devotion, makes use only of what suffices for that end and grows weary of this other kind of multiplicity and curiosity. For true devotion must issue from the heart, and consist in the truth and substances alone of what is represented by spiritual things; all the rest is affection and attachment proceeding from imperfection; and in order that one may pass to any kind of perfection it is necessary for such desires to be killed.

[emphasis added]

He hit the nail on the head for me. I am so often wrapped up in reading about spiritual matters and trying to take counsel from one and all that I end up putting relatively little of it into practice in a relatively remote and mild way. Yes I pray. And yes, I think I'm praying as I read these books seeking to mend my ways and my life. But the reality is, at least in part, I do what I do to avoid prayer and quiet time with God. He frightens me, not because of who He is, but because of who I am. Approaching Him, I feel like the Cowardly Lion approaching the Wizard of Oz. I don't know what I expect, except perhaps that it is likely to be painful, unpleasant, and difficult. My expectation have not been met most of the time, but there are times, sometimes long times, when they are. I say this with full intent of accusing myself and with certain knowledge that it may alienate some. I pray that you do not think less of my mentors or of the great Saints who have guided me because I am such a feeble reflection of their guidance and goodness. The passage just before that which referred me to the Dark Night has one of the most famous of St. John of the Cross's metaphors and I put it here to complete the picture.

from The Ascent of Mount Carmel Book 2, Chapter 5 St. John of the Cross

6. In order that both these things may be the better understood, let us make a comparison. A ray of sunlight is striking a window. If the window is in any way stained or misty, the sun's ray will be unable to illumine it and transform it into its own light, totally, as it would if it were clean of all these things, and pure; but it will illumine it to a lesser degree, in proportion as it is less free from those mists and stains; and will do so to a greater degree, in proportion as it is cleaner from them, and this will not be because of the sun's ray, but because of itself; so much so that, if it be wholly pure and clean, the ray of sunlight will transform it and illumine it in such wise that it will itself seem to be a ray and will give the same light as the ray. Although in reality the window has a nature distinct from that of the ray itself, however much it may resemble it, yet we may say that that window is a ray of the sun or is light by participation. And the soul is like this window, whereupon is ever beating (or, to express it better, wherein is ever dwelling) this Divine light of the Being of God according to nature, which we have described.

7. In thus allowing God to work in it, the soul (having rid itself of every mist and stain of the creatures, which consists in having its will perfectly united with that of God, for to love is to labour to detach and strip itself for God's sake of all that is not God) is at once illumined and transformed in God, and God communicates to it His supernatural Being, in such wise that it appears to be God Himself, and has all that God Himself has. And this union comes to pass when God grants the soul this supernatural favour, that all the things of God and the soul are one in participant transformation; and the soul seems to be God rather than a soul, and is indeed God by participation; although it is true that its natural being, though thus transformed, is as distinct from the Being of God as it was before, even as the window has likewise a nature distinct from that of the ray, though the ray gives it brightness.

8. This makes it clearer that the preparation of the soul for this union, as we said, is not that it should understand or perceive or feel or imagine anything, concerning either God or aught else, but that it should have purity and love -- that is, perfect resignation and detachment from everything for God's sake alone; and, as there can be no perfect transformation if there be not perfect purity, and as the enlightenment, illumination and union of the soul with God will be according to the proportion of its purity, in greater or in less degree; yet the soul will not be perfect, as I say, if it be not wholly and perfectly bright and clean.

I think I say enough when I say the passage was written for me and it seems that I need to make a major investment in some spiritual Windex.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on June 30, 2003 7:30 AM.

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