Saturday, January 8, 2011

Truth be told

Excerpted from the writings of a Dominican Nun in Ireland

(Acts 17:28). Union with God is not something we have to acquire; God is already the ground of our being. ‘God is your being and what you are you are in God’ – as the author of the Book of Privy Counselling assures us. It is more a question of realising this in our lives and living out of the truth of this realisation.
For many years now I have been very taken with, and influenced by Ruth Burrow’s understanding of prayer and the mystical life. ( she is a contemplative Carmelite nun and writer) In her book, Essence of Prayer, she says:
‘The mystical life is the human person becoming more and more receptive to the inflowing of divine love, which as it enters, of necessity, purifies and transforms.’ – but the mystical life is not basically other than the Christian life, says our own Fr. Marie-Dominque Chenu OP.
In prayer, this emphasis on our participation through ‘ receiving’ leads to my own conviction that it is at the time of personal prayer when, as the psalmist instructs, we must try to: ‘Be still and know that I am God’ when our bodies become still and our minds become silent, through whatever means is helpful to us, -that God can achieve in us the greatest purification and transformation that is so necessary through the inflowing of divine love – as I quoted earlier ’the human person becoming more and more receptive to the inflowing of divine love which, as it enters, of necessity purifies and transforms’. In allowing ourselves just to ‘be’ there for God, - not doing anything, not ‘saying’ prayers or making petitions (good as this is but not at this particular time) – just being silently aware of God’s presence and allowing Him to heal us and love us - receiving this love passively and surrendering our whole being to this powerful, silent, hidden, secret action of God- this type of prayer, I firmly believe, is of vital importance in all our lives. Fidelity to it and persevering in it is, as Contemplatives, our greatest contribution to the preaching mission of the Order, the Church and the world.

St. John of the Cross’ says: ‘In contemplation the activity of the senses and of discursive reflection terminates and God alone is the agent who then speaks secretly to the solitary and silent soul. Even though the soul is not then doing anything, God is doing something in it.’

St. John of the Cross also says: ‘ that the journey towards union of the soul with God does not consist in consolations, delights and spiritual feelings but in the living death of the cross, sensory and spiritual, exterior and interior’ .

True prayer means wanting God not self. Our own documents on the Contemplative Life affirms this when it says: “ withdrawal from the world for the sake of leading a more intense life of prayer in solitude is nothing other than a very particular way of living and expressing the paschal mystery of Christ, which is death ordained towards resurrection” (Venite Seorsum 1)

The more we pray, the more time and commitment we give to being with God, the more we are purified within and this inevitably is painful. Direct contact with divine love is deeply disturbing. The love of God, all self-giving, confronts our terrified self-protecting, would-be self-reliant, autonomous self and this produces deep pain. Accepting and surrendering to this pain, this process of purification, by staying with God in prayer, is a tremendous challenge and a great grace. It would be all too easy to avoid this painful encounter by distracting ourselves by doing things, becoming involved in projects that are good in themselves, multiplying contacts, etc but to do that in our life, to avoid this stark encounter with God during this particular time of prayer, would be a form of escape, - that is how I see it.

Our own Meister Eckhart encourages us : ‘Do not waver from your emptiness’

Yes, prayer requires great poverty of spirit.

It is helpful to remember that prayer takes place at the deepest level of our person and escapes direct knowledge and indeed is beyond our understanding; therefore we can make no judgement about it. Where it takes place, in our deepest self is God’s holy domain and we have to trust it utterly to Him. This is one of the principal ways in which we surrender control.

We must be ready to believe that ‘nothingness’ is the presence of divine Reality; emptiness is a holy void that Divine Love is filling. We must give up wanting assurances either from within or without. The inflowing of God into our secret depths of its very nature must remain secret as John of the Cross tirelessly insists: ‘…. it happens secretly in darkness, hidden from the faculties….so hidden that the soul cannot speak of it.’ But its effect on our life as a whole will be marked – chiefly by growth in love and selflessness.

On this subject of love Fr Anselm Moynihan OP has written; ‘The contemplative life is truly par excellence the vocation of love, that which gives the highest expression to our love for God and at the same time provides the greatest stimulus to the increase of that love. That is why it is so vital to the Church, for it nourishes the very heart of the Church, the life-spring of all its work of bearing witness to God’s glory and saving the souls of men.’

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