I fear many a sincere person is seeking an ‘experience’, an exalted state of consciousness. But this ‘experience’ is not God. God is surely knocking on his heart, but can he hear him? God’s mystical intervention would mean the collapse of that proud human structure.
Gone the fine control of the mind, gone the sense of being a special person, a superman, a spiritual man. Is it likely that one who has maintained this magnificent goal is likely to make the right choice? This is rather an extreme case but it highlights the choice facing everyone living a serious spiritual life.
God wants to intervene. Will we let him? Everything depends on the answer. Yet how much serious direction has been and still is geared, in reality, not to seeking God’s will in order to surrender to him in fulfilling it, but to self-perfection, self-glorification.
The whole work of [the first stage of the spiritual life] is to do God’s will, that is, fulfill the law. Man is always tempted when doing the works of the law to live by the law, whereas the true disciple of Christ lives by the spirit. He cannot live by the Spirit unless he keeps the law; the Spirit will drive him to an every more perfect fulfilling of the law. But the deadly temptation is to live by the law and make it alone our security.
Ruth Burrows, Guidelines for Mystical Prayer, 19-20
Reflection - Happy Labour Day weekend! I rather suspect that blog traffic will drop a fair bit the next few days, as people are rightly stepping away from their computers and stepping towards their friends and families for end of summer barbecues and parties.
Oh… you’re still here? OK, then. Burrows here does a fine job threading the needle of law and Spirit, our work and God’s work. We must keep the law. Christianity is not a lawless chaotic religion where you just do as you please. God wrote a moral law, and God communicated his moral law, first and imperfectly in the Jewish Scriptures, then perfectly in the words and deeds of Jesus now transmitted to us faithfully by His Spirit alive in the Church. We must keep that law, and repent sincerely when we fail to keep it, which we all do to some extent.
But living by the Law means putting the whole emphasis of our spiritual life into that dynamic, into that project. There is a law, we are to keep the law, we fail, we succeed, we fail, we succeed… and that’s all there is to the story. But that’s not even the half of the story, from a proper Christian understanding of it. That’s really a small part of the story. The real story is the action of the Spirit, the movement of God, the work of God in you and in me. Not opposing the law, but perfecting it, but perfecting it along wholly different lines.
It’s all about relationship, about communion with Jesus and with the Father in and through Jesus. It’s all about having no security, no ‘goodness’, ultimately no way in life except the way of Jesus and our living, real communion with Him. And in that perspective, we come to see that it’s all about mercy, because we do all fall short of the mark, we do all fail in charity and justice and purity, and the more our lives become taken up with our relationship to Jesus, the more our lives are lives of mercy—mercy received and mercy given.
And in this, then, our whole life becomes a living out of the first beatitude, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It is this deep spiritual perspective that is so often lacking in our conversations these days, and why we so often don’t get very far with each other. The whole of life is not a business of self-justification, of proving ourselves and our group ‘right’ and the other person and the other group ‘wrong’. Our whole life is abandonment to the mercy of God, because everyone’s wrong, and everyone’s right (a little bit), and ultimately it is God who sets us all right where we are wrong and strengthens and purifies us where we are right.
In this, we are all together, even if there are serious and protracted areas of disagreement or conflict, painful at times. The deeper spiritual perspective, the realization of what Burrows is trying to communicate here, means that all of us come as poor men and women before the living God and need his radical intervention to unmake and remake us all, without exception.