IF God, the Supernatural Reality, is found to reveal Himself ‘at sundry times and in divers manners’ in History, Personality, and Things to those creatures who are becoming capable of a certain participation in His Life—how and when shall we find this His Life at work within our common human nature, and what are the ways in which that average human nature feels and responds to His attraction?
This attraction should surely be considered to be in some degree at work, wherever absolute value claims the devotion of man, and the ‘brightness of His Glory’—whether seen in the worlds of science, thought or
beauty, in sacrifice or love—over-rules self-interested desire. But here its origin in the self-giving of Creative Spirit is not always recognized by the little creature. In two great regions of life it is so recognized: in the universal activity we call Prayer, and in that re-making of character in supernatural regard which is the essence of Sanctification. (1) In Prayer, the supernatural interest, the creature’s loving dependence on God, takes its place—though perhaps a major place—among the other great interests of life. Where it transcends these interests, and initiates a more and more complete surrender of personality and redirection of existence in conformity with the purposes of the Holy, we may well call this, in a general sense, Sanctification: for it has as its assigned end the production of the saint. These two great facts of Prayer and Sanctity, pointing beyond the natural order and requiring for their explanation another level of reality, are the standing witnesses of the working of the Supernatural within our human life.
From the point of view of Naturalism, the development of Prayer is surely one of the strangest and most intractable incidents in the whole strange history of man. For here we have an almost universal human activity which is solely called forth by, and directed to, the suprasensible; which has no survival-value, and no intelligible meaning if determinism tells all the truth about the world, yet which is not confined to spiritual specialists or abnormal minds but is a constant character of developed manhood wherever found. We can trace the gradual unfolding of this peculiar activity from primitive and self-interested forms controlled by need and fear, through ever higher degrees of complexity carrying an ever wider sphere of non-utilitarian reference, to a height at which
(1) Vide supra, cap. ii, pp. 43-47.
the man or woman of prayer seems to experience a genuine transcendence of succession; a conscious and firsthand communion with God. Thus the development of prayer can be observed though not explained, in a biological sense; complete historic continuity can be established between the first glimmers of religious awe in primitive man, and the blaze of ‘absolute feeling’ in the saint. All along the path linking these two extremes we can see the emergent human instinct for God, enticed and fed by symbols, being released and expanded by the use of ritual acts and words. It is mainly through the mechanisms of speech and gesture, by which he draws closer to the souls of his fellow men, that man learns to draw closer to the Food and Father of his soul.
Broadly speaking, prayer covers the whole of the little human creature’s search of and response to the Infinite, in all its kinds and degrees; from the terrified chatterings of the savage to the adoring rapture of the great contemplative. Sometimes this response is evoked within history by a personal or symbolic disclosure of the Holy, and reaches its objective by the incarnational or sacramental route. Sometimes the awakened spirit speaks to the awakening Other in a way that seems to itself to be purely spiritual or ‘without means’. Sometimes in the stillness it realizes that in spite of contrary appearance, at every level of the devotional life, ‘we endure His workings beyond our workings, and so enduring Him we apprehend Him and become apprehended by Him’.(2) In the language of theology, prayer in its wholeness includes all aspects and degrees of the soul’s communion with God; as immanent in, yet transcendent to, the world.
The very facts of our two-fold status, our double relation with Reality, seem to require an intercourse with
(2) Ruysbroeck: The Book of the Twelve Beguines, cap. xvi.
the Supernatural which shall be actualized both in visible and invisible ways. Since man is at once a successive yet spiritual creature, with a composite experience in which sense and spirit co-operate closely, he must seek and find the Eternal both as a child of the Eternal, and as a creature of time. This means that his life is never complete without prayer. Though this prayer must always be inadequate to its subject-matter, it is only by such small, constant, willed ascents, and such humble childish intercourse of spirit with Spirit enabling him to find and feel something of that same Spirit along the pathways of sense that he can give to his religious and historical constructions the genuine, though always oblique, supernatural reference in which their true value abides.
The little human soul emerges and expands, fulfils its wonderful office of incarnating the Eternal here and now, only in so far as it lives and breathes in its true Patria, God. Such life and breath is prayer. Whether virtual or actual, expressed in the ‘simple act’ which seems like quietude, in words, in gestures, or in loving deeds, this is the very substance of man’s supernatural life. Its continued practice deepens no less than expands the area of our conscious personality: for the deeps of the self, the unconscious ground, where the creature subject to time has a certain contact with the Abiding, is by this brought more and more within the conscious field. The soul thus grows by appropriation of something which is already present to and with it; and growing, is able to feed more.(3) The communion thus set up seems sometimes to the self to be clearly personal, sometimes to be impersonal.. By turns it speaks with its Master and rests in its Home; and through and in these completing oppo-
(3) This is not ‘immanentism’. Cf. St. Augustine: Confessions, Bk. VII, cap. 10. ‘Cresce, et manducabis me’, etc.
sites gradually develops that side of its two-fold nature which is turned towards the richness of the Eternal world. In stating this, surely we state too the capital truth which must control all our fumbling efforts to explicate the little we know about prayer: namely, the fact that it is wholly evoked by God and not produced by us. He is there first, the ‘ground of our beseeching’. The givenness which is a character of all the creature’s genuine experiences of the Transcendent also obtains here.
‘In our own efforts we always fail, and therein we cannot apprehend Him. But where He works and we endure, there, by that enduring, we apprehend Him beyond all our efforts.’ (4)
When we grasp this, our view of prayer is transformed. Then we see its whole span, from the first naive beginning in childish wants and dependence to those Alpine peaks where the great contemplatives dwell alone with God, as one tiny part of the vast supernatural action of God Himself, in and with His creation. The significant thing is no longer the little human soul trying by its own effort to get into touch with a supernatural landscape and power external to it. Although we are often driven thus to describe our apparent experience, that which matters and that which happens is far better conceived as the opening up of that soul to the spiritual reality and power by which it is already sustained and transfused. All through the innocent deeds and events of our human life, so here supremely, the created soul ever acts—though often unwittingly—under the secret impulsions of the spaceless Spirit of God; who is at once the immanent cause and transcendent end of every real prayer. His presence and action are there first. He enters and affects it by ways and means both visible and invisible: ways which we, from our limited viewpoint, like to distinguish
(4) Ruysbroeck, loc. cit.
as we distinguish the west wind from the east; but which are in essence one.
‘In the beginning,’ says St. Teresa, ‘it happened to me that I was ignorant of one thing—I did not know that God was in all things: and when He seemed to me to be so near, I thought it impossible. Not to believe that He was present, was not in my power; for it seemed to me, as it were, evident that I felt there His very presence. Some unlearned men used to say to me, that He was present only by His grace. I could not believe that, because, as I am saying, He seemed to me to be present Himself: so I was distressed. A most learned man, of the Order of the glorious St. Dominic, delivered me from this doubt; for he told me that He was present, and how He communed with us: this was a great comfort to me.’ (5)
Prayer, then, is man’s nearest approach to absolute action; it means the closest association of which any soul is at any time capable with the living and everywhere present God who is the true initiator of all that we really do. Progress in it is really a progressive surrender of the conditioned creature to that unconditioned yet richly personal Reality, who is the only source, teacher and object of prayer. Its whole wonder and mystery abide in this: that here, our tiny souls are being invited and incited to communion with God, the Eternal Spirit of the Universe.
Hence the self that fully gives its mind and will to prayer at once moves out actually if not consciously to the border between the natural and supernatural worlds, and changes its relation to both. So whether a prayer seems to him who prays to be introversive or out-flying, contemplative or intercessory in type, does not perhaps matter very much; since it is, in essence, a non-spatial activity, expressed in such particular forms or ways as lie within the limited grasp and understanding of each soul. It may find its embodiment in gesture, action,
(5) Life, cap. cviii, par.20
liturgic or spontaneous words. The Catholic procession, the Quaker silence, the Methodist prayer-meeting, the Salvationist’s tambourine, can all justify themselves in the presence of the one God. Prayer may equally find its fulfilment in a special use of rhythm and cadence, in phrases which direct and support attention and desire, or in a state of soul apparently unrelated to the centres of speech; the profoundly absorbed and satisfying prayer of quiet or of union, as described by the mystics. (6) Whatever its kind or degree, it means for the praying soul an interweaving in experience—not necessarily in intellectual realization—of two already present orders; and the mystics are surely right when they insist that its essence is a resort of the creature to that metaphysical ‘ground of the soul’, where every spirit inheres in God and already in a measure partakes of eternal life, since ‘God, the ground of the soul, and grace go together.’(7)
In the above sentence the original text has the word "mataphysical", which I have corrected to "metaphysical". DCW
Superior persons smile at the pious extravagance which sees in the mumbled prayers of the beggar in the porch as valuable a spiritual engine as the more cultivated devotions of a Doctor of the Church. But quite small angels are probably able to laugh heartily at the quaint planetary conceit which distinguishes these minute differences in a number of little animals equally bathed in, and utterly dependent on, the mighty torrents of the Love of God. Indeed the humble, simplified, wide-open and uncritical soul may conceivably offer a clearer pathway to that mysterious energy than the canalized channels of the ‘developed mind’: for prayer is simply ‘that most noble and divine instrument of perfection ... by which and in which alone we attain to the reward of all our endeavours, the end of our creation and redemption—to
(6) Here St. Teresa is of course the classic authority. Cf. Especially The Interior Castle, 4th and 5th Mansions; and Life, caps, xv to xx.
(7) Meister Eckhart: Sayings, p. 418.
wit union with God, in which alone consists our happiness and perfection’. (8)
Here that noble and touching thirst for ultimates which constitutes the true dignity of human nature finds its most general and widely various expression: and a Scala Santa is set up on which every soul, at whatever degree of development, can find a place. Each disclosure to the soul of the Supernatural, whether made in mystical, personal, symbolical or sacramental ways in company or solitude, through beauty or worship, love, penitence or grief is an incitement and nourisher of prayer; and only in so far as that soul meets these disclosures by such deliberate ascents towards, and surrenders to, the Transcendent as it is able to achieve, will these revelations of Reality have value for its life. Man’s spiritual growth seems ever to require such a collaboration of two forces. It is not due to the action of God alone, nor to the desire and effect of man alone ; but to both. And the opening up in prayer of the small human personality to the quickening power of God—incited, it is true, by His prevenient grace—is yet left to the action of the will. Such willed effort is indeed essential, if spiritual realism is to be achieved. For here as elsewhere ‘our belief in things of all kinds, in continuously existing self-identical realities, is founded in our experience of effort of putting forth power and energy in pursuit of our goals’. (9)
In studying prayer, it is surely above all important to look at the flower and not at the seed. A very rough little seed, buried deep in the primitive stuff of human nature, and finding its first nourishment in our primitive terrors and needs; a flower, of which we cannot yet analyse the mysterious fragrance or estimate the healing power. Even though its first beginnings and first entice-
(8) Ven. Augustine Baker: Holy Wisdom, p. 341.
(9) W. McDougall : Outline of Psychology, p. 426
ments are naive and humble—wholly utiltarian in their objectives, and largely dictated by the ignoble passions of fear and desire—this embryonic movement towards communion with an invisible Other must surely be judged, as we judge the beginnings of architecture, painting and music, in relation with its triumphant developments. The mud hut does not discredit the cathedral; nor does the devotee of Durga discredit the adoring prayer of the saints. ‘In Him life lay, and this life was the Light for men. Amid the darkness the Light shone, but the darkness did not master it.’(10)
Thus spontaneously arising within each religious complex from the most crude to the most sublimated, prayer appears in human history as the expression of man’s generalized instinct for and dependence on God; the raw stuff of his spiritual experience. But if we consent for a time to abandon the evolutionary standpoint, to stand back and look in a positive and concrete way at this general spectacle—this strange upward surge of the halfmade and half-real human creature towards that Wholly Real and Changeless One, half-glimpsed but never fully seen—then surely we begin to grasp the pathos, the daring, the convincingness of that various and world-wide demonstration of man’s confident instinct for God. It expresses his decisive refusal to be a clever animal and nothing more; it means the implicit discovery of his own duality, his amphibious state, his response to the attraction of the unseen.
Of course in speaking thus, we are taking refuge in suggestive metaphor. We do not yet know what prayer really is; any more than we yet know that which poetry and music really are, or the whatness of that which they give us. In all, we have a certain empirical knowledge
(10) John I. 4, 5 (Moffatt’s translation).
of process, hardly any of underlying fact: for here, as ever when we touch the mysterious region where human nature fringes on the supernatural, the aura of intuitive yet genuine knowledge extends far beyond the nucleus of science, and we are obliged to deal with forces which we are unable to describe. Doctrines of prayer which emphasize its ‘simplicity’ do not really penetrate the symbolic veil which clothes and conceals the dread realities of religion. But in our actual prayer we enter with closed eyes within this veil; and are concerned with those unknown but most actual forces of spiritual world. Whilst and in so far as we truly pray, we do live according to our measure the supernatural life : and this is not ‘simple', but rich and vivid beyond all our conceiving. ‘Lord, I come unto Thee to the end that wealth may come unto me!’(11)
Hence the attitude toward these profound mysteries of those who know most remains humble, receptive, and agnostic. But at least their discoveries tend to assure us that we only begin to have a chance of understanding prayer, if we recognize from the first its genuinely supernatural character; and see in it the tentative and childish beginnings of an intercourse of which we do not know the laws or discern the end. Though it represents—as do music, poetry, metaphysics—a special and still unexplained expansion of the mysterious thing we call human consciousness, yet it is not a faculty of our organic nature: the most convinced evolutionist has not detected its beginning in ‘the greater ground-apes’ and their kin. It is a result of an incitement that comes to us from beyond the world in religious language, of grace; and though its action upon the natural is often direct and deeply impressive, its truest concern is with the supernatural.
(11) Imitatione Christi, Bk. IV, cap. 3.
Yet since in prayer, both virtual and actual, the created spirit has dealings with God, and He is the one God of Nature and of Supernature, we cannot fence off its sphere of interest and influence. That interest and influence cover the whole span of life. Prayer enters deeply into history, and is explicated in traditional and historic ways; and yet it transcends history. It affects our physical and mental status, transforms to its purpose and fills with new ardour the homely symbols of our emotional life, takes colour from the senses and gives a deepened significance to their reports; yet alone moves freely in the regions beyond sense. It is with God, and therefore omnipresent. The praying soul, the man who is really ‘in the Spirit' is experiencing human freedom in its most intense form, and realizing its latent capacity for spiritual action.
Living as we mostly do within the narrow bounds of a sense-conditioned consciousness, it is always good to remind ourselves first that this human capacity for spiritual action does exist; and next that its real nature and extent are still largely unknown to us. As the physical forces on which life depends are hidden, and known to us not in their essence but in their effects; so the life of the Spirit far exceeds in its factualness that which it seems to us to be. Its dark and powerful rays, its enlightening, quickening and attractive forces, permeate the little fragile creature; healing and supporting, inciting and preventing, at every point and in every way. This truth should surely keep up in humility as regards our tiny and limited religious apprehensions; and in delighted confidence, as regards the unmeasured possibilities opened up to us in prayer. It is at once bracing and humbling, thus to remember our relation to the unsearchable Source of that mysterious sunshine of which we sometimes feel
a little, that boundless generous air which we take as it were for granted and almost unconsciously breathe. There, surrounding, bathing and transfusing us, but in its reality infinitely transcending us, is that unmeasured and living world with its powers, its beneficent influences; and here are we, capable of a certain communion with it, of action through and within it. The whole rationale of prayer is bound up in the belief that such action is possible, and transcends in power and obligation its mere outward or physical expression. Prayer in its fullness commits us to the belief that the eternal world of Spirit is the world of power; and that man is not fully active until he is contemplative too.
Therefore a primary duty among the great human duties—perhaps the greatest of all—is willed and faithful correspondence with that Eternal World, and action within it: a correspondence and an action which gradually spread from their focus in deliberate devotional acts, till they include and transfuse the whole of life. The capital possibility offered to man in prayer—taking this word now in its most general sense—is that he can genuinely achieve this: and that his small and derivative spirit, by such humble willed communion with the very Source of its being and power, can grow and expand into a tool of the creative love and power. Within the atmosphere of prayer, virtual and actual—but only within that atmosphere—his being can expand from a narrow individuality into a personality capable of being fully used on supernatural levels for supernatural work. This is of course the state of holiness; and holiness, the achievement of a creative supernatural personality capable of furthering the Divine action within life, is the true assigned end of the faithfully pursued and completely developed individual life of prayer.
THE saintly M. Olier said that prayer consists in its completeness in three things—Adoration, Communion, and Co-operation; (12) and in these words gave one of the best of all definitions of the spiritual life. For that life means the ever more perfect and willing association of the invisible human spirit with the invisible Divine Spirit for all purposes; for the glory of God, for the growth and culture of the praying soul, and concurrently for the performance of that redemptive and creative work which is done by the ever-present God through and with the spirit that really prays. It has therefore three great aspects or moments; in which perhaps it is not wholly fanciful to trace a certain kinship with the three aspects under which the Christian theist seeks to apprehend God. There is first the humble, admiring adoration of the transcendent Object; next the loving personal communion with that Object found here and now in the soul’s secret life; last, active self-giving to the purposes of the Object. These three together, in their fullness and variety of expression, cover all that we know of the spiritual life in man: directed as it is towards those only three realities of which we know anything God, the Soul, and the World.
Thus prayer in its widest sense embraces first all our personal access to, and contemplation of, the Supernatural Reality of God. Next, because of this possible access,, all our chances of ourselves becoming supernatural personalities, useful to God. Last, and because of this, all our capacity for exerting supernatural action on other souls. For the state of adoration opens the soul’s gates to the Supernal; and that Supernal, invading and con-
(12) Brémond: Histoire Littéraire du Sentiment Religiéux en France, vol. iv, p. 116.
trolling more and more of its will and love, enters into a loving communion with it which issues in an ever closer co-operation, limitless in its energizing power. Hence prayer, in a soul which is completely patient of the supernatural, is literally without ceasing, because the whole of its action is supernaturalized. When we thus state the position, it becomes obvious that all these types of prayer, all the ways in which man can hope to deepen and enlarge his supernatural life, must hang utterly upon his primary relationship with God.
‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy Heart and with all thy Soul, and with all thy Mind, and with all thy Strength.' This is the first, and great commandment because it defines the relation of man to the Abiding. As a rule we take its obligations rather lightly. For not only does it require in religion the absolute priority of the objective over the subjective point of view; but, if we translate its terms from the language of religion into that of philosophy, we see that it further entails a complete revolution on our usual attitude to life. We can hardly begin to obey it unless we give the Supernatural primacy in our thought and feeling, and work for its interests with all our power. This means, for the individual, making a place in his flowing life for a deliberate self-orientation to the unchanging and eternal: acknowledging that man is indeed a ‘swinging-wicket, set between the Unseen and Seen', and being sure that our hinges are so adjusted that we move smoothly in both directions. For the organized community it means providing an environment, an institution in which that humble, complete and delighted attention to God in and for Himself whicli is the first point of prayer can be taught and practised. For clearly, if our deepest meaning and our fullest life do lie beyond the natural struggle; then,
total concentration on the natural struggle maims us. True, it is the theatre within which every soul is placed, and gives us the raw material of experience: but in some form or degree, dim or vivid, the sense of an achieved Perfection lying ever beyond us is essential to our real growth. How can we hope to actualize this, unless we make of it an independent objective; stretching out towards it with our thought and our love, with a deliberate attention and interest at once awestruck and passionate?
Being, after all, at best half animal creatures, with a psychic machinery mainly adapted to maintaining our physical status, we cannot conceive a supernatural status and activity—much less achieve it—by ourselves. Until that secret holy energy we call ‘grace’ has touched and stirred us, we do not know what ‘grace’ is: it is a pious word, not the name of an actual power, a free gift from the sources of Eternal Life. And unless grace continues to play upon and support us, we cannot go on knowing what it is. Therefore attention to God, adoration of God, spreading gradually from its focus in deliberate devotional acts till it colours all the activities of existence, and from His discovery and worship under particular attributes to a certain tasting of Him as He is in Himself; this must be the first and governing term of the supernatural life, the unique source of all its possibilities. The reason the saints are so winning and persuasive, and so easily bring us into the presence of God, is that their lives are steeped in this loving and selfish adoration. And in the deepening and development of such non-utilitarian prayer towards God in and for Himself, the balance which is maintained in it of docility and of effort, lies our best hope of achieving a genuine and lasting religious realism.
‘Prayer,’ says Angela of Foligno, ‘is nothing else save the manifestation of God and oneself, and this manifestation is perfect and true humiliation. For humility consists in the soul beholding God and itself as it should.’ (13)
If this great activity is to be given its place in our twofold human outlook, this can only be done by the same process as that by which we establish any other fresh or neglected field of interest within the circle of consciousness—namely, by deliberate and repeated acts of attention. The crude instinct must be educated, must reach the level of habit and of skill, if it is to be of much use to us. Here then we find support for the drill of the religious life: too lightly condemned by some as mechanical and unreal. The daily rule, kept without regard to fluctuations in devotional feeling, the office faithfully recited, that practice of constant brief aspirations towards God—a redirection, as it were, of man’s vagrant will towards eternal values—which the old masters of prayer so constantly recommend; all this had and has much to do with the formation of a solid type of spiritual character. Such formal practices, such harnessing of the speech-centres to the purposes of grace, are not to be dismissed as ‘mere auto-suggestions’. They are deeds tending to increase the energy of the idea, the adoring orientation of the soul towards its assigned end. They work from without inwards; slowly educating and transforming those unconscious deeps in which the springs of conduct are hidden.
These habits, though we may not always appreciate the colour which piety has given them, are therefore justified by our psychic peculiarities, limitations and needs. By their indiscriminate rejection we should gravely impoverish ourselves; for without some such discipline it is
(13) Angela of Foligno: Book of Divine Consolations, p. 106.
impossible that our religious impulse will be raised to the level of real effectiveness. Though the distance which separates the best that we can say from the least that God is, becomes more and more apparent with the soul’s growth; yet even the greatest mystic abandons at his own peril all use of the human resources of gesture and speech, all ‘binding rules of prayer’. Psychology assures us of the need for periodic concentration on our prime interest, whatever it may be, if this is to have a radiating effect on the whole of our existence; and of the essential part played by repeated acts in the production of skill. Nowhere does this law apply more certainly than in the religious sphere. It is indeed a central function of organized religion to stimulate and give precision to such purposive acts—such self-openings in the direction of the Infinite—to foster and educate the emergent human capacity for God.
The rightfulness of such a deliberate concentration of the soul on the Abiding is in some sense guaranteed, not only by the ever-deepening joy and peace, but also and chiefly by the power it brings to those who patiently undertake this slow education of their neglected spiritual sense; and thus gradually learn to see the whole sweep of existence in supernatural regard. Where that sense is allowed to atrophy, human life is reduced to mere succession and becomes flat, shallow, uncertain of its own goal: for unless we consent, by adoring resort to the Universal, to develop the spiritual side of our consciousness, and so become aware of our deepest attachments, we have no key to the problems presented by the multiplicity of experience. Life will seem to us, as it does to many people, either a rich or a baffling confusion: and although we may be immensely busy with it, the busyness will be that of the inexperienced housemaid, who cleans a room by raising
clouds of dust. Much devoted social service is unfortunately of this kind: doomed to end in discouragement and exhaustion, because those who undertook it had failed to develop their power of resort to the abiding sources of man’s life, and maintain an adoring relation with Reality.
It is true that this relation can be virtually present where it is not actualized under religious forms; as the moulding influence of the living and unchanging God can be and often is intuitively realized, in a greater or less degree, by the human soul. But since we are men and women, born of the sense-world and mostly conditioned by it, such intuitive perception is never constantly or fully enjoyed by use, and will hardly develop its power if we leave it to chance. It will be more and more felt, as we more and more turn to and attend to it: for, like every other faculty, it needs and is susceptible of education. Anyone who has practised landscape painting, knows the immense and unguessed transfiguration of the natural world which comes to the artist through patient, attentive and unselfish regard; how the significance and emphasis of simple objects change, how a range of beauty and reality to which the common eye is blind, is discovered in familiar things through that deliberate contemplation of his subject, that absorbed, unhurried, and largely unreflecting gaze, in which effort and docility combine. This disciplined attentiveness, which is the way to enter into communion with nature, is also one great way of entering into communion with Supernature. It is the way in which we raise our level of sensibility, make ourselves more able to receive that light and life which God is ceaselessly giving to His creation, a path along which those who submit to its disciplines may reasonably hope to discover the intense reality, the mystery and the beauty, of the world to which we turn in prayer;
yet in which we live and move and have our being all the while.
‘If we would taste God,’ says Ruysbroeck, ‘and feel in ourselves Eternal Life above all things, we must go forth into God with a faith that is far above our reason, and there dwell . . . and in this emptiness of spirit we receive the Incomprehensible Light, which enfolds and penetrates us as air is penetrated by the light of the sun. And that light is nothing else but a fathomless gazing and seeing.’ (14)
We feel as we read these words that they represent Ruysbroeck’s effort to tell us about something actual, which he has done; and which most of us have certainly not done. They give us a sense of the distance that separates the religion which dwells contentedly among symbols and ideas from the religion which has passed through and beyond image in its impassioned quest of ultimates. They oblige us to believe that in the highest regions of contemplative experience genuine results are achieved, which are beyond the normal span of our thought. Great areas of new truth may then be unveiled; and though the imaginative faculty inevitably lays hold of them, and the self’s beliefs and longings enter into and modify the form in which they reach consciousness, this does not discredit the fact that fresh levels of spiritual reality are apprehended in this deep adoring attention of the Unseen.
Realizing this, we realize too the profound distinction here between vague aspirant and skilled craftsman: a distinction which is worth emphasizing, for the characteristic vice of the amateur artist or musician, of supposing himself able to appreciate all the truth and beauty that there is to see and hear, is common enough in amateurs of the spiritual life and surely here reaches its utmost pitch of absurdity. As a matter of fact, the saints and men and women of prayer to whom we owe our deepest
(14) Ruysbroeck: The Sparkling Stone, cap. ix.
revelations of the Supernatural—those who give us real news about God—are never untrained amateurs or prodigies.
If Jesus had but known this he might easily have saved himself a good deal of time by a better choice of disciples! For all the gold that is to be found in her writing, some of it yet remains not so much precious metal, as just precious. (DCW)
Such men and women as Paul, Augustine, Catherine, Julian, Ruysbroeck, are genuine artists of eternal life. They have accepted and not scorned the teachings of tradition: and humbly trained and disciplined their God-given genius for ultimates. I do not suggest that all the news which they give us is of equal worth, or that it is exempt from criticism; far from it. But the best, simplest, and most restrained of them do show us, as great artists do, fresh loveliness, intense reality, and infinite possibility, in a spiritual scene on which every Christian is privileged to look. Each could say with Dante
'. . . La mia vista, venendo sincera,
e piu e piu entrava per lo raggio
dell’ alta luce, che da se e vera.’ (15)
The first possibility inherent in adoring prayer that simple, quiet yet ardent looking at and waiting upon God for His own sake is therefore a certain real if limited knowledge of Him and of Eternal Life. This sort of prayer, persevered in, does bring a progressive discovery of the concrete reality and richness of those supernatural facts, which the doctrines and practices of formal religion are designed to express. Usually arising at the symbolic level, and first focused upon particulars, theocentric prayer can lift those doctrines, symbols and practices from the level of dreary unreality at which we too often leave them; and can make of them that which they ought to be, the transcendent art-work of the religious soul. It can inform the simplest crudest hymn or the most solemn service with vitality, and cause each to convey spiritual truth; because the persons using these forms of expression
(15) Paradiso, xxxiii, 53.
are accustomed to look through them towards the everpresent God, in love and joy. For this sort of prayer, developing as it does our spiritual sensitiveness, and releasing us from the petty falsities of a geocentric point of view, gradually discloses to us a whole new realm of reality and our own status within it: and with this a progressive sense, that the best we can ever know or experience is nothing in respect of that plenitude of being which God holds within His secret life.
‘For all the torrents of the grace of God are poured forth,’ says Ruysbroeck again, ‘and the more we taste of them, the more we long to taste ; and the more we long to taste, the more deeply we press into contact with Him; and the more deeply we press into contact with God, the more the flood of His sweetness flows through us and over us; and the more we are thus drenched and flooded, the better we feel and know that the sweetness of God is incomprehensible and unfathomable.’ (16)
Hence this simple and adoring contemplation, which some have condemned as fostering illusion or spiritual pride, is as a matter of fact the best and gentlest of all teachers of humility. Far from leading the soul to despise ‘ordinary ways’, it brings it to a deeper, meeker, more gently intimate discovery of God revealed through sacramental and incarnational means. It sets the scene of the supernatural life, and helps the little human self to get its values right, to recognize its own lowliness; teaching it the utter distinction in kind between nature even at its highest, and supernature in its simplest manifestations.
‘This prayer,’ says a great teacher of the spiritual life, ‘so stripped of images and apperceptions, idle in appearance and yet so active, is in so far as the condition of this life allows, the pure “adoration in spirit and in truth”; the adoration truly worthy of God, and in which the soul is united to Him in its ground, the created intelligence to the Intelligence Uncreate, without the intervention of imagination or reason,
(16) The Sparkling Stone, cap. x.
or of anything else but a very simple attention of the mind and an equally simple application of the will.’ (17)
Most often arising from within the humble and patient use of image and formula, such a practice as this brings a gradually increased simplification of consciousness; a slowing-down of the discursive reason, a melting of each separate act and aspiration into one single movement of the soul. That movement is in essence a disinterested act of adoring self-donation; an act at once austere and ardent, which offers everything and asks for nothing, content to say with St. Francis, Deus metis et ominia.Whether practised in apparent solitude, or within a corporate act of worship, it forms part of the one great Sanctus of the universe. Because of the deep awe, the meek creaturely sense which it fosters, it is the antiseptic of the devotional life, checking those corrupting tendencies to sentimental individualism and sugary effervescence which are always ready to infect it. Christian prayer at its best always preserves this astringent quality, this paradoxical combination of intimacy and otherness; so wonderfully expressed in the opening phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, where the exquisite tenderness, the confident claim of Pater Noster is instantly qualified by the introduction of ineffable mystery qui es in coelis opening up before the little praying soul the unmeasured spaces of the Eternal World.
IF the instinctive awe and worship—the delighted wonder—which form the raw material of adoring prayer, represent the human sense of the Transcendent over against the created soul; this does not exhaust the
(17) J. N. Grou: L’Ecole de Jésus vol. ii, p. 8.
rich variousness of that relation with God in which the life of prayer consists. For that Reality which is the object of religion is as truly immanent as transcendent, ‘present no less than absent near, no less than far’, said St. Augustine. (18) He is intimate as well as adorable; and hence the soul’s response to His attraction will include all those homely yet sacred experiences, within the normal range of our religious sensitiveness and desire, which are dependent on and express our feeling of His closeness, inseparableness, and dearness. ‘The state of the inner man is to walk with God.’(19) The Transcendent Other is felt now in the most personal of relationships, as actually entering, accompanying and affecting the soul’s life.
‘Thou hast holden me by my right hand:
Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel. . . .
My flesh and my heart faileth:
But God is the strength of my heart, and my
portion for ever.’ (20)
Yet this inward communion, if it is to maintain its vigorous life-giving quality and resist the tendency to slide down into pious sentimentalism,
...and deliver us from pious sentimenalism, for Thine is the kingdom... (DCW)
needs itself to be placed within the atmosphere of adoration. For it represents one side of that complete experience which drew from Thomas à Kempis the wonderful exclamation: ‘The Heaven of Heavens cannot contain Thee, and yet Thou sayest Come ye all unto Me !’ (21) If then adoring prayer emphasized the ‘otherness’ of God, His untouched Perfection; here instead is emphasized His mysterious loving nearness to the soul, a certain likeness, a latent affinity between Spirit and spirit, a close here-and-now dependence. A give-and-take is set up between In-
(18) St. Augustine: Confessions, Bk. I, cap. 4.
(19) De Imitatione Christi, Bk. II, cap. 6.
(20) Psalm Ixxiii. 23, 24, 26.
(21) De Imitatione Christi, Bk. II, cap. I.
finite and finite; there is a response on the self’s part to something given to it from the treasures of the supernatural world.
This response inevitably made under symbols, and involving certain well-marked feeling-states seems to the soul, above all else, the response of a person to a Person. We find in it a touching utilization of all the simplest aspects of man’s emotional life. Here the childlike come by their own, and achieve a closeness of communion with Reality unreached by the loftiest thought. The little creature is met on its own level; the spirit that was first filled with awestruck worship is sought and won on its own ground. A strange and penetrating intercourse is established. Maintained by the periods of concentrated and loving attention in which the self ‘meditates’ or ‘waits upon God‘ according to the measure of its powers, this gradually spreads to permeate the deeds of active life; bringing all external action, of whatever kind, into direct relationship with His Reality. Life is more and more felt in every detail to be overruled by the intimate moulding and cherishing action of God; opening paths, suggesting sacrifices, bringing about those unforeseen events and relationships which condition the soul’s advance.
It is here, in this humble yet intimate, ardent yet little understood communion of the small human self with a present and infinite Companion—an ‘immanent Ultimate' within the compass of man’s heart, but beyond the span of his conceiving mind—that the transforming power exercised by prayer on human personality is most clearly seen. Here some measure of the supernatural, with its generous grace and beauty, its demand for self-donation, truly enters the life of every awakened soul. In all its kinds and
degrees, from the colloquy or free conversation ‘as one friend with another' (22) which results from meditation faithfully performed, through that gradual expansion and simplification of consciousness which leads to the silent yet deeply active absorption of the Prayer of Simplicity or of Quiet, this secret intercourse has marked educative and purifying effects. When we consider what such prayer involves, this can hardly surprise us: for here our small and childish spirits are being invited and incited by God’s prevenient Spirit to enter into communion with Him. If this mysterious intercourse of the half real with the Wholly Real—this give-and-take between the emergent creature and its supernatural environment—be done sincerely, humbly, simply and steadily; surely the result must at least be a fresh and ever clearer vision of the self’s true status, the vast difference between that which it is and that which it is invited to be.
‘In a room into which the sunlight enters strongly’, says St. Teresa, ‘not a cobweb can be hid.' (23) The dust and rubbish, all the grimy corners, the hoarded unworthy possessions are ruthlessly exhibited and condemned. The essential conflict between animal impulse and spiritual demand declares itself; and with the setting up of fresh standards comes access to fresh sources of power. The soul feeds on the Invisible, and gains thus the incentive and energy for self-conquest. If the adoring vision of the Holy emphasized the difference between the sinful creature and the Perfect, this experience of a here-andnow Companion makes possible the work of transformation. Thus at the very least, such prayer can hardly fail to do that which St. Teresa demanded as the test of its efficacy: It will teach the little self to love, suffer and work on ever higher levels of reality and self-devo-
(22) St. Ignatius Loyola: Spiritual Exercises, 1st week.
(23) Life, cap. xix.
tion. Something in fact is here effected for the soul’s true being which nothing else could achieve: here, directly occasioned by the humble self-imparting of the Infinite, begins for it that growth and movement from the individual to the universal standpoint, which is the essence of the supernatural life in man.
Expressed in psychological language, the characters of this growth and movement of the human spirit come perhaps to this. Such intimate and docile communion first deepens religious sensitiveness, effecting a real cultivation of our latent capacity for God; and next involves a complete redirection of desire, a dedication of those powers of initiative and endurance which every living creature possesses in a greater or less degree, to the single purposes of God. This redirection of desire may be, and generally is, effected through the simplest devotions and in the most homely ways. But if we examine the different traditional types and degrees of prayer in which the communion of the soul with the Transcendent is embodied, we see that these too gather up and express the dedication to Reality, the Supernatural, of each aspect of man’s being. Thus ‘mental prayer’ means the giving of thought to that ruling influence; ‘affective prayer’ the giving of love, ‘acts of will’ the steady training of volition, desire, in the one direction. In the mature and rounded spiritual life, its tranquillity and power, we see the result of that consecration of ‘all the forces of the soul, gathered into the unity of the Spirit’ (24) which is summed up in the great Ignatian formula: ‘Take Lord and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding; all I have and I possess!’ (25)
Much of the prayer of petition and surrender, which takes so large a place in the routine of the devotional life, is really an education of the human will towards this end:
(24) Ruysbroeck: Book of the Twelve Beguines, cap. vii.
(25) Spiritual Exercises: Contemplation to obtain Love.
strengthening the sense of dependence, and persuading desire to take the channel that leads towards God. Thus the sublime ‘Thy Will be done !’ if regarded as a request addressed by man to the Eternal, would be an absurdity: since we are sure that the steady sweep of that Infinite Will overrules all our individual preferences and desires. But as a means of harmonizing the childish human will to His purposes, it is one of the most powerful and searching of all prayers; a complete purgation of the mind that really means it. For it then becomes a dynamic suggestion which, if effective, does actually extend the area over which that Will has an unimpeded sway and is actively furthered by our intention.
It is only within the atmosphere of such surrendered communion as this, such willed identity of purpose and desire, that those amazing dramas of the spiritual life which shine out in the history of religion, are carried through. Did we know more of the power of the Spirit and the mysterious energies of the invisible world, we should neither necessarily regard these histories with suspicion, nor set them apart as miraculous; but might see in them the working of consequence and law. Psychologists studying conversion sometimes fail to recognize this, and to allow for the full and gradual working out of the factors which conversion installs at the centre of life. They forget that it is not the initial crisis, but the steady continuous feeding of the soul on God, which alone makes those conversions bear their wondrous fruits. The life of communion which the conversion sets going, the humble and arduous year by year acceptance and using of every experience in supernatural regard: this it is which gradually converts the penitent into the saint, as a real garden is made, not by sticking in plants, but by long and unremitting cultivation of the soil.
We see this factor of a steadfast and docile communion at work in the movement of St. Paul’s soul from the type of zeal which ‘breathed forth fire and slaughter’, to that which speaks in Philippians or the gentle little letter to Philemon; and again in the story of that immense but really gradual metamorphosis which turned Augustine from a sensual and conceited young don into one of the Fathers of the Church. It was such loving, continuous and surrendered communion with an infinite Light and Love found here and now, self-given to human life, which transformed St. Catherine of Genoa from a melancholy and disillusioned woman into a great mother of souls. The hours she spent in prayer, and the other hours that she spent in doing the things to which she was impelled in her prayer, were those that really mattered in her life. During her formative years, it is said that St. Catherine prayed for five or six hours a day. That is to say, one third of her waking life was given to exclusive attention to God. Such a distribution of time, expected in a scholar or an artist, is surely not excessive in the scholar of eternal life. Thus was produced that habitual state of union with a living and beloved Reality, that rich consciousness of the supernatural world, which supported and governed her career.(26) Of such union, persisting in sickness and overwhelming griefs, a modern contemplative has said: ‘As soon as my soul remembers God, it finds that He is already present there, more present to my heart than is the heart itself; in so much that recollection and union need not be achieved, but subsist at a certain level and continuously, below all the multiplicities, the labour and suffering, the very agitations of life.’ (27) To the same influence and discipline we owe the maturing and maintenance at levels of self-oblivious serenity of such great
(26) Cf. F. von Hügel: The Mystical Element of Religion, vol i, cap. 4.
(27) Journal Spirituel de Lucie Christine, p. 384.
souls as Elizabeth Fry, Henry Martyn, Charles de Foucauld, Elisabeth Leseur, and many other modern saints.
Nor does this inner transformation, this achievement of a stable love, joy and peace in strongest contrast with the jangled consciousness of “natural man” exhaust the possibilities of the prayer of communion as seen in great spiritual lives. These possibilities seem also to include a strange power of transcending circumstance, a certain control over health and sickness, an abnormal enhancement sometimes of physical powers of endurance, sometimes of intuitive powers of foresight and discernment of spirits. It seems as though the little creature obtained access, by way of its loving and confident surrender, to some genuine sources of power. Here we move in regions largely unexplored by us. We do not know the limits if there are limits within which that ordinary sequence of events which we call natural can be overruled by a higher term. We have no such grasp upon the non-successive and the spaceless as would help us to make sense of the clairvoyant powers and knowledge of the future clearly displayed in some great spiritual lives. We must move carefully, and beware as much of overpressing as of hurriedly discrediting such evidence as we possess.
Nevertheless religious history does abound in examples of this enhancement of life; suggesting, even when its reports have been critically sifted, the presence of some unknown factor modifying the action of so-called natural law. The careers of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Joan of Arc are classic examples of such transcendence, but it is to be found at work in other and less startling lives.
Thus we see George Fox passing untouched through a hostile crowd; the ship Woodhouse brought safely through her dangerous voyage by the piloting of a little com-
pany deliberately subdued to the suggestions of the Spirit.(28)
We see Elizabeth Fry facing, dominating, and finally winning the criminal mob in Newgate Gaol; the Cure d’Ars, by a holy clairvoyance, reading in the souls of his penitents the secrets they dared not speak; David Livingstone alone in Africa, convinced of an invisible protection and therefore choosing unharmed the most perilous routes. We see Foucauld and Mary Slessor, because they held themselves to be ‘in royal service’, living for years in tropical countries under conditions of physical hardship which few Europeans could survive. These, chosen at random from a multitude of instances, seem to bear out the wonderful stories of the triumphs of Christianity in its charismatic stage; and hint the nature of those vast resources which await our discovery in the world of prayer. And we surely trace along another route the same power of the life of loving communion to subdue even the most dread aspects of the natural existence to the overruling purposes of Spirit, in that beautiful sublimation of suffering which as in the life of Elisabeth Leseur turns it from a sterile into a fertile thing. (29)
But this transfiguring and enhancing power, this achievement of creative life, is not experienced by these souls merely because they believe that it is possible for them to experience it: still less because they make such
(28) '. . . we were brought to ask counsel of the Lord and the word was from Him: “Cut through and steer your straightest course and mind nothing but Me”; unto which thing He much provoked us and caused to meet together every day, and He Himself met with us, and manifested Himself largely unto us, so that by storms we were not prevented (from meeting) above three times in all our voyage.
‘Thus it was all the voyage with the faithful, who were carried far above storms and tempests, that when the ship went either to the right hand or to the left, their hands joined, all as one and did direct her way; so that we have seen and said, we see the Lord leading our vessel even as it were a man leading a horse by the head, we regarding neither latitude nor longitude, but kept to our Line, which was and is our Leader, Guide and Rule’. Bowden: History of the Society of Friends in America, 1850, vol. I, pp. 64 seq. Quoted in Christian Life, Faith and Thought, p. 29.
(29) Elisabeth Leseur: Journal et Pensées.
increase of power the object of their prayer. All this can and does only happen to them, in so far as they are deliberately orientated towards the Supernatural, not for their own sakes but for God alone; and in so far, too, as their attitude to Him is controlled by utter confidence and self-oblation, and not by anxious demand. Here the paradoxical character of the spiritual life, in which self-abandonment and self-fulfilment go hand in hand, and personal striving always frustrates itself, is most plainly asserted; and all theories of prayer which stress its ‘usefulness‘ are most plainly condemned. Hence the pathetic failure and stultifying effects of much deliberately this-world spirituality; attempts to ‘make prayer work' whether in the spheres of healing, influence, philanthropic action or moral reform; personal efforts, however well intentioned, to harness the majestic powers of Supernature to the little purposes of man. In that true prayer of communion which is the only preparation for effective intercession, 'I love’ obliterates ‘I want’. Hence such a complete transference of the self’s centre of interest is effected, such a realization of the Pauline ‘I live, yet not I' that it shares as a child of the family, and not as a beggar, in the riches and privileges, the powers and the duties, the ‘more abundant life’ of the supernatural world.
‘When God,’ says Brother Lawrence, ‘finds a soul permeated with a living faith, He pours into it His graces and His favours plenteously; into the soul they flow like a torrent, which, after being forcibly stopped in its ordinary course, when it has found a passage, spreads with impetuosity its pent-up flood.’ (30)
All sanctification, all supernatural growth and effectiveness, depend on the initial movements of self-oblivious and non-utilitarian worship, of disinterested faith and love, which opens up the soul of man to this supernatural
(30) Brother Lawrence: Practice of the Presence of God, Letter II.
torrent; and so convince him once for all, that all the possibilities of power, light, certitude and joy which he can realize in his prayer, are given and not self-chosen or self-induced. Moreover, this deep and gentle intercourse seems to effect a gradual sensitization of the spirit; bringing the real man or woman of prayer into a state in which the spiritual currents active below the surface of life—those contractions and expansions of the soul which are a sure guide to our spiritual state—and the secret impulsions of God, are actually felt. Such loving and disinterested prayer exerts a power over human character which is unique both in kind and degree. It may emerge from a type of devotion that is humble and even mechanical; and may at first be exercised in blind faith, with but little sense of reality. But as it develops, will and desire are gradually and inevitably transferred from lower to higher centres of interest; and the true life of the soul is anchored ever more firmly in the Eternal world to which it belongs.
‘Do not ask such a soul,’ says Grou, ‘what it has been praying about. It does not know ... all it knows is, that it began to pray, and continued to pray, as it pleased God; sometimes arid and sometimes consoled, sometimes consciously recollected, sometimes involuntarily distracted, but always peaceful and united to God in its ground.’ (31)
The prayer of adoration alone, in its intense objectivity, could never have brought the soul to this close and intimate correspondence with God: for such correspondence involves the interweaving of each of the changing creature’s successive deeds and states with the immanent Holy and Abiding, the quiet acceptance and use of each serial event of existence, as somehow mediating the presence of a deeper Reality. We cannot in any real sense
(31) J. N. Grou: Manuel des Ames Interieures, p. 328.
have unmediated communion with Universals; but only with the particulars which embody and represent them. This truth, already seen to be the basis of incarnational and sacramental religion, is still operative in the secret life of prayer. It gives us an explanation, agreeable alike to faith and to psychology, of the fact that abstract contemplation and worship of the Godhead will not alone suffice to feed the hungry soul. It guarantees the validity of that personal and intimate type of devotion which has been so richly developed in Christianity: and endorses the profound Christian feeling that here, in the world of prayer no less than in the world of doctrine or of sacrament, God comes all the way to the soul under conditions of fullest self-giving, and offers it close communion with His Being in ways that human nature is able to understand.
St. Teresa tells us in a well-known passage, that it was only when she gave concrete devotion to Christ priority in her spiritual life, and curbed the mystical inclination to ‘reject all images’ in favour of the formless contemplation of God, that ‘her prayer began to be solid like a house’.(32) Diffuse awareness gave place to the actualized and loving communion of a person with a Person: an experience resting on the bed-rock of human nature, and using for supernatural ends Teresa’s natural powers. This witness of a great and sane spiritual genius to the dangers of an unbalanced transcendentalism—to the need, for human creatures, of a religious Object fully given within the human sphere—really only endorses the fundamental principles of the Christian life of prayer. For the peculiar character of Christian prayer, as it emerges already within the New Testament, in the Fourth Gospel and St. Paul, is surely this profound, intimate and per-
(32) Life, cap. xxiv, par. 2.
sonal communion; this self-giving of the Infinite in ways at once ineffable yet human, carrying with them the utter satisfaction here and now of man’s supernatural desire. Whatever the Fourth Evangelist may or may not tell us about history, he tells us much of that which the Primitive Church felt and knew about supernatural prayer. We see how deeply tranquil, how completely unecstatic yet full of peace and joy, is the religious experience which he describes. It moves securely within the finite scene, is expressed in symbols which the simplest can understand; yet mediates the Eternal in its entrancing loveliness and life-giving power. Here once for all, under homeliest images, we are shown all that the life of communion means for the awakened spirit; in food, nurture, guidance, and more abundant life.
I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. ... I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. . . . Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. ... I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. ... As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.’ (33)
It is within this frame that the greatest saints have developed and satisfied their aptitude for God: discovering here a present Objective, at once mystical, personal and historical, which meets at every point the intimate needs and self-offerings of the finite soul. Not only so, but they insist that the reanimation of the past, the discovery of Christ as an intensely living fact in and through meditation on the Gospel story, which has always formed part of the Christian education in prayer, does quicken and enrich their supernatural life. Nor does this claim
(33) John vi, 35; x. 14; xv. 4, 5, 9.
really require the elaborate psychological explanation which its modern apologists so anxiously provide. Still less need it be discredited as a pious illusion, or placed on a par with the emotional stimulus which we receive from painting or poetry. For in all such cases we have to remember that Spirit, God, is there first—was always there first, embracing past and present in His Eternal Now—and that He enters into communion with the human spirit truly and realistically along many routes, but always within the world of space and time. We, deliberately reascending the time stream and utilizing in such meditations our historic inheritance, are simply finding an approved path along which our conditional minds can enter into that already waiting Presence. ‘In the wall that encircles Paradise', says Nicolas of Cusa, ‘Now and Then are one.’ (34)
The need of such a personal focus for the intimate life of prayer has been felt by all the great theistic religions; and has driven them to seek some way of actualizing that communion with and dependence on the Unseen which is so fully and beautifully given in Christian spirituality. Nor is it any part of Christian apologetic to discredit paths which so clearly lie in the direction of truth. After all, the communion of the Transcendent with the spirit of man is given, in all its kinds and degrees : and is surely far more likely to be given under forms that fall within the circle of human perception and love even though the desired Object be imperfectly conceived than to be discovered as the result of a precarious ascent into the Unknown.
‘Oculi omnium in te sperant Domine: et tu das illis escam in tempore opportune.
‘Aperis tu manum tuam, et imples omne animal benedictione.’ (35)
(34) The Vision of God, cap. 9.
(35) Missale Romanum: In Festo Corporis Christi.
Thus ‘we love Him because He first loved us' should be regarded as declaring a philosophic truth that extends far beyond the Christian field; covering the personal devotion of Bhakti Marga, the redemptive aspects of developed Buddhism, and the ardour of the Sufi Saints.
‘How could the love between Thee and me sever?
As the leaf of the lotus abides on the water: so Thou art my Lord, and I am Thy servant.
As the night-bird Chakor gazes all night at the moon: so Thou art my Lord, and I am Thy servant.
From the beginning until the ending of time, there is love between Thee and me; and how shall such love be extinguished ?
Kabir says: “As the river enters into the ocean, so my heart touches Thee.”’ (36)
"O thou who are my soul’s comfort in the season of sorrow,
O thou who are my spirit’s treasure in the bitterness of dearth!
That which the imagination has not conceived, that which the understanding has not seen,
Visiteth my soul from thee; hence in worship I turn toward thee.’ (37)
Surely these witness, though at different levels of reality and life-enhancing power, to the same human intuition of the nearness of the Supernatural to the soul; and to an asking, seeking and knocking both incited and answered by God.
(36) Poems: Song XXXIV.
(37) Selected Poems from the Dtvani Skamsi Tabria: edited and translated by R. A. Nicholson, VI.