I’ve managed to catch up on my journey again, and so I carry on.
I contemplated the work of all the blessed Trinity, in which contemplation I saw and understood these three properties; the property of the fatherhood, and the property of the motherhood and the property of the Lordship in one God…As to the first I saw and understood that the high might of the Trinity is our Father, and the deep wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, and the great love of the Trinity is our Lord; and all these we have in nature and in our substantial creation…As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother, and He revealed that in everything…I understand three ways of contemplating motherhood in God. The first is the foundation of our nature’s creation; the second is His taking of our nature, where the motherhood of grace begins; the third is the motherhood at work. And in that, by the same grace, everything is penetrated, in length and in breadth, in height and in depth without end; and it is all one love.
I’m falling a bit behind on my journey againso I put this here with optimism and the intention to catch up again.
Though my Lord revealed to me that I…[will] sin, by me is understood everyone. And in this I conceived a gentle fear, and in answer to this our Lord said: I protect you very safely. This word was said with more love and assurance of protection for my soul than I can or may tell. For just as it was first revealed to me that I should sin, so was consolation revealed – assurance of protection for all my fellow Christians. What can make me love my fellow Christians more than to see in God that He loves all who will be saved, all of them as if it were one soul? For we cannot be blessedly saved until we are truly in peace and love, for that is our salvation. [There we will be] wholly contented with God and with all His works and with all His judgements, and loving and content with ourselves and with our fellow Christians and with everything which God loves, as is pleasing to love. And God’s goodness does this in us.
And in this He revealed the delight that He has in the creation of [our] soul; for as well as the Father could ceate a creature and as well as the Son could create a creature, so well did the Holy Spirit want our spirit to be created, and so it was done. And therefore the blessed Trinity rejoices without end in the creation of [our] soul, for it saw without beginning what would delight it without end…For I saw in the same revelation that if the blessed Trinity could have created [our] soul any better, any fairer, any nobler than it was created, the Tinity would not have been fully pleased with the creation of our [soul]. But because it made our [soul] as beautiful, as good, as precious a creature as it could make, therefore the blessed Trinity is fully pleased without end in the creation of [our] soul. For our soul sits in God in true rest, and our soul stands in God in sure strength, and our soul is naturally rooted in God in endless love.
And then our good Lord …showed me my soul in the midst of my heart. I saw the soul as wide as if it were an endless citadel, and also as if it were a blessed kingdom, and from the state which I saw in it, I understood that it is a fine city. In the midst of that city sits our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man…and He rules and guards heaven and earth and everything that is. The place that Jesus takes in our soul He will never more vacate, for in us is His home of homes, and it is the greatest delight for Him to dwell there. Greatly ought we to rejoice that God dwells in our soul; and more greatly ought we to rejoice that our soul dwells in God. Our soul is created to be God’s dwelling place, and the dwelling of our soul is God, who is uncreated. Marvelous and splendid is the place where the Lord dwells; and therefore He wants us promptly to attend to the touching of His grace, rejoicing more in His unbroken love than sorrowing over our frequesnt failings.
And thus I saw that He wants us to know that He takes the falling of any creature who will be saved no harder than He took the falling of Adam, who, we know, was endlessly loved and safely protected in all the time of his need, and now is blissfully restored in great and surpassing joys. For our Lord God is so good, so gentle and so courteous that He can never assign final failure to those in whom He will always be blessed and praised. I saw and understood that very surely in each soul which will be saved there is a godly will which never assented to sin and never will. Therefore our Lord wants us to know…that we have all this blessed will whole and safe in our Lord Jesus Christ, because every nature with which heaven will be filled had of necessity…to be so joined and united in Him that in it a substance was kept which could never and should never be parted from Him.
In the servant is comprehended the second person of the Trinity, and in the servant is comprehended Adam, that is to say, all [persons]. And therefore…when I say “the servant”, that means Christ’s humanity, which is the true Adam. When Adam fell, God’s son fell; because of this true union which was made in heaven, God’s son could not be separated from Adam…Adam fell from life to death, into the valley of this wretched world, and after that into hell. God’s son fell with Adam, into the valley of the womb of the maiden who was the fairest daughter of Adam, and that was to excuse Adam from blame in heaven and on earth; and powerfully He brought him out of hell. For all [human] kind which will be saved by the sweet Incarnation and the Passion of Christ, all is Christ’s humanity, for He is the head and we are His members…for Jesus is in all who will be saved, and all who will be saved are in Jesus, and all is of the love of God…[For] I saw that only pain blames and punishes, and our courteous Lord [is]…always kindly disposed to the soul.
I have been walking quite a difficult path for a while now – you know, one of those rocky paths where there are stones and potholes where you could easily turn over on your ankle; or it narrows until there are thorn bushes on one side and a precipice on the other and it is a very tight gap to negotiate through. And of course, this path is uphill. There are interludes along the way: green, grassy valleys, flower meadows and cool fresh streams to drink, rest and bathe in. These nurture points are all appreciated with a deeper gratitude because the rest of the way is difficult.
So on this journey one day, I came around a sharp bend to a fork in the path. My feet were sore and blistered inside my boots from the walking I had already done, and my back was aching and my knees buckling with the weight of the rucksack I was carrying. I stared in dismay at the fork in the path: I had no idea which one to take. It mattered which one I took, because, while both were difficult and painful to travel by, the wrong one was treacherous, and not just for me. The problem was, I did not know which path was the wrong path, they both seemed as dangerous as each other.
In the Rules of Discernment in The Spiritual Exercises, St Ignatius uses metaphor to describe the different ways the evil spirit works. Of one he says:
The conduct of our enemy may also be compared to the tactics of a leader intent upon seizing and plundering a position he desires. A commander and leader of an army will encamp, explore the fortifications and defenses of the stronghold, and attack at the weakest point. In the same way, the enemy of our human nature investigates from every side all our virtues, theological, cardinal and moral. Where he finds the defenses of eternal salvation weakest and most deficient, there he attacks and tries to take us by storm.
As I stood at the fork in the path, my castle came under attack, sustained and violent. I was bombarded with flaming canon balls, pressuring me to make a choice, telling me that the wrong choice would cause a catastrophe from which there would be no coming back and would have serious implications for those I loved. Those critical voices told me that it was all my fault, that I was worthless, and that any fallout from this decision was down to me, and in fact that there was a decision here at all was all my fault anyway because I had made mistakes in my past. Those critical voices told me that there was no time to waste, that I had to make a decision and make it quickly, because every second of delay only made it worse. Perhaps you know what I mean because you have been in a similar situation yourself?
I remembered an image from a story I had been reading as a child. There was a Buddhist monk sitting meditating, breathing gently through a pipe or a rolled up piece of paper because he was covered in bees. The image I had of myself at this point, while trying to decide which path to take was very similar, but the bees were wasps, and I am a little phobic about wasps. Whenever one comes into my house I open the rest of the windows and leave the room, coming back later in the hope that it is gone. If one comes onto my classroom I make an incredible effort to remain calm and not show the rising panic inside me by asking one of the students to try to remove it, thanking them for being so helpful when they do. As I am sitting in this image, the wasps are calm and crawling, and as I become aware of the rising panic within me they begin to buzz around, making me feel even more fearful. Such was the anxious fear, the desolation at being faced with choosing one of these two paths.
Ignatius advises that we act against the desolation when we are aware of it, and that speaking to a spiritual person, such as a spiritual director, who is well versed in the art of discernment can help:
But if one manifests them to a confessor, or to some other spiritual person who understands his deceits and malicious designs, the evil one is very much vexed. For he knows that he cannot succeed in his evil undertaking, once his evident deceits have been revealed.
So, I resisted the pressure to choose quickly, and I spoke to my spiritual director and to another person I knew who was an expert in dealing with the type of situation I was facing. At the end of it, the responsibility for the decision was all mine. So, I sat down at the fork in the path and I prayed:
In the First Principle and Foundation of The Exercises Ignatius suggests:
…we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things.
Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.
For me, when I made The Exercises, this moment of indifference came when I imagined myself sat on a chair in the middle of a white, hexagonal room with six doors. Behind three of the doors were darkness, secrets and indiscernable material things, and fear: behind the other three doors were the three persons of the Holy Trinity. I was alone in the room and I had come there because He had called me. When I came into the room and saw that He was not there, I knew and trusted that He would come, no matter how long it took. So, I sat in the chair and stilled myself. I placed my palms upwards and said into the room:
I will wait.
And the moment I let go of all my preferences, and waited for Him in complete trust, He was there beside me; I was not alone.
They say, they being people who are experienced in working with The Exercises, that the graces received when we make the Exercises are always there. I would assert this to be true based on my own first hand experience. So, I sat down at the fork in that stony path and I prayed both with the song and in silence, and I put myself back into the hexagonal room, connected with that sense of indifference I had felt at the time and told Him the same thing:
I will wait.
I was not alone, and I knew it. I was affirming it to myself, to Him, and I was asserting it to the world. The critical voices were silenced and the wasps stopped buzzing. It is to deal with desolation as Ignatius suggests:
On the other hand, one who suffers desolation should remember that by making use of the sufficient grace offered him, he can do much to withstand all his enemies. Let him find his strength in his Creator and Lord.
And I waited. I remained in this place, still, for over two weeks in real time. Not so long in God time. Gradually, a sense of knowing emerged from deep down, and the certainty of it strengthened as I remained there in stillness. The decision was made, and I knew which path to take. There was serenity in that decision, and an affirming smile from God. So I followed the path I had been shown.
And last week I was writing about consolation and desolation. I have been pondering these things. Deepening trust in God is a theme that seems to be surfacing, especially when things get tough. Months after I followed through on my choice there was no disaster and a verbal confirmation that demonstrated that I had made the right choice from someone who knew nothing of my choice or my struggle, and who would have been badly affected had I made the wrong choice. I was immediately both grateful and humble at the impact my trust and faith in Him had had in real time.
When the situation is difficult and there is turmoil of spirits, it can be confusing to see which way to go. In the First principle and Foundation, we are encouraged to become indifferent to moving one way or another, to wait and to listen for what God would have us do. We are encouraged to trust in Him to show us the way and for that, we must be still and patient.
I saw…a lord and a servant….[The Lord] looks on his servant very lovingly and sweetly and mildly. He sends him to…do his will. Not only does the servant go, but he dashes off and runs at great speed, loving to do his lord’s will. And soon he falls into a dell and is greatly injured; and then he groans and moans and tosses about and writhes, but he cannot rise or help himself in any way. And …the greatest hurt I saw in him was lack of consolation, for he could not turn his face to look on his loving lord…This is a great sorrow and a cruel suffering to him, for he neither sees clearly his loving lord, who is so meek and mild to him, nor does he truly see what he himself is in the sight of his loving lord. And I know well that when these two things are wisely and truly seen, we shall gain rest and peace…by God’s plentiful grace …And the loving regard which [the lord] kept constantly on his servant, and especially when he fell…could melt our hearts for love and break them in two for joy.
Good Lord I see in you that you are very truth, and I know truly that we sin grievously all day and are very blameworthy; and I can neither reject my knowledge of this truth, nor see that any kind of blame is shown to us. How can this be? For I know by the ordinary teaching of the Holy Church and by my own feeling that the blame of our sins continually hangs upon us…This then [caused me] astonishment, that I saw our Lord God showing no more blame to us than if we were as pure and as holy as the angels are in heaven…I [felt] great fear and perplexity, thinking that if I were to take it that we are not sinners and not blameworthy, it seems as if I should err and fail to recognise the truth. And if it be true that we are sinners and blameworthy, good Lord, how can it be that I cannot see this truth in you, who are my God, my maker in whom I desire to see all truth?