This text is published as Chapters 7 and 8 of How to Pray (Part One: Foundations). An introduction to the life of prayer with much practical advice about how to deepen your prayer life.
7 ABOUT THE JOURNEY OF FAITH
BEGINNERS IN FAITH. SPIRITUAL ‘NIGHTS’. TRUE UNION.
Several stages of the spiritual life.
For the sake of those who are determined to pray well, and to achieve union with God, I’ll now try to give a brief word-picture of the spiritual journey in its entirety.
I can see clearly now, as if they were drawn on a map, the several stages of the spiritual life through which God can draw us, through our life in Christ; but I don’t intend to reveal every detail of all those stages, since other writers have described much of the journey, and there’s no need for me to duplicate their work. I mean that, at the beginning, all journeys are the same, even though our personal characteristics are different and our backgrounds and attitudes seem to be very unalike. The similarity lies in the effects produced in each individual soul when each person freely chooses to respond to the grace of God and therefore attempts to please God by doing good and by refraining from evil; and of course it’s because of our Baptism that we can know that God’s grace is ours, and is powerful; and it’s also because of our Baptism that we can pray “in Christ” to our Father in Heaven.
We can never praise God enough for our life - for the life of body and soul - and for our birth; yet it’s the second ‘birth’ - our Baptism - which should draw from us even greater expressions of gratitude and wonder.
This sacrament is so marvellous, both in what it signifies and in what it achieves, that we should never let a day pass without thanking God for having brought us into His own Life in this way, whether it was in infancy or in adult life. We should thank Him too, for all his gifts, in particular for our Confirmation in the Life of Christ, in the strength of His Holy Spirit, and for the Blessed Eucharist, and for all the holy sacraments given to his Church. But I mustn’t write any more on those subjects since my main task is to identify the stages of the spiritual life, with its peculiar joys and problems.
Mixed fervour and blindness.
Many ‘beginners’ are fervent. They pray a great deal; and since every attempt to love God more draws upon the soul more grace and strength, no-one can fail to progress in the knowledge and love of God if, with all his heart and will he clings to God amidst alldifficulties, trusting in God’s goodness and relying on the benefits He pours out through His Holy Catholic Church.
It’s true that, at the beginning of the journey to union, few souls are aware of the extent of their own weaknesses. Nevertheless, when someone is faithful to prayer, is firm in resisting temptations, and remains resolute in his main ambition, which is to love God and his neighbour with his whole heart, then his progress will be rapid.
For the first few weeks - or years - someone might attempt to please God and to please his neighbour, when his aim should be to love God and his neighbour. Such a soul hasn’t yet grasped that he can’t please everyone, no matter how hard he tries. He works and prays with great generosity, but is secretly convinced that he can please God, on this earth, and at the same time can make others happy, too, without opposition or difficulty, as if Christ had never said that He came to set ‘A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER’ and to warn us that ‘A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THOSE OF HIS OWN HOUSEHOLD’ [Mt 10:35-36].
Little trust in God.
A fervent person might have much genuine goodwill, at this stage, but he usually has great faith in his own powers, and little real trust in God. He frequently interferes in things which aren’t his business, proudly imagining that he can solve what others have failed to solve, even though he’s quite blind to many of his own faults and makes excuses for his own backslidings.
During this time, the prayerful soul is full of contradictions, though he thinks himself sure-sighted and brave. By grace and by self-examination he begins to suspect his own lack of generosity, but he is still intolerant of others’ faults. Even as he throws himself wholeheartedly into the loving service of others, prepared to exhaust himself for God’s sake, he wonders why other people aren’t more loving and generous. He thinks he is humble, because he is awe-struck when thinking of God and His creation, but it is secretly proud of what he himself achieves; and although he has truly made great sacrifices for God, he is still fearful of the opinions of others - in ways which he doesn’t yet see - and so trims the practice of his faith, unknowingly, less concerned with truth than with current fashions. I’m not speaking here of efforts to be tactful or thoughtful, but of the adoption of small but dangerous ways in which a compromise is made with the spirit of the world, in order to avoid suffering.
Despite immaturity, however, a good-hearted person deliberately attempts to practice the virtues, and begs God for the grace to eradicate apparently incurable faults. He genuinely wishes to grow in the knowledge and love of God, because this is what God wishes; however, he isn’t yet willing to sacrifice all that is unworthy of the life of someone who wants to live in perfect union with God. He’s not so foolish as to cultivate the perfection of his own soul in a narcissistic manner since he truly feels very humbled by the thought of God’s perfection; yet he tends to forget that God alone has made possible all his present exertions and triumphs. He becomes overwhelmed with work, since other people find him so willing and kind; but he hasn’t yet found the courage to refuse things that he needn’t do, nor has he opened his heart sufficiently to receive from God those powers of discernment which would enable him to see what is essential and what is not.
At this stage, such a soul rarely thinks about ‘stages’. He’s almost too busy to think, having to carve out, as it were, some time for prayer and spiritual reading, which he knows to be essential, as is attendance at Holy Mass and at the Sacrament of Reconciliation: I mean essential for the soul’s health, even when someone might be excused attendance at Mass on account, perhaps, of ill health, or might know that “Confession” isn’t obligatory for those who believe themselves to be free from grave sin.
That someone’s love of God and of his neighbour is real can be shown by his longing to serve God perfectly - even though he’s unaware of his own blindness about many things; and it’s also shown by his struggles to serve and to cherish his family and friends, and not only them, but everyone he meets in the course of the day, especially those who are in trouble. It’s shown, too, by his longing to know more about God, and about the Revelation once made in Christ and handed on in His Church. Every wise and good-hearted person tries to study the Faith, in a manner appropriate to his way of life.
Furthermore, he will be brave in resisting temptations, even though he might not be able to explain to other people everything he’s doing. He develops a longing to do good and to avoid evil, guided by the Holy Spirit; and so he listens to those who guide Christ’s Church on earth. He perseveres in regular prayer, however difficult. Vocal prayer will give way, at times, to affective prayer: that is, to words from the heart, which will be further nourished by regular spiritual reading.
Boredom or impatience.
At this time, such difficulties as there are in prayer stem mainly from tiredness, or from boredom or impatience. The tiredness is to be expected, but can be made worse by an eager person’s senseless over-exertion, whether in works of charity which have been undertaken through pride, or in over-long prayer-times which someone who doesn’t yet trust in the goodness of God dare not curb. The boredom is to be expected at times, since a soul at this stage is so unspiritual. He cannot yet claim that his ‘dryness’ and boredom are a special trial permitted by God. Impatience in prayer-time is not unusual in those who have more faith in the power of their own words and physical activities than in the prayers offered secretly, in obedience, by which God works many marvels on this earth, in every age.
At this stage, the fervent soul is frequently amazed at others’ apparent faults, and can’t understand why others don’t do much for God. Worse than that, he thinks that his pity for others’ lack of virtue is a sign of fervour and of love for God, whereas he is still very proud. He isn’t aware that the time spent in judging other souls - and judging inaccurately, since he cannot see ‘inside’ them - would be better spent in looking at his own faults, with a truer repentance, or better still, in learning about God. Alas, at this stage, too, someone only begins to see himself more clearly if aided by light from God, and, here, the soul is usually too busy and troubled to allow God to shine that light within him in prayer - or else God permits this soul to continue in this partial blindness for a lengthier time, in order to bring about his conversion in ways unknown by us.
When someone at this stage truly regrets his own sins and failings - that’s to say, the ones of which he’s aware - he doesn’t realise that his sorrow is caused as much by disappointment at failing in his own spiritual ambitions, albeit ambitions for God’s sake, as by sorrow at betraying, even in small ways, his Lord and Saviour.
As time passes, the willing soul grows in faith, in hope and in love - though not in equal measure, since much depends upon his natural outlook and upon his temperament. I mean that someone who finds it easy to be pessimistic will need to grow in Hope more than will the person who has a ‘sunny’ disposition. So, someone who continues on this path, faithfully, will make great strides, if he remains alert to the Will of God. God sends him all the help he needs - by books, persons and inspirations - and increases his earnest longings to please Him, causing the soul to resolve to be even more charitable and truthful. Nevertheless, the danger is more tremendous, the higher the soul is drawn by the grace of God; and that’s why the fervent soul eventually finds himself in difficulties.
The first ‘night’ of the soul.
Just when the fervent soul is secretly hoping to be rewarded for all his courageous acts so far, he is astonished to find himself undergoing not just earthly troubles and opposition, but many distressing experiences, all of which have been permitted by God for the soul’s sake, since no good person will persevere in faith during his life on earth unless his feeble faith is purified and strengthened in ways unforeseen by the ‘beginner’. So he is soon drawn into the first spiritual “night”.
One of the most distressing things for the soul at this time of change is the sudden ‘dryness’ or boredom found in prayer. Since prayer has been, so far, a pleasurable activity, the extent, now, of each soul’s distress is an indication of his dependence on good experiences rather than on faith in God.
The spiritual darkness which the soul has entered can be called a ‘night’ of the soul. Now, this is a very mundane sort of ‘night’. No-one need practice heroism to endure it. A generous soul kneels and prays as before, dryness or boredom notwithstanding. Faith tells each good soul that his worship of God and his acts of love for his neighbour are supremely important, whether his emotions seem fervent or tepid. Faith counts, not moods; love is proved by deeds. At the same time, probably, those acts of love for neighbour are done with true goodwill, and also for the love of God, but with less joy than formerly. Everything seems to conspire to make the soul more irritable and doubtful. Here, provocations and ill-health, temptations and extraordinary demands from others can cause someone to question not only his way of life, but aspects of faith which haven’t so far been understood. He might quake at the thought of the demands which could be made upon him, and hope that he won’t be asked to undergo anything painful or humiliating in the years ahead.
A moment of crisis.
One day, probably after many years of hard work and struggle, a good person will see that pain and humiliation in the service of God are inevitable; and it will be at that point that he will be brought to choose, once again, whether or not to serve God despite the great cost. But until that moment of crisis, he might live for weeks or years half-way through the foothills, as it were - working for God, praying with a devoted heart, experiencing occasional peace and sweetness in prayer, and usually but not always resisting gross temptations, yet all the while conscious that he hasn’t yet handed over his whole life to God, in complete trust. He fears illness, misunderstanding or pain. He fears death. He sacrifices, unnecessarily, things which God is willing for the soul to use or enjoy, whilst refusing to give to God what, above all, God Wills he should give, by which I mean his own self-will and independence.
Alas, even with a considerable amount of self-knowledge a fervent soul can deceive himself in serious ways. For example he might begin to look back over the ‘journey’ with nostalgia and some degree of satisfaction. He can grow proud at the sight of all that he has willingly sacrificed for the love of God. He secretly congratulates himself on having endured all sorts of minor trials and persecutions, and begins, perhaps, to forget his former weakness.
He forgets how firmly he was once “bogged down” in a pit of bad habits before the grace of God enabled him to stumble onto the bank. He even forgets that it was by God’s grace that his more recent charitable and brave acts have been accomplished, and he congratulates himself on his virtues. He might even despise souls who appear less virtuous or less disciplined. He truly loves God and wants to serve Him, but the love is so firmly mixed with vanity and conceit that only by the “scouring” which occurs when terrible troubles and upheavals are bravely accepted can such a soul be brought to see clearly where his real ambitions lie. As he begins to understand himself at last, and to become aware of the obstacles which keep him from growing towards true union with God, he quakes at the prospect of change.
The prospect of change.
It is here that the soul attempts to bargain with God about certain things. Here, someone might live in constant anxiety because he cannot let himself say ‘yes’ to God; yet he can’t turn away from Him; or the soul averts his eyes, so to speak, from the area where he isn’t utterly faithful, or utterly pure, and so continues to compromise with the world’s ways. He resigns himself to spiritual mediocrity, not realising that he’s endangering himself, since no-one remains static, so to speak, in the spiritual life.
The saddest and most terrible state-of-soul possible at this time is the state in which someone who is unable to consent to serve God as He should be served not only persuades himself that God asks too much of him - forgetting Christ’s bitter Passion - but then makes matters even worse. He convinces himself that what the Church teaches and always recommends is not what Christ would teach us, today. Worst of all, he debates these things with many others in order to salve his own conscience and to lessen his loneliness; and so he disturbs the faith of other people. Such a soul will be held responsible not only for his own faults or cowardice, but for his influence in having drawn others away from God.
It’s quite possible that someone who genuinely longs to serve God - even though sadly aware of his own weakness and lack of courage - might continue for a long time in the genuine loving service of God and of his neighbour, even ‘peeling away’ further layers of selfishness by his good works and acts of penance, and living in true humility. But until he’s prepared to open his deepest heart to what he knows God wants - and God wants the soul’s complete and everlasting happiness - he won’t be pierced and transformed by God’s own sanctity. He will do good works, but he won’t bear marvellous fruit: one hundred or one thousand-fold.
Someone who, by the grace of God, does continue to offer himself to God, in heart, soul, body and mind, to be used how God Wills, for His Glory and for the salvation of souls, and despite some felt reluctance and fear as he makes this true and loving sacrifice, is drawn on by God towards a deeper and more thorough purification that he has ever dreamed might be possible.
Towards greater humility.
Such a soul as this has already undergone a certain amount of true purification. He has been purified in one sense, even by his falls: or rather, by the results of sin acknowledged and repented of, since these falls can propel the good soul towards a far greater humility than he possessed before.
However, many of the methods and details of the purification undergone so far have been self- chosen, and thus have been flawed; and since there’s no greater perfection in anything than to do God’s Will rather than our own, and since this is true of penance, too, the purifications just described have therefore been inadequate.
As I said, a soul might ‘hover’ in this place for a short while, or for a long time; but God in His goodness will permit the soul to be brought, not once but many times, we hope, to the point where the difficult but essential choice must be made: will the soul die to selfishness in order to love God and to do His Will to the utmost?
One day, more solemnly and sincerely than ever before, the willing soul decides, again, to love God, whatever the cost. He sees nothing ahead but blackness and danger and loneliness, but he voluntarily sets out to serve God more perfectly, relying on His grace alone, despite his own terror.
The second ‘night’ of the soul.
At this point, a fervent person now enters the state known as the “Second ‘night’ of the soul”. Up to this point, the fervent soul has been active in his own self-purification. At the prompting of God, he has cut and pruned his life-style and has given up bad habits. He has curbed his extravagances and dubious pleasures. But now, suddenly, he finds that he is quite without satisfaction as he considers his way of life, and his efforts to be virtuous. Rather, he burns with humiliation at seeing his own faults. He feels utterly “passive” beneath a purification which comes from God - except that it doesn’t feel as though it’s from God. Every sin is remorselessly revealed to that person’s spiritual sight, and he recoils from what he now sees.
How few souls have enough faith to be able to cling to God and to profess to love Him, now. They find that even the outward circumstances of their lives are turned upside down. Good things seem terribly fragile, ill-health is common, and temptations, if recognised, become ever more subtle. God, Who is good, doesn’t send temptations; but it’s by His Providence that the person He wants to purify - for that soul’s joy and for His own Glory - is led to see that by nothing except faith can he cling to God, in the hope of loving God and neighbour; yet such a soul feels that he no longer knows the meaning of “faith”. On the contrary, he feels quite deserted by God, and, at the same time, is often plagued by further scruples and by doubts about any number of things.
In this torment, interior and exterior, such a soul is convinced that he doesn’t love God, even while he endures dreadful sufferings rather than offend Him. The soul blindly trusts in God in the depths of his misery; and even though he seems to be seeing and understanding nothing, he begins at last to live by pure faith, selflessly, though he doesn’t know it. He sees only his own sins; and this is what God allows to happen, for the soul’s purification. The clear view of sinfulness which is often experienced at this stage hasn’t been brought about by a person’s own reflections.
When someone has decided, firmly, to keep on trying to love God and neighbour, whatever the cost, he half-hopes for some reward, and yet - there is none. God is teaching him the meaning of true love; there’s no other way by which anyone can learn this essential lesson. So here, there’s no illumination for the soul who still perseveres; nor does he receive any assurance of a right choice. He has to be content with the dark, naked assurance which he receives by faith, as he examines his conscience and yet remains at peace because he knows that with every atom of strength, he clings fervently to God and avoids deliberate sin.
This is the point at which many souls demand security of one sort or another; however, the greatest love for God is displayed by those who are willing to serve Him in this state, according to His Will, in blind trust, day after day and even year after year.
Of the few who have walked this far, and who have said ‘Yes’ to God, even fewer have had the courage to rely on His help as they not only follow the difficult path which lies ahead, as they see nothing but blackness and danger, but continue on it for many years even when it seems to grow still blacker and still more dangerous, and when God seems to have deserted them entirely.
So it can happen that, for many years, someone in this state might even think that he’ll probably be damned. There is not only no joy in prayer, but emptiness instead, and horror. By naked faith alone, at this stage, does someone survive for one minute at a time, believing in God’s love but no longer knowing what that means. Such a soul is aware only of his own feebleness beside the holiness of God Who is Unseen but Who is somehow Known; but as he clings to God and to the Will of God in faithfulness through exterior trials and interior torments, while convinced that nothing that he himself is doing can be considered of much value, he achieves more for himself and for other souls by one minute of his patient endurance than other souls would achieve by ten years of self-chosen, vainglorious Christian works; but of course he doesn’t know this.
Strong, pure love.
In this state, the willing person simply shoulders his cross again and again, and continues to call out to God for help as he does his work cheerfully from moment to moment with a strength that he knows, obscurely, can only be from God, for he has no strength, it seems, of his own. Perhaps many years pass by in this way. There seems to be no cause for optimism, and the soul’s pain at the sight of his own wickedness is almost unbearable. God, who sees everything, sees that this soul is pure and strong; yet no-one in such a state imagines himself to be virtuous.
Thus it is that, for love of the soul, God has brought that soul to love and serve Him in an entirely self-forgetful and divine manner - for that’s the way to the soul’s eventual perfect and everlasting bliss. But God doesn’t yet “step in” to lighten all the soul’s burdens; on the contrary, He eventually gives him an opportunity to imitate his Master in Gethesemane.
Willing to choose death.
At some point, through a peculiar problem, or a strange set of circumstances, the soul is required to choose, once again, whether or not he’ll put God ‘first’ in his life; and here, the faithful soul chooses death, in order to love God as well as he can. Only by grace is he able to do this; but at last he is willing to be annihilated out of love for God; and, then, God knows, or rather sees, that Jesus Christ His Son has a true child on earth. I said “death” - whether it be a death of martyrdom by blood, or a death of human hope or ambition, or the death of pride or of something else which has brought someone to the precipice, where, if he would prove his love, he must jump into the arms of the invisible God in total darkness.
This might be done with feelings of only horror and fear; yet it’s in the doing - in this “leaping-in-faith”, from a true, pure love of God - that someone faithful proves his love and, unbeknown to himself, thus merits union.
In this deep night, in a daily agony of soul, there’s no glimmer of light in any direction. Yet it will be here, in this darkest night, that the true Light will soon be given in prayer. This will be the beginning of this person’s spiritual resurrection, or - I mean - the beginning of fruition in his life of union with God on earth.
Many persons weaken, and give up the struggle, here, for such is the torment of this path that very few are courageous enough to go on in such difficulties. Few are willing to bear the sight and knowledge of their own wickedness, a knowledge given by God with such clarity, and for such a long time. But someone who now perseveres, expecting no help or refreshment, and content to serve God - even though feeling that he serves Him badly, if at all - is one day astonished to be shown how much he is loved by God; and here, in some measure, God lifts the soul towards Himself, in a manner which is clear and unmistakable; and thus in one blissful moment God lightens every burden and overwhelms the soul with joy.
The soul’s betrothal.
Such a soul suddenly finds himself raised from his sufferings, brought into a relationship of such wonderful, blissful intimacy that he couldn’t have borne such joy - such is God’s power and purity - if he hadn’t been prepared by the passive purifications which have scoured and burnished him for so long. At about this time he is given, too, a glimpse of the “road” upon which he has been travelling.
This is the soul’s betrothal. Someone who has reached this stage is so joyful that he looks at all his past agonies as nothing, compared with his present bliss, even if the radiance of the betrothal lasts only a short while. He marvels that God has drawn him so close to Him; also, he looks at his neighbour, now, with an entirely new insight and compassion. He is driven more by love than by duty, at last.
There’s still so much impurity in the loving soul, however - even in the few who have reached this small summit - that, for his own good, and for the good of all the others who will benefit from the soul’s sanctity, the soul is led by God through darkness once again, in a continuous night.
Such a soul grows stronger and less fearful. But he experiences true ‘night,’ still, as he is almost overcome, again, by the awareness of his own sinfulness, and is horror-struck at his past offences against God’s holiness; for now no offence seems small or unimportant. Yet God strengthens and purifies him; and if this soul is faithful he grows in true humility, which brings peace.
Here, the faithful soul learns to turn away from the sight of his own feebleness, and learns to rest his eyes, so to speak, on God’s goodness, and on the needs of his neighbour. He learns to forget self, at last. He doesn’t forget his own obligations and duties, but his own desires; and he calmly accepts the continual aching pain of his true self-knowledge and his insight into a number of his unworthy hopes and motives.
So it is from this time, usually, that God Who cannot fail to “fill” and to adorn the soul with graces, the more the soul empties himself to make “room” for God, occasionally adorns the soul with His Wisdom and Knowledge and Understanding; and such a soul begins to resemble God in extraordinary ways, even though this soul doesn’t see the resemblance, and doesn’t yet know what’s happening in his own interior darkness.
Towards complete desolation.
This state might last for several years; but whatever has been experienced, this stage of the journey ends not in delight, but in utter desolation. God cannot permit anyone to progress to the marvel of true, known, continuous union with Him, until that soul has been thoroughly purified. The final purification of this stage of the spiritual life will be unexpected and crucifying; moreover, it will occur just as earthly trials seem to grow more cruel and relentless. The faithful soul - who is already tempted to despair by his inner sufferings - experiences some or all of the following sufferings: misunderstandings, violence, and loneliness, and, worst of all, malicious attempts by the evil one to drive him to despair, or to paralyse him with fear.
Throughout every new trial, however - and only by the grace of God - the devoted soul freely and gladly says: ‘yes’ to God once again, and ‘yes’ to love of Him and of neighbour for His sake, whatever the cost. Such a soul expects nothing but more darkness and pain, and isn’t thinking of reward beyond a quiet conscience and a dark but true hope of Heaven: although he hopes to gain these through the goodness of God, only, and through the merits of Christ’s Passion, convinced of his own utter unworthiness.
It is here that God, Who loves His creatures beyond anything we can imagine, brings that soul into true union with Himself, even on this earth; and the astonishing bliss of that union cannot be imagined or described.
The bliss of union.
The journey to a perfect and everlasting union with God in Heaven isn’t yet complete. But nevertheless, the soul, though living in faith, is now truly united to God; I mean that such a person now does all his work - as it were - hand in hand with God, and his heart is God’s entirely. What God Wills, that soul wills, and, marvellously, what the soul wills, God Wills. Through his union with Christ, Who is the Door, the Gate, the Way, and the Image of the Father, the soul is suffused with joy, and is ‘one’ with God, the Beloved, though not yet utterly purified.
There are trials, still. There’s no end to trials in this life, but now each difficulty serves only to strengthen the faithful soul, or to make him more aware of his own weakness and thus to enable him to turn again to God in trust. At each new trial, this person makes a further act of trust and of self-denial - for the Glory of God and for the good of others and for the expiation of sin. But the soul unites all his sufferings to those of Christ’s Sacrifice and regards them as not worth thinking about when compared with Christ’s pains, which were endured for the soul’s sake.
The faithful soul now lives in joy and contentment amidst all difficulties. He enjoys a true union with Christ; but the purifications aren’t yet over. All the nooks and crannies of heart and memory are like so many attics and cellars, as it were, of the soul; and, if this person consents, these will be purified, painfully, by God’s pure light and grace. Yet, by now, the soul has learned not to flee this pain, but to accept it as a sign that, truly, God is at work in the soul; and the soul learns that the pain diminishes as pride and obstinacy disappear. This person is as happy in spiritual darkness as in God’s clear light.
The danger of pride.
Human weaknesses remain. God permits this in order to keep the faithful soul in humility, since the danger of pride is the more terrible, the ‘higher’ each person soars in his flight towards God. I mean that for as long as there remains life in us, we can be tempted to vanity or pride: such is our pitiful weakness. Without grace we would be lost. Humility keeps us attached, so to speak, to Truth, which is God.
When someone has proved his love for God through many terrible trials and sufferings, and is utterly determined to love God and his neighbour without ceasing, until death, and also looks to Christ in every need, joyfully, he is now guided and accompanied by Christ, step by step towards the mountain-top. Earthly agonies remain agonies, but he doesn’t weaken. He is prepared for any pain or humiliation, so long as he doesn’t turn away from Christ and His Way. He lives to please Christ, and to do His Will and to make Him known and loved. He lives more and more in a clear spiritual Light, although this isn’t yet constant.
This person is guided ever more surely, now, through Christ’s Church and Christ’s pastors, and through the Holy Scriptures, and also through the special graces which are given to the soul in prayer, although no-one should accept any unusual experience in prayer without speaking to someone responsible who can give him wise spiritual advice. He should try to reject all images and peculiar occurrences, as he has already rejected all images for many years, since he knows that whatever can be seen or felt, heard or touched in prayer, is not God; but I’ll write more about that - later.
Such a soul still lives by faith, no matter what comes to him in the way of visions or experiences. The only sure sign for him that he’s firmly on the road to God is that he wants only what God wants, and makes every effort to shun extraordinary experiences and to do God’s Will, moment by moment, for God’s Glory alone, obedient to His Church.
Desolation: one last, terrible trial.
So far as I know, there remains for the faithful soul, although he is probably unaware of this, one further, terrible trial which must be undergone before he is sufficiently purified to be united with God on this earth, through Christ, not only in joy and peacefulness but in Light - although still by faith, when the darkness experienced so far will soon be banished.
First, though, the person who has grown used to the sweet company of Christ and used to a certain ease in all that he does for Christ - although he knows that it’s all due to Christ’s grace and goodness - is led by God through a terrible and incomparable spiritual desert. He is led to the heart of a desolation so awful that the grace of God alone keeps him from despair at the sight of his own weakness and powerlessness, and at the sight - that is, at the dark knowledge - of the infinite Holiness of God.
Into a spiritual void.
There comes a time when the faithful soul suddenly finds himself, without warning, pitched into a spiritual void which he could never have imagined, and which - such is the soul’s humility - he even thinks he deserves to be in, as he wonders what’s happening, and wonders how he can ever know peace again, or can ever see God.
He suffers unbelievable pangs as he goes about his daily work. He half-wonders if he’s going mad, since no-one else seems to be overcome by God’s holiness or by his own sinfulness; then he repents of these thoughts, convinced that he misjudges others, and knowing that no-one is as wicked as himself.
A clear sight of the Abyss.
This ‘desert’ is a place of testing. This person’s faith is tested as he makes acts of faith in the love of God for a fearful and sinful creature like himself and begs God’s help to remain firm in the hope of Salvation, even as he is torn with terror at the sight of the Abyss from which he is saved only by the mercy of God. He feels that he loves nothing and never will, even as he continues as usual, without pausing, in the service of others, by prayer and by acts, and would sooner die on the spot than commit the least deliberate offence against the pure Majesty of God.
In this state, the faithful soul is chained, as it were, for as long as God permits; yet, all the while, though the soul could scarcely believe it, God looks on in great tenderness, knowing that only by this dreadful testing can the soul, which is still so easily tempted to pride and foolishness, be purified further and clothed in true humility. Soon, this spiritual union will be fruitful. True dawn lights up the faithful soul, eventually, and clothes him in grace.
The Spiritual Marriage.
Clothed in that garment of grace, at last, the faithful soul is drawn by God out of the desert, and is brought into a new intimacy with Him. Such a soul is at peace as never before, and from now on is able to do God’s work surely and quietly, without troubling about his own appearance or effect on others. He has almost forgotten himself, in order to please God, and therefore God’s glory may now pour through him without such a great danger, as formerly, that he’ll be led into pride at the sight of all that he now achieves, or at the spiritual sight of his own astonishing intimacy with the most Holy Trinity. But also, such a soul is full of gratitude at seeing how much he is loved.
There remain, still, several stages of true union through which Almighty God might choose to draw such a soul, if he will consent. I shan’t describe them all here; but they involve the nurturing and growth of this person’s soul - even in this true union - so that he more and more resembles Jesus Christ his friend and Master, not only outwardly in his acts of love for God and for his neighbour, but interiorly, in his heart: crucified by the wounds of love and by interior suffering. If he consents, this soul is led by love and by obedience to a true interior resemblance to Christ, Whom he now serves with utter joy and gladness.
Such a soul no longer even yearns to die in the hope of being united with Christ, but is more content to will whatever Christ Wills. He longs neither to die nor to remain on earth - only to do whatever will bring the most Glory to God and good to souls - all through the merits of Christ’s Holy Passion. He longs to be ‘HUMBLER YET, EVEN TO ACCEPTING DEATH’ [Ph 2:8]. He lives here on earth within the Life of the Most Holy Trinity, Whose Divine Life makes him not only active but fruitful.
An extraordinary dialogue.
One of the wonderful stages of true union which it seems appropriate to describe here is the one in which the faithful soul is able to converse in a sublime way with his Heavenly Father; and by ‘converse’, I mean that he is able to speak and question, and also to receive very tender and detailed answers, in what is an extraordinary and wholly spiritual dialogue.
What I’m referring to is the state in which the soul converses with God the Father, at God’s direct invitation, in a manner of prayer which is deliberate, conscious and willed, and which can be continued or interrupted - and which can be clearly recalled when the soul has ‘left’ that state.
Someone who prays in this way - at God’s invitation - is now able to ‘step’ from prayer to daily life and back again, or from one state of prayer to another, as Willed by God, with the greatest ease and delight, so close is his union with God and so thoroughly and peacefully ‘entwined’ are all of his spiritual, mental and bodily faculties, and so well do they ‘work’ together.
At the ‘door’ to Heaven.
These conversations with the Father take place with such ease and delight - through the merits of Christ, as I said, and by the Spirit’s power - precisely because a soul such as this which is called so frequently by the Father to converse with Him in this manner is already, and always, and wholly, attentive both to His presence and to His Will; and so when God Wills that such a conversation take place, this person has no need to ‘compose’ himself, or to become recollected or to prepare for such a marvellous union. He is already prepared and able to converse because he is already alert, or ‘waiting’, we can say, as if at the soul’s door to Heaven, which, at this stage - as God has revealed to him in prayer - is continually open.
It is in this marvellous state - this conversation with the Father - that the faithful soul can understand God’s wishes in a spiritual way, by which I mean usually without words and by a Spirit-to-spirit communication which, although silent, is as true, or truer than verbal speech.
It is in this marvellous state that the faithful soul - like a simple and trusting child - can put questions to his Father and so receive answers which by their tenderness, simplicity and wisdom, bring him unsurpassable delight and reassurance.
It is in this marvellous state that the soul understands to the fullest possible degree the meaning of ‘adoption’, of ‘child of God’, of God’s ‘Fatherhood’, and of ‘spiritual union’ and of ‘Heaven’.
It is this marvellous state, furthermore, that the soul which has become accustomed to this way of life and love can ‘lift’ more powerfully than ever, into the Father’s heart, all of the persons, problems and places which occupy the heart and mind, in the knowledge that this is a sure and wonderful and conscious way of receiving help which is plainly worthwhile and very effective.
True Union, in prayer and daily life.
There comes a time when the soul which is wholly ‘enamoured’ of God and has been wholly drawn by Him into a close and fruitful relationship is shown, in prayer, many details about that friendship, about the extent of it and the results of it, and about the inner life of God, and about Heaven: and all of these things are shown in a way which, by its purity, transcends all other ways of knowing.
The soul is so ‘at one’ with God that the soul sees what God sees - to a limited degree - and sees it as He sees it; and therefore the soul observes, knows, understands, weighs and judges just as God does. This is what was meant by the Apostle who said “WE ARE THOSE WHO HAVE THE MIND OF CHRIST” [1 Co 2:16]. Someone who has reached this state sees clearly, therefore, the truth about his vocational duties, his neighbours and his other relationships, and also the truth about God’s plans for what remains of his life - since God now shares with such a soul, to an astonishing degree, the knowledge of His own plans for that soul and for the Church.
When someone ‘sees’ such things because he has been drawn by God into His Divine Life, and so has entered the Life, Love and Work of the Godhead, he knows something of the Life within the great movement of Divine Love at the heart of the Holy Trinity. The soul has entered that Life as a swimmer might enter the powerful currents of a fast-flowing river and has therefore has become truly one with God in love, and one in fruitful work, also.
The life of grace.
These notes on the life of grace are very inadequate, and omit a vast amount of information; but I must leave for another place, or another writer, further warnings against the dangers of the spiritual journey, and advice about method and discipline in daily life and prayer. That’s why I omit, too, all that I might long to write about Our Blessed Lord and His Passion, and about Christ’s Holy Mother Mary, who not only bore Him, but who leads us to Him now.
The sufferings which the soul undergoes on the long and terrible spiritual journey I’ve described above cannot be borne without the grace and mercy of God and the merits of Christ’s Passion; but lavish helps are given, also, through the prayers and example of Christ’s Holy Mother, the assistance of Angels and Saints, and the benefits and blessings received through Christ’s Holy Church on earth, especially through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and through the Sacraments.
God is infinitely good, and lavishes such blessings upon us! I hope and pray that He’ll grant everyone who reads this book perseverance until death, and will enable us all to give Glory to the Most Holy Trinity.
8 ABOUT TRUE UNION
PENANCE. REVERENCE. LOVE OF NEIGHBOUR. HEAVENLY JOYS.
Faithful prayer and penance.
Now that I’ve written such a lot about the soul’s progress towards complete union with God, it seems important that I stress, again, our need to be faithful to those quiet, traditional and daily prayers and devotions which the Church has recommended to its members through the centuries, and which can act as the “GOOD SOIL” [Mt 13:8] from which contemplation can spring, well-nourished; or, to use a different image, I can say that it’s by responding with a contrite and a loving heart to God’s invitation to “REPENT AND BE BAPTISED” [Ac 2:38] that the soul finds the door ajar, so to speak, to eventual eternal bliss and security. It’s by faithfully talking to and listening for God in daily honest, trusting and reverent conversations with Him that each person can prepare himself for possible prayer-in-union. I mean that although a devout person ought to be content to serve God in whatever simple way He permits, rather than to yearn for extraordinary tasks and special spiritual experiences, he will be possessed with a genuine longing to grow closer to God.
No-one can be brought into a constant and intimate union with God if he scorns - whether from laziness or from lack of love - regular and loving contact with God, in prayer.
A true and loving union with God is firmly established not by much speaking about our love for God and neighbour, but by the willing opening of our hearts to God in daily prayer and by our efforts to make amends for sin by acts of penance. Also, every prayerfully and carefully-chosen small mortification will discipline and strengthen the soul as exercises strengthen the body; furthermore, each one of us discovers, through such acts, how weak we truly are. We discover our reluctance to make even small sacrifices for spiritual reasons, even though we would make enormous sacrifices, for example, to win a prize, or to see a long-lost friend. But the best reason for practising mortifications, of course, is to unite oneself with Christ in His Agony.
No-one ‘progresses’ in the spiritual life except through the grace of God, by the Merits of Christ’s death and Resurrection; yet God’s graces won’t be any use to us, unless we give our consent to His promptings. I mean that it’s important that we turn to God with a free heart and mind, saying ‘yes’ to His Will, even if at the beginning we lack joy or graciousness in giving our consent to His plans for us.
Regular prayer is so important that I’m going to mention a few devotions yet again. Daily acts of faith and hope and love are enormously valuable, as are traditional morning and evening prayer-times, which can be spent - with words or without - in fervent adoration, thanksgiving, penitence, petition and intercession. It’s extremely worthwhile to ‘lavish’ time upon God by sitting or kneeling in silence, in His Presence, and so ‘allowing’ Him to teach, guide or hold us according to His Will, in a communion which is beyond words - even if it seems as though nothing is ‘happening’. Yet Christians have been helped, over many centuries, in all sorts of ways: by dwelling on the words of Holy Scripture, by meditating on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by devoutly making the Sign of the Cross. We rely on the help of the Holy Mother of God, as we learn to pray in some of the old, recommended ways - by the practice of reciting the Rosary, praying the Stations of the Cross or the ‘Jesus’ prayer, saying the ‘Angelus’, and by reading the lives of the Saints. We ought to thank God for His gifts before and after meals, and indeed, before all good activities. We rely, too, on the marvellous help - sought in prayer - of our Guardian Angels and Patron Saints: indeed, of all the Angels and the Saints. Short prayers and brief requests are enough, whenever we speak in this way, with the confidence which comes from faith, to these Heavenly friends who love us so deeply.
Every Catholic ought to value - even if he or she doesn’t use it - the Breviary or ‘Office’, recited by clergy and religious, and also by many lay-persons, for the benefit of the whole Church. Daily “spiritual reading” of Holy Scripture or of works about the spiritual life, will strengthen our souls and help us to persevere. Without such spiritual nourishment, we are ill-prepared for our journey through an uncomprehending and sometimes hostile world, where the enemies of Christ mock the truths of the Faith. Some truths are scorned in one century, some in the next - even though Christ’s enemies sometimes admire the external forms in which the Faith is clothed, or praise the acts of charity which are done for Christ’s sake and which astound them. It’s because of the many ways in which we find ourselves under attack that we must keep turning to God for help; and it’s a good idea to seek even greater help from God, by arranging to have an occasional ‘day of recollection’.
Faithfulness to the Sacraments.
It hardly needs saying that no-one can hope to advance in prayer who refuses the honour due to the holy sacraments which Christ instituted for our joy and benefit: for example, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the Sacrament of Christ’s Holy Body and Precious Blood.
Above all, the prayerful soul will yearn to participate fully and frequently in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which, the Church teaches us, is the “Source and Summit” of all that we hope for: the source of all the graces which come to us only through Christ, and the summit of all our desires, since it is though the Holy Mass, and through our Holy Communion, that we offer worthy praise to God and have a foretaste of Heaven in our union with Christ.
Even invalids, of course - those confined to their homes or also to their beds - are able to participate spiritually in the Holy Sacrifice, and to offer their sufferings with Christ in His One Offering to the Father; also, they are wedded to the celebration as they receive the Blessed Sacrament at the hands of someone who has been present at the Mass. There’s much more that could be written about suffering and reparation and co-redemptive prayer, but I’ll content myself with what I’ve written on page fifteen, in Chapter Two of this book.
Different methods of prayer.
With regard to the devotions mentioned earlier, none of the statements about prayer ought to be taken to mean that we should all follow the same method in prayer, or should be attracted to the same devotional practices. Although no Catholic could neglect attention to the Passion of Christ, or to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, without endangering his spiritual health, we all ought to follow our own reasonable attractions in the matter of daily, private prayer. Everyone who sincerely clings to God in regular prayer and in love of his neighbour, guided by the Church, cannot fail, as I said earlier, to progress in the spiritual life.
Amongst those who obey Christ’s advice about “WHEN YOU PRAY, GO TO YOUR PRIVATE ROOM” [Mt 6:6] - even if their only private sanctuary is in their own heart - some souls will find more nourishment in formal prayers and psalms and litanies than in informal, lively, unstructured conversation with God. Others are led by God into silence and apparent insecurity - in a prayer of ‘Unknowing’. Many find that they are quite satisfied and well-nourished, spiritually, by the repetition of simple prayers, year after year. They genuinely advance wonderfully in the spiritual life by the use of devotions which others would find tedious. All of this shows, as ever, that God leads souls to Himself through Christ, but does so along different paths in prayer. Zacchaeus’ manner of approaching our Blessed Lord [Lk 19:1-10] was different from Mary Magdalene’s, [Jn 20:11-18] which was quite unlike Nicodemus’ approach [Jn 3:1-21].
The Most Holy Spirit can be trusted to guide the soul along an appropriate path, with the usual provisos and warnings. But no fervent, reasonable person who hopes to grow closer to God will leave out daily expressions of love for God, gratitude towards Him, sorrow for failings, and hope for gifts: gifts for himself and for other people.
Sincere love for God and neighbour.
Since ‘structured’ prayer-time occupies a comparatively small part of the normal active day of many Christians, I must mention, here, something of supreme importance, even though this section is primarily about contemplation. I must stress that there’s no love of God without love of neighbour.
I mean that the whole point of turning to God so frequently in prayer and meditation, as described above, is to give Him Glory and to grow in union with Him; and He is Love; and therefore love of neighbour is inseparable from Union with God. If we believe that “GOD IS LOVE” [1 Jn 4:8] and know that He wants us to love our neighbour, as we’re told in the second Great Commandment [Lk 10:27], and if we don’t make many efforts in this direction, then our declarations of love for God are evidently insincere. It seems to me that as much effort and discipline and sincerity should be put into the deliberate ambition of proving our love for our neighbour, ‘outside’ prayer-time - although in true, quiet, self-less service, not in showy expressions of devotion - as is made when we offer our attention to God within our prayers.
In a circular movement, someone who loves God and who attempts to pray, increases in his belief that he must cherish and help everyone whom God has created and now holds in existence; and he does so according to his circumstances and by exercising true love hand-in-hand with prudence and wise judgement. Furthermore, the soul begins to see the real worth and potential of every single person on earth, each of whom was of such importance to Christ that Christ sacrificed His life for each one.
The more that such a person overcomes his own selfish instincts to preserve his free time, his trivial opinions, his security and his own customs and habits - and I’m not speaking here of matters of principle - then the more truly does he permit God to pour even more light and grace into his heart. Thus, in the ‘circle’ which I mentioned, a true friend of Christ is prompted by grace to see more and more clearly that no true service is possible without reverence towards others, and without repentance for his own prejudice and self-righteousness. He sees, too, the supreme importance of forgiveness, that is, of loving and forgiving others, utterly, always, no matter what the provocation, nor how deep the wounds received. He sees that this is Christ’s plain teaching. He knows this, as we all do, since we have Christ’s example.
Therefore, whoever loves God ought to want to love his neighbour. But we’re so weak and blind that this is frequently extremely difficult - in fact, it would be impossible to achieve to the degree that’s asked of us - unless we’re perpetually prompted and aided by grace. We’re invited to love as Christ loved: limitlessly.
Our circumstances can discourage us for many reasons. I mention, above, provocation and wounds. On the other hand, I think that life in even a loving community helps a truly devout person to see some of his own weaknesses clearly, amidst others’ virtues. Reflection on this can lead to a deeper humility and gratitude, and will compensate for the soul’s rash judgements about others’ apparent faults, intentions, moods and attitudes.
Evident need of help.
With regard to love-in-practice, it seems to me that no true friend of Christ could fail to see the real though varied needs of those with whom he shares the same home or the same street. There’s no end to the pains and wounds and turmoil which we observe in others: both exterior and interior sufferings, whether freely displayed or half-concealed. Here, the devout person can prove his love for God by kind acts, both physical and spiritual, even when he seems to have to goad himself into action, regretting his hard heart, and ashamed of his usual impatience and cowardice. Despite even frequent failures, this person knows by faith that he must simply start again after each little fall, trusting that God will see his longing to serve Him, and asking Him to bring good out of evil - or out of foolishness.
By his co-operation with God, perhaps a blind but nevertheless fervent co-operation, the faithful soul is eventually transformed by Him. By that I mean that one day the hard-heartedness is melted. This person is aghast that he should ever have found others irritating or difficult - since he now sees his own faults so clearly. Also, God has so enlightened his heart that he is full of the love and compassion of Christ Himself, and has begun to love others at last with a true, pure, Christ-like love which is full of tenderness and sweetness and compassion. He is less inclined to make rash judgements of others. He seeks only to encourage and console, in accordance with truth and prudence.
When someone persists in quiet loving service in this way, acting for the love of God even if he feels no great emotions of love in his heart, he isn’t likely to go astray, provided that he remains faithful to prayer and clings to Christ in the Sacraments. Thus, he will be guided more plainly to see where his true duty lies, since, while he knows he ought to love everyone, he sees clearly that his first duty is towards those who are bound to him by particular ties, and those near to him in other ways. He doesn’t despair that he can’t palpably reach out with help to many more persons, since faith tells him that all of those others are helped, through the Merits of Christ’s Sacrifice, by each loving soul’s prayers and sacrifices. This person knows, too, that the value of acts of kindness isn’t measured by the noise they make before the world, or by the visible joy they bring.
One could write volumes about love of our neighbour; but it’s enough, now, to conclude by saying that we ought to imitate Christ’s love. That’s enough inspiration for a life-time. So I shall press on with my task - which is to give a reminder about the marvellous way of life into which God draws a faithful person who has never ceased to trust in Him, who is repentant of every wrong, and who has received His gift of prayer-in-union.
Wholly at one with God.
As I mentioned earlier, in ‘The journey of faith’, there comes a time when someone who is wholly ‘enamoured’ of God and is wholly drawn by Him into a close and fruitful relationship is shown, in prayer, many details about that friendship: about the extent of it and the results of it, and about the inner life of God, and about Heaven; and yet all of these things are shown in a way which, by its purity, transcends all other ways of knowing.
Such a fortunate soul has been given true, Heavenly joy and peace after the trials and struggles of earlier years. Such a person loves and understands God’s Will. Past, present and future are now seen by the soul in God’s Light. The very ‘attics and cellars’ of the soul’s inmost dwelling have been scoured and purified. This person now sees that he possesses nothing at all that hasn’t been given to him by God. He knows, now, in a way impossible before, that to take pride in himself is more foolishness; it’s a lie - a theft from the Source of all good. But now that this soul has learned to trust in God’s grace alone God now rewards him with unbelievable joy and tenderness.
Whoever has reached this stage is brought to the border of a new land, where he learns to walk in true humility and simplicity. He learns, even, to rejoice in his own weakness, trusting only in the Merits and graces of Christ his Lord; and he begins to live like a true child of God in gratitude and faith.
A Heavenly way of life.
The soul is so ‘at one’ with God that the soul sees - to a limited degree, as I said earlier - what God sees, and sees as He sees it; and therefore the soul observes, knows, understands, weighs and judges just as God does. In this marvellous state of friendship, moreover - though in a slightly different state of prayer - the soul is able to converse with God in a union so close and trusting that it’s as if they whisper as intimate friends or lovers do, yet without sound or whisper.
Someone who lives in a Heavenly communion with God in perpetual intimacy is so privileged and blessed even during this earthly life that he has only to ‘enter’ prayer by an act of the will to be brought ‘palpably’, it seems, into God’s presence; and he knows that his prayer is immensely fruitful and worthwhile, as well as fulfilling - and even though there is no evidence of this, except in faith. It is God Who reveals to such a soul that by such a pure, piercing prayer as this, as with every God-given moment of other sorts of contemplative prayer, it is as though the clouds which ‘hide’ the Godhead from mankind are parted. It is as though, through that prayer, the clouds are held back, as God pours down His graces upon mankind, to a greater-than-usual degree: such is the goodness of God, the power of true prayer, and the fruitfulness of the countless loving sacrifices which a prayerful soul has made in order to be ready for this state of contemplation.
Someone who lives in such a state lives in constant peace, joy and fulfilment, even amidst earthly sufferings, since what greater joy can there be, before Heaven, than to enjoy something of what is experienced to a marvellous extent in Heaven: by which I mean the friendship of God, with the special gifts which He cannot refrain from lavishing upon His friends - and with the friendship of all other creatures who love God, such as the Saints and Angels of Heaven, as well as the devoted friends of Christ amongst whom this soul, on earth, now works, prays and suffers for God’s Glory.
Those special friends of Christ are recognised and treasured by every faithful soul who has reached the heights of “THE HOLY MOUNTAIN” [Zc 9:3]. They encourage one another in holiness; and the wonderful things which are experienced by these souls are foretastes of the joys which consume the Saints of Heaven. Even here on earth these true friends of God enjoy in their true Communion with one another ‘in Christ’ a burning and blissful love for God, with life ‘in’ Him, and with a certain likeness to one another, without uniformity. They delight in one another’s virtues. They live and work in a state of near-perfect harmony with one another and of blissful closeness both to Christ and to His holy Mother; and in their prayer, whether they could describe these things or not, they enjoy the blissful contemplation of the perfections of God the Most Holy Trinity.
The spiritual senses.
There are further marvels. Someone who enjoys God’s friendship to this degree and who has come to trust in Him entirely - though remaining always aware of his own imperfection - has by now, and by the Will of God, been brought to God’s ‘heart’ in prayer.
Each time this person ‘enters’ prayer, he finds that his soul is suffused with Glory and that God has lifted him ‘high’ once more, and awaits him, at His ‘heart’, so to speak; and whoever converses with God in this state finds that he can ‘taste’ - as it were - God’s love, reassurance, wisdom and consolation. It’s as though the soul ‘tastes’ these gifts merely by turning his heart towards his Heavenly Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier; and thus he comes to know the marvel of the use of yet another of the spiritual senses - all of which, at last, have been satisfied.
Someone who has been invited by God to share in God’s knowledge of Himself and of Heavenly realities has, by this stage, seen many of God’s marvels; he has seen Heaven’s companions with the eyes of his soul. Furthermore, he has heard the voice of his beloved Christ, and has listened to the singing of the Angels. He has smelt the bitter perfumes which were Christ’s astonishing and consoling gifts to him when he was first struggling to believe that Christ was at last illuminating his heart and soul in prayer, after many years of spiritual darkness. Furthermore, he has felt the touch of God on his brow, whenever the Father has clothed and crowned him anew as a ‘prophet, priest and king’ so that he can step out to do God’s work with greater simplicity and confidence.
Now, by a spiritual sense, this person learns “ HOW GOOD YAHWEH IS - ONLY TASTE AND SEE” [Ps 34:8]; and as he experiences God’s goodness through a pure communion with God he rests in such contentment in prayer that he’s like a child on his mother’s lap; or it’s as if he is leaning against Heaven’s door, as he waits in patience for an invitation to step up and enter. His soul is now suffused with joy.
By this stage, the soul’s spiritual sight and hearing, with his spiritual senses of smell, touch and taste, have all been ‘awakened’ and used, at God’s prompting, so that more and more, the whole person, in every bodily and spiritual faculty, has been ‘gathered’ in prayer and has been wholly irradiated by grace. It’s as if he is inebriated and warmed by the gifts which he has received from the Living God Whose unchanging plan, from the beginning, has been to make this soul one with Himself in perpetual joy.
That’s why I hope and pray that everyone who reads this little book will persevere in prayer. It’s vitally important for our Eternal happiness that we respond to the love which God lavishes upon us; yet so many of us, at one time or another, have shut our eyes to God, and to His love. I long for everyone to believe that the wonderful things I’ve described are possible - by God’s grace - and that even people like ourselves can come to share His joy and even His holiness.