Sunday, July 7, 2024

Peace and Passion

     One of the monks here has mentioned a couple of times in homilies that some others are not comfortable with desire being an aspect of the love of God. For me, longing for God is an essential foundation for my religious life. And here is my answer (copied from my private journal, June, 2017). 

    Note: In the last year, I did go through that "dark night" I was fearing back then. It lasted six months, and was the first time since my conversion 38 years ago that I have been unable to sense God's loving presence in any way. I am grateful that I did not falter in my fidelity to Him, and now that it is past, I find Him even more intimately close, as if knit into the fabric of my self. Thanks be to God!


A Treatise on Christian Perfection by St Gregory of Nyssa

    Each of us must examine his thoughts, words and deeds, to see whether they are directed toward Christ or are turned away from him.... Our deeds or our thoughts or our words are not in harmony with Christ if they issue from passion. They then bear the mark of the enemy who smears the pearl of the heart with the slime of passion, dimming and even destroying the lustre of the precious stone. On the other hand, if they are free from and untainted by every passionate inclination, they are directed toward Christ, the author and source of peace. He is like a pure, untainted stream. If you draw from him the thoughts in your mind and the inclinations of your heart, you will show a likeness to Christ, your source and origin, as the gleaming water in a jar resembles the flowing water from which it was obtained.


The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran

    And a poet said, "Speak to us of Beauty." Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?

    The aggrieved and the injured say, "Beauty is kind and gentle. Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among us."

    And the passionate say, "Nay, beauty is a thing of might and dread. Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us."

    The tired and the weary say, "beauty is of soft whisperings. She speaks in our spirit. Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow."

    But the restless say, "We have heard her shouting among the mountains, And with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions."

    At night the watchmen of the city say, "Beauty shall rise with the dawn from the east."

    And at noontide the toilers and the wayfarers say, "we have seen her leaning over the earth from the windows of the sunset."

    In winter say the snow-bound, "She shall come with the spring leaping upon the hills."

    And in the summer heat the reapers say, "We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves, and we saw a drift of snow in her hair."

    All these things have you said of beauty. Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied, And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.

    It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth, But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.

    It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear, But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears.

    It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw, But rather a garden for ever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight.

    People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face. But you are life and you are the veil

    Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.


The Practice of the Presence of God, Br. Lawrence of the Resurrection

    "That he had desired to become a religious, thinking that by doing so he would be censured for his clumsiness and faults and so would sacrifice his life and all its pleasures to God; but that God had outwitted him and in his religious life he had found nothing but satisfaction."


    Certainly, Brother Gregory, Christ is the source of very great peace. When I was a miserable, desperate and depressed teenager, unacquainted with God, I used to wish on stars in lieu of prayer. I used to sit out on the back steps and smoke cigarettes -- my parents were wise enough not to try to forbid me to smoke, since I would just go farther behind their backs, but they wouldn't allow it in the house. I would look up at the sky and fix on a star and say, "starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight".... I wished over and over again for peace, nothing else. Meaning, of course, peace in myself. Peace on earth is a wonderful thing, I'm sure, but I was a self-centered teenager (not sure I'm much less self-centered in middle age), and I wanted only peace of mind and heart.

    But as it turns out, Christ also inspires passion. My love for God, my relationship with God, is passionate! It is exciting, a fierce joy and pleasure and love and gratitude and bonding.

    Which reminds me, first of all, of Khalil Gibran, the chapter I quoted in its entirety above. God is whatever we need God to be, and He is everything else, besides. God is deep peace and fierce passion. Those people who say Heaven seems boring to them are imagining only such a small corner of the place, they don't know what they're talking about. Love is not just contentment, it is bliss.

    But what about pain and suffering? What about the dark night of the soul? What if bliss should fail, will my faith be shaken? Well, it never has been, yet, although I haven't known how to keep close in times of mediocrity. But I've never doubted God or God's love.

    Anyway I have two thoughts about what to do if coldness comes again: one, keep on praying the Office, at least, as always. Even, use the times set aside for contemplation for mindfulness, if not of any palpable sense of God then of my own breathing, at minimum. And continue to open my mind and heart to one person, one spiritual director, one faithful human listener. Otherwise to keep my solitude, to stay out of common secular society. If I stay faithful to these practices, and to the spirit of monastic humility before God's ineffability, eventually I will feel God again -- even if "eventually" isn't until death.

    Two, my continual insistence that God is not God's gifts. The pleasure, the ecstasy, the passion, the bliss, the peace, are not God. God is somewhere behind these things, and He is a dark light, a silence and stillness containing all that is. God is ineffable, and if I think I feel His presence, the feeling is a gift from Him and not essential at all. God is here and loves me immensely whether I feel His presence or not. And when I think of that, I am reminded of that day when I suddenly saw God as God of Power and Might, God of the maelstrom, something scary, and that He wanted me to see this to know whether I would still love Him in His unbounded frightening greatness and not only in His sweet gentleness ... and I took a deep breath and said "Yes!" When I "look" at God in His dark light beyond the knowable, there is the passion again, there is the delight of the roller-coaster, that God, my God, my beloved God, who has chosen me and called me to be His own, is so immeasurably great and eternal and infinite and ... so much more. Everything there is!

    Then a third follows on that, bringing in Br. Lawrence -- that I might never even have to face that loss of the palpable sense of God's presence, or any kind of serious distress in life. The closer I adhere to God, the more totally my life is absorbed in contemplation and self-surrender to His greatness, the more I am filled with both passion AND peace. And it is not necessarily something I must resign myself to, that I will have to endure some future dark night of apparent aloneness.

    And one more: I love the line in the Mass that says [the official American English translation]: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof", not because it makes any sense (my roof?), but because it reminds me that God has given me, His bride, a stunningly beautiful, delightful home to live in. A river, woods, birdsong and all the brilliant diversity of His creative power, as well as a literal house. I am not worthy to enter under the roof of enclosure with my Beloved God. And yet, it is what He wants me to do, apparently, it is what I am called to. To Joy. To Felicity. To peace, and to passion.

    No, still one more: walking out to the mailbox one beautiful evening not long ago, I thought of the beginning of psalm 63 (62): "Oh God, you are my God, for you I long, for you my soul is thirsting, my body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water." And then I thought, but no, I do not long for God, because I have God, I revel in God's love already. Thanks be to God!


and also...

🔥❤🔥 PASSION! 🔥❤🔥

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