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To love God might commence to be expressed as being a great quiet, an intense activity, a prodigious joy, and the poignant knowledge of the immensity of an amazing new life shared.
The contemplation of God might be expressed as the folding up or complete forgetfulness of all earthly and bodily things, desires, and attractions, and the raising of the heart and mind and the centring of them in great and joyful intensity upon God, by means of love. Of this contemplation of God I find two principal forms: the passive and the active. In the first we are in a state of steady, quiet, and loving perception and reception, and at some farness; in this we are able to remain for hours, entering this state when waking at dawn and remaining in it till rising.
In active contemplation we are in rapturous and passionate adoration with great nearness, and are not able to remain in it long because of bodily weakness. The soul feels to be never tired by the longest flight, but must return because of the exhaustion of the forlorn and wretched creature, which creature is complete in itself, having its body, of which, being able to touch it, we say, "It is my body," and its heart and mind with intelligence, of which we are wont to think, "This is myself"; yet it is but a part, for the intelligence of our creature is by no means the intelligence of the divine soul, but a far lesser light: for with the intelligence of the divine soul we reach out to God and attain Him, but with the intelligence of the creature we reach towards Him but do not attain, for with it we are unable to penetrate the veil. Therefore, who would know the joys of contemplation must come to them by love, for love is the only means by which the creature can attain. The soul attains God as her birthright, but the creature by adoption and redemption, and this through love. By love the creature dies and is reborn into the spirit.
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The word "poverty," as used to express a necessary condition of our coming to God, is a most misleading term. For how can any condition be rightly named poverty which brings us into the riches of God? Rather let us use the words "singleness of heart," or "simplicity": which is to say, we put out all other interests save those pleasing to God (to commence with), and afterwards we reach the condition in which we have no interests but in God Himself—the heart and mind and will of the creature becoming wholly God's, and God filling them. How can we say, then, that it is poverty to be filled with God! Rather is it rightly expressed as being a heart fixed in singleness upon God, through drastic simplification of interests: the which is no poverty, but the wealth of all the Universe.
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Some of us seem open to suggestion, others to the steadier effects of personal influence. I never came under the personal influence of another except once, when I came under the influence of the being I loved most—my brother. At ten he saved my life from drowning, and at eighteen his influence and total lack of faith in God, coupled with the searchings and probings of my own intelligence, took me away from God, in whom I had previously had a comfortable faith. At seventeen I began to lap up the hardest scientific books as a cat laps milk. I said to myself, "I must find truth, I must find out what everything really is"; but I could not reconcile science with Church teaching. I was not able to adjust the truths of science—which were demonstrable to both senses and intelligence—with the unprovable dogmas set forth by the Church as necessary to salvation. I slowly and surely lost what faith I had, and hung a withered heart upon the pitiless and nameless bosom of the Cosmos. Inward life became for me a horrible emptiness without hope. Surrounded with gaieties and the innumerable social successes of youth, I found that neither science nor society could satisfy my soul, or that something living within me which knew a terrible necessity for God. For two long and dreadful years I fought secretly and desperately to regain this lost belief, and when at last I succeeded there remained a monstrous and impenetrable wall between myself and God. But by comparison with the horrors of past loneliness it was heaven to me to feel Him there, even behind that wall. (Now that I have found Him by love, I am able to return to science as to a most exquisite unrolling of the majesty of His truths and powers and laws, and am brought nearer and nearer to Him the more I learn of science.) Outside the wall I remained for more than twenty years, seeking and searching for an opening in that mighty barrier.
And after more than twenty years I found the Door—and it was Jesus Christ.
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Lately I have seen the word "contemplation" used as expressing the heights of attainment in God-consciousness of men, and I find it inadequate. From the age of seventeen I fell into the habit of contemplation, not of God, but of Nature: which is to say, I would first place myself, sitting, in such a position that my body would not fall and I might completely forget it, and then would look about me and drink in the beauty of the scene, my eyes coming finally to rest upon the spot most beautiful to me. There they remained fixed. All thoughts were now folded up so that my mind, flowing singly in one direction, concentrated itself upon the beauty on which I gazed. This soon vanished, and I saw nothing whatever, but, bearing away into a place of complete silence and emptiness, I there assimilated and enjoyed inwardly the soaring essence of the beauty which I had previously drawn into my mind through my eyes, being now no longer conscious of seeing outwardly, but living entirely from the inward. This I did almost every day, but to do it I was obliged to seek solitude, and absolute solitude is a hard thing to find; but I sought it, no matter where, even in a churchyard! I saw no graves. I saw the sky, or a marvellous cloud pink with the kisses of the sun, and away I went. I judge this now to have been contemplation, though I never thought of it by so fine-sounding a name; it was only my delightful pastime, yet there was a strange inexpressible sadness in it. Nature and beauty were not enough. The more beauty I saw, the more I longed for something to which I could not put a name. At times the ache of this pain became terrible, almost agonising, but I could not forgo my pastime. Now, at last, I know what this pain was: my soul looked for God, but my creature did not know it. For just in this same way we contemplate God, savouring Him without seeing Him, and being filled to the brim with marvellous delights with no sadness.
But this condition of contemplation is very far from being the mountain-top; it is but a high plateau from which we make the final ascent. The summit is an indescribable contact, and this summit is not one summit but many summits. Which is to say, we have contact of several separate forms—that of giving, that of receiving, and that of immersion or absorption, which at its highest is altogether unendurable as fire.
Of this last I am able only to say this: that not only is it inexpressible by any words, but that that which is a state of extreme beatitude to the soul is death to the creature by excess of joy. Therefore both heart and mind fear to recall any details of the memory of this highest attainment. I knew it but once. To know it again would be the death of my body. For more than two hours (as well as I am able to judge) before coming to this highest experience, my soul travelled through what felt to be an ocean, for she rose and fell upon billows in a state of infinite bliss.
Of other forms of contact we have a swift, unexpected, even unsought-for attainment, which is entirely of His volition; that sudden condescension to the soul, in which in unspeakable rapture she is caught up to her holy lover.
These are the topmost heights which the creature dare recall, though to the soul they remain in memory as life itself. The variations of these forms of contact are infinite, for God would seem to will to be both eternal changelessness and variation in infinitude.
Because of this, and the marvellous depths and heights and breadths of life revealed to her, the soul is able to conceive of an eternity of bliss, for monotony ceases to be joy. In Nature we see that no two trees in a forest are alike, and two fruits gathered from one bough have not the same flavour.
But to my feeling all degrees of attainment are only to be distinguished as varying degrees of union, the joy of which is of a form and a degree of intensity and purity which can enter neither the heart nor the mind to imagine, but must be experienced to be understood, and when experienced remains in part incomprehensible. It is not to be obtained by force of the will, neither can it be obtained without the will. It is, then, a mystery of two wills in unison, in which our will is temporarily fused into and consumed by the will of God and is in transports of felicity over its own annihilation! This is outside reason and therefore incomprehensible to the creature, but comprehensible to the soul, and becomes the aim and object of our life to attain in permanence, and is the uttermost limit of all conceivable rapture.
When I first knew union and contact upon the hill I had the impression of a very great light outside of me. I never again had an outward impression of it.
But when any sense of inward light is felt I consider it to be a high ecstasy and hard for the body. It is the sweet and gentle touchings of Christ which are the great and unspeakable comfort of both soul and body. Inward heat I never felt till many months after my third conversion and more than four years from my first conversion. This extraordinary sensation, which to my mind is like a magnetic seething with heat and ravishment of joy, I felt inwardly only after I had learnt to know a sudden, secret, joyous delight of love in the soul, which is easiest described as sweetness of love, is from the Christ, and very frequently given by Him. And some six months after the heat, fire, electric seething, or however best it may be named, I first knew the song of the soul. Now, although it is better not to dwell upon the memory of past spiritual joys, lest we become greedy, and equally wise not to dwell upon the memory of anguishes, lest we fall into self-pity, which of all emotions is the most sickly and useless (and our wisest is to live only from hour to hour with all the sweetness that we can, leaving to Him the choosing of our daily bread, whether it be high joy or pain), still I confess that I have thought over and compared these joys sufficiently to know very well which I love the best. Heat of love is very wonderful, and sweetness is very lovely, and raptures and ecstasies are outside words; but most beautiful of all is the song of the soul, and this is when—in highest adoration—passing beyond heat, and further than sweetness, the soul goes up alone upon the highest summit of love, and there like a bird pours out the rapturous and golden passion of her love. And His Spirit, biding very near, never touches her; for if He touch, it is at once an ecstasy, and because of the stress of this she would have neither words nor song with which to rejoice Him.
Oh, the pure happiness of the soul in this wonderful song!
Truly I think it is greater than in the rapture or the ecstasy, because in these the soul receives, but in the song, mounting right up to Him, she gives. And now at last we know the fuller meaning of Christ's words where He says: "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
Beloved, Thou takest the creature and liftest it up; Thou takest the creature and liftest it high, so that nevermore can it offend Thee, and the soul is free to sing of her love. Then is it Thy will that the creature should love Thee? Or is it Thy will that the soul should adore? Beloved, I know not whether with my heart and mind I most adore Thee, or whether with my soul I love Thee more. And where is that secret trysting-place of love? I do not know; for whilst I go there and whilst I return I am blind, and whilst I am there I am blinded by Love Himself.
O wondrous trysting-place I which is indeed the only trysting-place of all the world worthy to be named.
For every other love on earth is but a poor, pale counterfeit of love—a wan Ophelia, wandering with a garland of sad perished flowers to crown the dust.
Source: Project Gutenberg