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As the loving creature progresses he will find himself ceasing to live in things, or thoughts of things or of persons, but his whole mind and heart will be concentrated upon the thought of God alone. Now Jesus, now the High Christ, now the Father, but never away from one of the aspects or personalities of God, though his conditions of nearness will vary. For at times he will be in a condition of great nearness, at times in a condition of some farness, or, more properly speaking, of obscurity. He will be in a condition of waiting (this exceedingly frequent, the most frequent of all); a condition of amazing happiness; a condition of pain, of desolation at being still upon the earth instead of with God. He will be in a condition of giving love to God, or a condition of receiving love, of remembrance and attention. He will be in a condition of immeasurable glamour, an extraordinary illumination of every faculty, not by any act of his own, but poured through him until he is filled with the elixir of some new form of life, and feels himself before these experiences never to have lived—he but existed as a part of Nature. But now, although he is become more united to Nature than ever before, he also is mysteriously drawn apart from her, without being in any way presumptuous, he feels to be above her, not by any merits but by intention of Another. He is become lifted up into the spirit and essence of Nature, and the heavy and more obvious parts of her bind him no more. He is in a condition of freedom, he is frequently in a condition of great splendour, and is wrapped perpetually round about with that most glorious mantle—God-consciousness.
These are man's right and proper conditions. These are the lovely will of God for us. And too many of us have the will to go contrary to Him. Oh, the tragedy of it! If the whole world of men and women could be gathered and lifted into this garden of love! Persuaded to rise from lesser loves into the bosom of His mighty Love!
For the truly loving soul here on earth there are no longer heavens, nor conditions of heavens, nor grades, nor crowns, nor angels, nor archangels, nor saints, nor holy spirits; but, going out and up and on, we reach at last THE ONE, and for marvellous unspeakably glorious moments KNOW HIM.
This is life: to be in Him and He in us, and know it.
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These beautiful flights of the soul cannot be taken through idleness, though they are taken in what would outwardly appear to be a great stillness. This stillness is but the necessary abstraction from physical activity, even from physical consciousness; but inwardly the spirit is in a great activity, a very ferment of secret work. This, to the writer, is frequently produced by the beautiful in Nature, the spirit involuntarily passing at sight of beauty into a passionate admiration for the Maker of it. This high, pure emotion, which is also an intense activity of the spirit, would seem so to etherealise the creature that instantly the delicate soul is able to escape her loosened bonds and flies towards her home, filled with ineffable, incomparable delight, praising, singing, and joying in her Lord and God until the body can endure no more, and swiftly she must return to bondage in it. But the most wonderful flights of the soul are made during a high adoring contemplation of God. We are in high contemplation when the heart, mind, and soul, having dropped consciousness of all earthly matters, have been brought to a full concentration upon God—God totally invisible, totally unimaged, and yet focussed to a centre-point by the great power of love. The soul, whilst she is able to maintain this most difficult height of contemplation, may be visited by an intensely vivid perception, inward vision, and knowledge of God's attributes or perfections, very brief; and this as a gift, for she is not able to will such a felicity to herself, but being given such she is instantly consumed with adoration, and enters ecstasy.
Having achieved these degrees of progress, the heart and mind will say: "Now I may surely repose, for I have attained!" And so we may repose, but not in idleness, which is to say, not without abundance of prayer. For only by prayer is our condition maintained and renewed; but without prayer, by which I mean an incessant inward communion, quickly our condition changes and wears away. No matter to what degree of love we have attained, we need to pray for more; without persistent but short prayer for faith and love we might fall back into strange woeful periods of cold obscurity.
To the accomplished lover great and wonderful is prayer; the more completely the mind and heart are lifted up in it, the slower the wording. The greater the prayer, the shorter in words, though the longer the saying of it, for each syllable will needs be held up upon the soul before God, slowly and, as it were, in a casket of fire, and with marvellous joy. And there are prayers without words, and others without even thoughts, in which the soul in a great stillness passes up like an incense to the Most High. This is very pure, great love; wonderful, high bliss.
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In the earlier stages of progress, when the heart and mind suffer from frequent inconstancy, loss of warmth, even total losses of love, set the heart and mind to recall to themselves by reading or thinking some favourite aspect of their Lord Jesus Christ. It may be His gentleness, or His marvellous forgiveness, as to Peter when "He turned and looked at him" after the denial; for so He turns and looks upon ourselves. Or it may be His sweetness that most draws us. But let us fasten the heart and mind upon whichever it may be, and in the warmth of admiration love will return to us.
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The mode of entrance into active contemplation I would try to convey in this way. The body must be placed either sitting or kneeling, and supported, or flat on the back as though dead. Now the mind must commence to fold itself, closing forwards as an open rose might close her petals to a bud again, for every thought and image must be laid away and nothing left but a great forward-moving love intention. Out glides the mind all smooth and swift, and plunges deep, then takes an upward curve and up and on till willingly it faints, the creature dies, and consciousness is taken over by the soul, which, quickly coming to the trysting-place, spreads herself and there awaits the revelations of her God. To my feeling this final complete passing over of consciousness from the mind to the soul is by act and will of God only, and cannot be performed by will of the creature, and is the fundamental difference between the contemplation of Nature and the contemplation of God. The creature worships, but the soul alone knows contact. And yet the mode of contemplation is a far simpler thing than all these words—it is the very essence of simplicity itself; and in this sublime adventure we are really conscious of no mode nor plan nor flight, nought but the mighty need of spirit to Spirit and love to Love.
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The picking out and choosing of certain persons, and the naming of them "elect" and "chosen" souls, when I first read of it, filled me with such a sinking that I tried, when coming upon the words, not to admit the meaning of them into myself; for that some should be chosen and some not I felt to be favouritism, and could not understand or see the justice of it. I never ask questions. He left me in this condition for eighteen months. Then He led me to an explanation sufficient for me. The way He showed it me was not by comparisons with great things—angels and saints and holy persons; but by that humble creature, man's friend, the dog, He showed me the elect creature. It was this way.
One evening as I passed through the city I had one of those sudden strong impulses (by which He guides us) to go to a certain and particular cinematograph exhibition. I was very tired, and tried to put away the thought, but it pressed in the way that I know, and I knew it better to go. I sat for an hour seeing things that had no interest for me, and wondering why I should have had to come, when at last a film was shown of war-dogs in training—dogs trained especially to assist men and to carry their messages.
These dogs were especially selected, not for their charm of outward appearance, but for their inward capacities; not for an especial love of the dog (or favouritism), but for that which they were willing to learn how to do. The qualifications for (s)election were willingness, obedience, fidelity, endurance. Once chosen they were set apart. Then commenced the training, and we were shown how man put his will through the dog: he was able to do this only because of the willingness of the dog. The purport of the training was to carry a message for his master wherever his master willed. He must go instantly and at full speed; he must leap any obstacle; he must turn away from his own kind if they should entice him to linger on the way; he must subdue all his natural desires and instincts entirely to his master's desires; he must be indifferent to danger. And to secure this he was fired over by numbers of men, difficulties were set for him, and he was distracted from his straight course by a number of tests. Yet we saw the brave and faithful creatures running on their way at their fullest speed until, exhausted and breathless but filled with joy of love and willingness, they reached the journey's end, to be caressed and cared for beyond other dogs until the next occasion should arise. Then we were shown the dog in his fully-trained condition. His master could now always rely upon him. A dog always ready, always faithful and self-forgetful, was then set apart into a still smaller and more (s)elect group and surrounded with most especial care and love. Never would it want for anything. In this there was justice. Forsaking all their natural ways, these dogs had submitted themselves wholly, in loving willingness, to their master's will, and he in return would lavish all his best on them. It was but just. Oh, how my heart leaped over it! At last I understood—for as the dog, so the human creature. We become chosen souls, not for our own sakes (which had always seemed to me such favouritism), but for our willingness to learn our Master's Will. And what is His will and what is His work? Of many, many kinds, and this is shown to the soul in her training. But the hardest to learn is not that of the worker, but of the messenger and lover. As the messenger, to take His messages, in whatever direction, instantly and correctly, and to take back the answer from man to Himself—which is to say, to hold before Him the needs of man on the fire of the soul, known to most persons under the name of prayer. And as the lover, to sing to Him with never-failing joyful love and thanks.
But the learning and work of the soul is not so simple as that of the dog, who carries the message in writing upon his collar. The soul can have no written paper to assist her, and long and painful is her training; and exquisitely sweet it is when, having swiftly and accurately taken the message, she waits before Him for the rapture of those caresses that she knows so well.
How I was spurred! For I said, "Shall dogs outdo us in love and devotion?" Only in a condition of total submission, self-forgetfulness, self-abnegation, can the soul either receive or deliver her message. In this way she is justified of the joys of her election. The dog, faithful in all ways to his master, receives in return all praise and all meats, whatever he desires. The faithful soul also receives all praise and all meats, both spiritual and carnal, for nothing of earthly needs will lack her if she asks; and without asking, her needs are mysteriously and completely given her. Her spiritual meats are, in this world, peace, joy, ecstasy, rapture; and of the world to come it is written that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for them that love Him.
It might be supposed that only persons filled with public charities and social improvements, ardent and painstaking church workers, might most surely and easily learn to be messengers. But all these persons pursue and follow their own line of thought, the promptings of their own minds and hearts. They are admirable workers, but not messengers. For the hound of God must have in his heart no plan of his own. It is hard for the heart to say, "I have no wishes of my own; I have no interests, no plans, no ambitions, no schemes, no desires, no loves, no will. Thy will is my will. Thy desire is my desire. Thy love is my all. I am empty of all things, that I may be a channel for the stream of Thy will."
With what patience, what tenderness, what inexpressible endearments He helps the soul, training her by love!—which is not to say that she is trained without much suffering of the creature. So we are trained by two opposite ways—by suffering and by joys; and the whole under an attitude of passionate and devoted attention on our part. The sufferings of the soul baffle all description with their strange intensities.
Our encouragements are great and extraordinary sweetnesses, urgings, and joyful uplifting of the spirit. So that when we would stop, we are pressed forward; when we are exhausted, we are filled with the wine of sweetness; when we are in tears, we are embraced into the Holy Spirit.
Source: Project Gutenberg