Sunday, April 28, 2013

“Love was our Lord’s Meaning”

From Chapter 86 (the final chapter) of Revelations of Divine Love, St. Julian of Norwich (1393).
“Love was our Lord’s Meaning”

Statue of Julian of Norwich,
west front, Norwich Cathedral
(thanks to
THIS book is begun by God’s gift and His grace, but it is not yet performed, as to my sight.

For Charity pray we all; [together] with God’s working, thanking, trusting, enjoying. For thus will our good Lord be prayed to, as by the understanding that I took of all His own meaning and of the sweet words where He saith full merrily: I am the Ground of thy beseeching. For truly I saw and understood in our Lord’s meaning that He shewed it for that He willeth to have it known more than it is: in which knowing He will give us grace to love Him and cleave to Him. For He beholdeth His heavenly treasure with so great love on earth that He willeth to give us more light and solace in heavenly joy, in drawing to Him of our hearts, for sorrow and darkness which we are in.

And from that time that it was shewed I desired oftentimes to learn what was our Lord’s meaning. And fifteen years after, and more, I was answered in ghostly understanding, saying thus: Wouldst thou learn thy Lord’s meaning in this thing? Learn it well: Love was His meaning. Who shewed it thee? Love. What shewed He thee? Love. Wherefore shewed it He? For Love. Hold thee therein and thou shalt learn and know more in the same. But thou shalt never know nor learn therein other thing without end. Thus was I learned that Love was our Lord’s meaning.

And I saw full surely that ere God made us He loved us; which love was never slacked, nor ever shall be. And in this love He hath done all His works; and in this love He hath made all things profitable to us; and in this love our life is everlasting. In our making we had beginning; but the love wherein He made us was in Him from without beginning: in which love we have our beginning. And all this shall we see in God, without end.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Christmas Midnight Introit: Dominus Dixit Ad Me

From Westminster Cathedral's 2009 Midnight Mass:

The text is from Psalm 2:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?

"Advent Ember Days: the absurdity of grace"

Via catholicity and covenant, quoting from a sermon that Austin Farrer preached in Holy Trinity, Norwich, one week before his death on 29th December 1968.
There is inevitably something absurd about our priesthood, because what we stand for is so infinitely greater than our poor little selves.  But there's the same absurdity, really, about being a Christian at all.  None of us can be let off being Christ in our place and our station: we are all pigmies in giants' armour.  We have to put up with it: it's the price (how small a price!) paid for the supreme mercy of God, that he does not wait for our dignity or our perfection, but just puts himself there in our midst; in this bread and this wine: in the priest: in this Christian man, woman, or child.

He who gave himself to us as an infant, crying in a cot, he who was hung up naked on the wood, does not stand on his own dignity.  If Jesus is willing to be in us, and to let us show him to the world, it's a small thing that we should endure being fools for Christ's sake, and be shown up by the part we have to play.  We must put up with such humiliation of ourselves, or better still, forget ourselves altogether.  For God is here: let us adore him.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Mountains and rivers

“Before I had studied Chan [Zen] for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and rivers as rivers. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it's just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and rivers once again as rivers.”
Qingyuan Weixin

Monday, June 11, 2012

Discendi, amor santo

Here's the full text, in Italian, of Bianco da Siena's XXXVth poem in his Laudi Spirituali; the Laudi were written in the 14th or 15th century, and then published as a book in 1851.  It's not known when da Siena was born, or when, exactly, these Laudi were written; it is known that he died in or around 1434.  The Anglo-Irish clergyman, Richard Frederick Littledale, translated this poem for "Come Down, O Love Divine" in the 19th century.
1. Discendi, amor santo,
Visita la mie mente
Del tuo amore ardente,
Si che di te m’infiammi tutto quanto.

2. Vienne, consolatore,
Nel mio cuor veramente:
Del tuo ardente amore
Ardel veracemente:
Del tuo amor cocente
Si forte sie ferito:
Vada come smarrito
Dentro e di fuore ardendo tutto quanto.

3. Arda sì fortemente
Che tutto mi consume,
Si che veracemente
Lassi mondan costumi:
Li splendienti lumi
Lucenti, illuminanti
Mi stien sempre davanti,
Per li quali mi vesta il vero manto.

4. E ‘l manto chi’ i’ mi vesta
Sie la carità santa:
Sott’ una bigia vesta
Umilità si canta,
La qual mai non si vanta
Per se nullo ben fare,
Non si sa inalzare,
Ma nel profondo scende con gran pianto.

5. Nel fondo più profondo
Discende nel suo cuore:
Di ciascun uom del mondo
Sè  ved’ esser minore:
Non si cura d’ onore,
Ma le vergogne brama:
Di se vendetta chiama,
0dia se stesso sempre in ogni canto.

6. Se dagli altri è inalzato
Nel cuor sempre discende,
Del ben che ‘gli ha, ingrato
Sè esser sempre intende.
Chi tale stato prende
Già ma’ non può perire:
Vita si gli è ‘l morire,
Morendo vive e vivend’ è poi santo.

7. In queste duo colonne
Si ferman gli amaderi,
Perchè sôn le madonnne
Sopra l’ altre migliori:
Chi ben c’è ferm’, ardori
Sì grandi sente al cuore,
Che grida per amore,
Che sostener nol può, si è tamanto.

8. Sì grande è quel disio
Ch’ allor l’ anima sente,
Che dir nol sapre’ io,
A ciò non son potente:
Nulla  umana mente
Entender nol potria,
Se nol gustasse  pria
Per la vertù dello Spirito Santo.
               Deo gratias. Amen.

You can always try Google Translate on this; when I did, I got information about the Holy Spirit's "love of baking" - and something about the Secretary of State!   I'm going, eventually, to try to translate the entire Lauda myself; meantime here's the shorter - but very beautiful - Littledale version used for the hymn "Come Down, O Love Divine".
Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let Thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far out pass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace, till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.

Da Siena (whose given name, apparently, was Bianco dall' Anciolin) was a member of the Jesuati, a mystical religious order - a lay order, as far as I can tell - founded by Giovanni Colombini in the 14th Century.  Here's Wikipedia on that movement:
The Jesuati (Jesuates) were a religious order founded by Giovanni Colombini of Siena in 1360. The order was initially called Clerici apostolici Sancti Hieronymi (Apostolic Clerics of Saint Jerome)[1] because of a special veneration for St. Jerome and the apostolic life the founders led[2]. Colombini had been a prosperous merchant and a senator in his native city, but, coming under ecstatic religious influences, abandoned secular affairs and his wife and daughter (after making provision for them), and with a friend of like temperament, Francesco Miani, gave himself to a life of apostolic poverty, penitential discipline, hospital service and public preaching.

The name Jesuati was given to Colombini and his disciples from the habit of calling loudly on the name of Jesus at the beginning and end of their ecstatic sermons. The senate banished Colombini from Siena for imparting foolish ideas to the young men of the city, and he continued his mission in Arezzo and other places, only to be honourably recalled home on the outbreak of the bubonic plague. Howard Eves[3] writes that the order was then "dedicated to nursing and burying the victims of the rampant bubonic plague."

He went out to meet Urban V on his return from Avignon to Rome in 1367, and craved his sanction for the new order and a distinctive habit. Before this was granted Colombini had to clear the movement of a suspicion that it was connected with the heretical sect of Fraticelli, and he died on July 31, 1367, soon after the papal approval had been given. The guidance of the new order, whose members (all lay brothers) gave themselves entirely to works of mercy, devolved upon Miani.

Their rule of life, originally a compound of Benedictine and Franciscan elements, was later modified on Augustinian lines, but traces of the early penitential idea persisted, e.g. the wearing of sandals and a daily flagellation. Paul V in 1606 arranged for a small proportion of clerical members, and later in the 17th century the Jesuati became so secularized that the members were known as the Aquavitae Fathers. Eves[3] writes, "certain abuses, apparently involving the manufacture and sale of distilled liquors in a manner not sanctioned by Canon Law, crept in. This, along with a difficulty in maintaining a reasonable membership quota, led to the order's abolishment by Pope Clement IX in 1668."

Mathematician Bonaventura Cavalieri was a member from the age of fifteen until his death.[3]
The female branch of the order, the Jesuati sisters, founded by Caterina Colombini (d. 1387) in Siena, and thence widely dispersed, more consistently maintained the primitive strictness of the society and survived the male branch by 200 years, existing until 1872 in small communities in Italy.
Here's more about Colombini, from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
Founder of the Congregation of Jesuati; b. at Siena, Upper Italy, about 1300; d. on the way to Acquapendente, 31 July, 1367. There was nothing in his early life to indicate the presence in his character of any unusual seeds of holiness. Belonging to an old patrician family, he devoted himself, like thousands of his class in Italy, to commerce, swelled his already substantial fortune, and rose to a position of great prominence and influence among his fellow-citizens, who on several occasions elected him gonfalonier. Fortunate in his marriage, of which two children -- Peter and Angela -- were the fruit, his private life was marred by his avarice, his ambition, and his proneness to anger. One day, while still suffering under a sense of mortification after one of his passionate outbursts occasioned by a petty domestic disappointment, he chanced to take up a biography of St. Mary of Egypt, whose later life had been as conspicuous for penance as her earlier had been for sin. The perusal of this narrative brought a new light into his fife; henceforth ambition and anger gave way to an almost incredible humility and meekness. The great transformation of his life extended to his business affairs, and excited in the purely mercenary-minded a ridicule easy to understand. Heedless, however, of raillery, he did not rest content with selling cheaper than any other merchant, but persisted in paying more for his purchases than the sum demanded. With the consent of his wife he soon abandoned his former patrician associates, visited hospitals, tended the sick, and made large donations to the poor. Then casting aside the clothes usual to his station, he assumed the garments of the most indigent, and, having fallen ill and believing himself treated with too much delicacy at home, deserted his luxurious house for the ordinary ward of a poor hospital. His relations urged him to return, and finally elicited his consent on the condition that thenceforth he would be given only the coarser forms of nourishment. Nursed back to health, he insisted on making his house the refuge of the needy and the suffering, washing their feet with his own hands, dispensing to them bodily and spiritual comfort, leaving nothing undone that the spirit of charity could suggest. Among the wonders recorded to have taken in this abode of Christian mercy was the miraculous disappearance of a leper, leaving the room permeated with an indescribable fragrance.

It required eight years to render his wife reconciled to the extraordinary philanthropy of her husband. His son having meanwhile died and his daughter taken the veil, Colombini with the approval of his wife, on whom he first settled a life-annuity, divided his fortune into three parts: the first went to endow a hospital, the second and third to two cloisters. Together with his friend Francisco Mini, who had been associated with him in all charitable labours, Colombini lived henceforward a life of apostolic poverty, begged for his daily bread, and esteemed it a favour to be allowed to wait on the sick poor, while in public and in their dwellings he stimulated the people to penance. He was soon joined by three of the Piccolomini and by members of other patrician families, who likewise distributed all their goods among the poor. Alarmed at these occurrences, many of the Sienese now raised an outcry, complaining that Colombini was inciting all the most promising young men of the city to "folly", and succeeded in procuring his banishment. Accompanied by twenty-five companions, Colombini left his native city without a protest and visited in succession Arezzo, Città di Castello, Pisa and many other Tuscan cities, making numerous conversions, reconciling sundered friends, and effecting the return of much property to its rightful owners. An epidemic which broke out at Siena shortly after his departure, was generally regarded as a heavenly chastisement for his banishment, and there was a universal clamour for his recall. Regardless alike of derision and insult, he resumed on his return his former charitable occupations, in his humility rejoicing to perform the most menial services at houses where he had once been an honoured guest.
 And this, from New Advent:, from the "Italian Literature" page:
[The fourteenth] century in Italy, as elsewhere, is the golden age of vernacular ascetical and mystical literature, producing a rich harvest of translations from the Scriptures and the Fathers, of spiritual letters, sermons, and religious treatises no less remarkable for their fervour and unction than for their linguistic value. From the earliest years of the Trecento have come down the sermons of the Dominican, B. Giordano da Rivalto (died 1311). The exquisite "Fioretti di San Francesco", now known to be a translation from the Latin, date from about 1328. Prominent among the spiritual writers, who thus set themselves to open the Church's treasury to the unlearned, are the Augustinians, B. Simone Fidati da Cascia (died 1348) and Giovanni da Salerno (died 1388), whose works have been edited by P. Nicola Mattioli; and the Dominicans, Domenico Cavalca, a copious translator, and Jacopo Passavanti (died 1357), whose "Specchio della Vera Penitenza" is a model of style and language.

The admirable letters of B. Giovanni Colombini (died 1367) and the mystical lyrics of his follower, Bianco dall' Anciolina (El Bianco da Siena), have the glowing fervour, the Divine madness, of the first Franciscans. In a less exalted vein, the epistles of the monk of Vallombrosa, B. Giovanni dalle Celle (died 1396), extend from the forties to the nineties of the century. Supreme above them all, a figure worthy, from the mere literary point of view, to stand by Dante and Petrarca, is St. Catherine of Siena (1347-80), whose "Dialogo" is the greatest mystical work in prose in the Italian language, and whose "Letters" have hardly been surpassed in the annals of Christianity.
Christian mysticism bloomed during the Middle Ages - and was particularly strong during the 13th-16th centuries - all over Europe (and perhaps elsewhere - something I'll look at at some point).  Here's more from Wikimedia about mysticism during this period:

The Early Middle Ages in the West includes the work of Gregory the Great and Bede, as well as developments in Celtic Christianity and Anglo-Saxon Christianity, and comes to fulfillment in the work of Johannes Scotus Eriugena and the Carolingian Renaissance.

The High Middle Ages saw a flourishing of mystical practice and theorization corresponding to the flourishing of new monastic orders, with such figures as Guigo II, Hildegard of Bingen, Bernard of Clairvaux, the Victorines, and Bonaventure, all coming from different orders, as well as the first real flowering of popular piety among the laypeople.

The Late Middle Ages saw the growth of groups of mystics centered around geographic regions: the Beguines, such as Mechthild of Magdeburg and Hadewijch (among others); the Rhineland mystics Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler and Henry Suso; and the English mystics Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton and Julian of Norwich. This period also saw such individuals as John of Ruysbroeck, Catherine of Siena and Catherine of Genoa, the Devotio Moderna, and such books as the Theologia Germanica, The Cloud of Unknowing and The Imitation of Christ.
More about medieval mysticism - and about Littledale - to come.

Meanwhile, below is an image of part of a fresco by Giusto de' Menabuoi (a follower of Giotti di Bondone) around the time that Bianco da Siena lived and perhaps wrote his Laudi Spirituali; it's a detail of Paradiso, from 1376-78, painted on the ceiling of the Baptistry in Padua, Italy.

Here's an image of one of the amazing walls of the same baptistry:

Here's a photo of the Padua Cathedral; the Baptistry's on the right:

A bit later, around 1435 (da Siena died in 1434), Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden painted "The Descent from the Cross," now hanging in the Prado in Madrid.

Here's the hymn, "Come Down, O Love Divine" (Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote the tune), sung by the Kings' College Choir.  Words are pasted again, below:

Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let Thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far out pass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace, till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Trinity

Via Into the Expectation:
“Suddenly the Trinity filled my heart full of the greatest joy, and I understood that it will be so in heaven without end to all who will come there. For the Trinity is God, God is the Trinity. The Trinity is our maker, the Trinity is our protector, the Trinity is our everlasting lover, the Trinity is our endless joy and our bliss, by our Lord Jesus Christ and in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . for where Jesus appears the Trinity is understood.”

Julian of Norwich (1342-1423)

Friday, June 01, 2012



     Listen sweet Dove unto my song,
     And spread thy golden wings in me;
     Hatching my tender heart so long,
Till it get wing, and flie away with thee.

     Where is that fire which once descended
     On thy Apostles? thou didst then
     Keep open house, richly attended,
Feasting all comers by twelve chosen men.

     Such glorious gifts thou didst bestow,
     That th’ earth did like a heav’n appeare;
     The starres were coming down to know
If they might mend their wages, and serve here.

     The sunne, which once did shine alone,
     Hung down his head, and wisht for night,
     When he beheld twelve sunnes for one
Going about the world, and giving light.

     But since those pipes of gold, which brought
     That cordiall water to our ground,
     Were cut and martyr’d by the fault
Of those, who did themselves through their side wound,

     Thou shutt’st the doore, and keep’st within;
     Scarce a good joy creeps through the chink:
     And if the braves of conqu’ring sinne
Did not excite thee, we should wholly sink.

     Lord, though we change, thou art the same;
     The same sweet God of love and light:
     Restore this day, for thy great name,
Unto his ancient and miraculous right. 
- George Herbert (from The Temple (1633))

Monday, May 28, 2012

"Come Down, O Love Divine"

Listen to the best hymn ever written, sung by the King's College Choir.

Text via Bianco da Siena (14th C.), music by R.V. Williams (20th C.). And another example of the fantastic music that Pentecost has inspired.

Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let Thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far out pass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace, till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jam sol recedit igneus

The text of an anthem by Horatio Parker (1863-1919); the words, from a sixth century hymn, translated into English by Isabella G. Parker:
Jam sol recedit igneus,
Tu lux perennis Unitas,
Nostris, beata Trinitas,
Infunde lumen cordibus.
Jam sol recedit igneus
Te mane laudum carmine,
Te deprecamur vespere;
Digneris, ut te supplices,
Laudaumus inter coelites.
Patri simulque Filio,
Tibique Sancte Spiritus,
Sicut fuit, sit jugiter,
Saeclum per omne gloria. Amen.

Now sinks the sun,
Thou, thou light of endless Unity,
For ever blessed Trinity,
Our souls illume with radiance blest!
Now sinks the golden sun to rest,
Thy praise we sing at early morn,
At eventide our prayers ascend,
Deign Thou our worship to attend,
With songs of angel choir up borne.
Father, and well beloved Son,
And Holy Spirit, Three in One, To Thee,
Whom all men must adore,
All glory be for evermore. Amen.

"It is I"

The text from a motet by William Matthias, taken from various writings of Julian of Norwich (b. 1342):
As truly as God is our Father, so just as truly is he our Mother.
In our Father, God Almighty, we have our being;
In our merciful Mother we are remade and restored.
Our fragmented lives are knit together.
And by giving and yielding ourselves, through grace,
To the Holy Spirit we are made whole.
It is I, the strength and goodness of Fatherhood.
It is I, the wisdom of Motherhood.
It is I, the light and grace of holy love.
It is I, the Trinity.
I am the sovereign goodness in all things.
It is I who teach you to love.
It is I who teach you to desire.
It is I who am the reward of all true desiring.
All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. Amen.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Pearl of Great Price

From What the Religious Life Is and Is Not, by Sr. Heléna Marie of The Community of the Holy Spirit:
It is the ultimate form of surrender. One brings all that one is and all that one has to God in a gesture of complete giving.

It is a way of “coming to the desert”. Like the desert mothers and fathers of the early Christian era, joining a convent is a countercultural move away from mainstream culture and mores, to a radical lifestyle that flies in the face of societal values.

It is a way of saying that your life is now devoted to the One Thing (however you would define this; Jesus called it “the pearl of great price”).

It is a life centered in prayer; this basic orientation is one of the ways in which we are countercultural.

It is community, with all that that means: difficult people, the nitty-gritty of daily relationships, having to change when the impulse is not to change, and also the joys of relationships and corporate life.

It is a way of life designed to help one transcend the ego. Since the ego does not willingly go, it involved intense struggle. The religious life is itself a vehicle of radical transformation.

It is a form of service to God and the world. Through worship and our different forms of ministry, we seek to serve.

It is a combination of the ancient and the modern.

It is an evolving organism. In the fifty-plus years of our history, we have been constantly evolving. The Community of the Holy Spirit will always be changing, and one is best served knowing this before entering.

It is a place wherein one grows in the ability to love, and this is really the heart of the religious life.

It is a prophetic voice within the Church, calling the Church out of complacency and adherence to conventional wisdom and practice, and into a more challenging and radical living out of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

"The ego does not willingly go." I like that part.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


“When the Father laughs at the Son and the Son laughs back at the Father, that laughter gives pleasure, that pleasure gives joy, that joy gives love, and the love is the Holy Spirit.”

- Meister Eckhardt

Thursday, May 24, 2007

John the Dwarf and Moses the Black

Who are two of the more colorful desert monastics quoted by Rowan Williams in his book, Where God Happens, which begins this way, in a chapter titled "Life, Death, and Neighbors":
One thing that comes out very clearly from any reading of the great desert monastic writers of the fourth and fifth centuries is the impossibility of thinking about contemplation or meditation or "spiritual life" in abstraction from the actual business of living in the body of Christ, living in concrete community. The life of intimacy with God in comtemplation is both the fruit and course of a renewed style of living together.

Archbishop Williams next cites Anthony the Great, "earliest and most influential of the desert monastics," who said:
Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we win our brother, we win God. If we cause our brother to stumble, we have sinned against Christ.

Moses [the Black] is credited with a series of summary proverb-like sayings about the monastic life written for another great teacher, Abba Poemen, one of which seems to pick up the language of Anthony yet give it a twist that is at first sight very puzzling. "The monk, says Moses, "must die to his neighbor and never judge him at all in any way whatsoever." If our life and our death are with the neighbor, this spells out something of what our "death" wtih the neighbor might mean: it is to renounce the power of judgment over someone else - a task hard enough indeed to merit being described as death. And the basis of this is elaborated in another of the Moses sayings: in reply to a brother who wants to know what it means to "think in your heart that you are a sinner," which is defined as another of the essentials of the monastic life, Moses says, "If you are occupied with your own faults, you have no time to see those of your neighbor."


Everything begins with this vision and hope: to put the neighbor in touch with God in Christ. One this the rest of our Christian life depends, and it entails facing the death of a particular kind of picture of myself.

The philosophy is "summed up in the formula of a great monastic reformer of the nineteenth century, R. M. Benson, who believed he should have 'a heart of stone towards myself, a heart of flesh toward others, and a heart of flame toward God.'"

And what is the theological end result? Just this, in a fairly extreme illustrative example:
A brother asked Abba Poemen, "What does it mean to be angry with your brother without a cause? [The reference is obviously to Matt. 5:21ff.] He said, "If your brother hurts you by his arrogance and you are angry with him because of this, that is getting angry without a cause. If he pulls out your right eye and cuts off your right hand and you get angry with him, that is getting angry without a cause. But if he cuts you off from God - then you have every right to be angry with him.

Archbishop Williams talks, too, about our own society, "at once deeply individualist and deeply conformist"; he quotes Henri de Lubac as having observed that "psychology alone is not suited, at least in the most subtle cases, to discern the difference between the authentic and the sham"; he quotes "a saying attributed to Isidore the Priest warning that 'of all evil suggestions, the most terrible is the prompting to follow your own heart.'"

And to me, the most interesting and remarkable statement of all, again from John the Dwarf:
We have put aside the easy burden, which is self-accusation, and weighed ourselves down with the heavy one, self-justification.

All of this is about "transformation": it's about Repentence and Grace. And it's completely about what Archbishop Williams sees (if I'm reading him correctly) as the primary duty of each Christian: to put his neighbor in touch with God, to the best of his ability and power.

It is, of course, ultimately about the Cross. And I think again that religion is the one and the only place where human beings can become acquainted with - and become versed in - the understanding and the practice of these things. Which further really does mean that religion/spirituality is central to our lives, and that Christianity will not die out after all, as some continue to believe. The foolishness of God is wiser than men.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Cántico espiritual

St. John of the Cross. Here, in Spanish.



Where have You hidden Yourself,
And abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved?
You have fled like the hart,
Having wounded me.
I ran after You, crying; but You were gone.


O shepherds, you who go
Through the sheepcots up the hill,
If you shall see Him
Whom I love the most,
Tell Him I languish, suffer, and die.


In search of my Love
I will go over mountains and strands;
I will gather no flowers,
I will fear no wild beasts;
And pass by the mighty and the frontiers.


O groves and thickets
Planted by the hand of the Beloved;
O verdant meads
Enameled with flowers,
Tell me, has He passed by you?


A thousand graces diffusing
He passed through the groves in haste,
And merely regarding them
As He passed
Clothed them with His beauty.


Oh! who can heal me?
Give me at once Yourself,
Send me no more
A messenger
Who cannot tell me what I wish.


All they who serve are telling me
Of Your unnumbered graces;
And all wound me more and more,
And something leaves me dying,
I know not what, of which they are darkly speaking.


But how you persevere, O life,
Not living where you live;
The arrows bring death
Which you receive
From your conceptions of the Beloved.


Why, after wounding
This heart, have You not healed it?
And why, after stealing it,
Have You thus abandoned it,
And not carried away the stolen prey?


Quench my troubles,
For no one else can soothe them;
And let my eyes behold You,
For You are their light,
And I will keep them for You alone.


Reveal Your presence,
And let the vision and Your beauty kill me,
Behold the malady
Of love is incurable
Except in Your presence and before Your face.


O crystal well!
Oh that on Your silvered surface
You would mirror forth at once
Those eyes desired
Which are outlined in my heart!


Turn them away, O my Beloved!
I am on the wing:


Return, My Dove!
The wounded hart
Looms on the hill
In the air of your flight and is refreshed.


My Beloved is the mountains,
The solitary wooded valleys,
The strange islands,
The roaring torrents,
The whisper of the amorous gales;


The tranquil night
At the approaches of the dawn,
The silent music,
The murmuring solitude,
The supper which revives, and enkindles love.


Catch us the foxes,
For our vineyard has flourished;
While of roses
We make a nosegay,
And let no one appear on the hill.


O killing north wind, cease!
Come, south wind, that awakens love!
Blow through my garden,
And let its odors flow,
And the Beloved shall feed among the flowers.


O nymphs of Judea!
While amid the flowers and the rose-trees
The amber sends forth its perfume,
Tarry in the suburbs,
And touch not our thresholds.


Hide yourself, O my Beloved!
Turn Your face to the mountains,
Do not speak,
But regard the companions
Of her who is traveling amidst strange islands.


Light-winged birds,
Lions, fawns, bounding does,
Mountains, valleys, strands,
Waters, winds, heat,
And the terrors that keep watch by night;


By the soft lyres
And the siren strains, I adjure you,
Let your fury cease,
And touch not the wall,
That the bride may sleep in greater security.


The bride has entered
The pleasant and desirable garden,
And there reposes to her heart’s content;
Her neck reclining
On the sweet arms of the Beloved.


Beneath the apple-tree
There were you betrothed;
There I gave you My hand,
And you were redeemed
Where your mother was corrupted.


Our bed is of flowers
By dens of lions encompassed,
Hung with purple,
Made in peace,
And crowned with a thousand shields of gold.


In Your footsteps
The young ones run Your way;
At the touch of the fire
And by the spiced wine,
The divine balsam flows.


In the inner cellar
Of my Beloved have I drunk; and when I went forth
Over all the plain
I knew nothing,
And lost the flock I followed before.


There He gave me His breasts,
There He taught me the science full of sweetness.
And there I gave to Him
Myself without reserve;
There I promised to be His bride.


My soul is occupied,
And all my substance in His service;
Now I guard no flock,
Nor have I any other employment:
My sole occupation is love.


If, then, on the common land
I am no longer seen or found,
You will say that I am lost;
That, being enamored,
I lost myself; and yet was found.


Of emeralds, and of flowers
In the early morning gathered,
We will make the garlands,
Flowering in Your love,
And bound together with one hair of my head.


By that one hair
You have observed fluttering on my neck,
And on my neck regarded,
You were captivated;
And wounded by one of my eyes.


When You regarded me,
Your eyes imprinted in me Your grace:
For this You loved me again,
And thereby my eyes merited
To adore what in You they saw


Despise me not,
For if I was swarthy once
You can regard me now;
Since You have regarded me,
Grace and beauty have You given me.


The little white dove
Has returned to the ark with the bough;
And now the turtle-dove
Its desired mate
On the green banks has found.


In solitude she lived,
And in solitude built her nest;
And in solitude, alone
Has the Beloved guided her,
In solitude also wounded with love.


Let us rejoice, O my Beloved!
Let us go forth to see ourselves in Your beauty,
To the mountain and the hill,
Where the pure water flows:
Let us enter into the heart of the thicket.


We shall go at once
To the deep caverns of the rock
Which are all secret,
There we shall enter in
And taste of the new wine of the pomegranate.


There you will show me
That which my soul desired;
And there You will give at once,
O You, my life!
That which You gave me the other day.


The breathing of the air,
The song of the sweet nightingale,
The grove and its beauty
In the serene night,
With the flame that consumes, and gives no pains.


None saw it;
Neither did Aminadab appear
The siege was intermitted,
And the cavalry dismounted
At the sight of the waters.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tried by fever, taught by cold

From Kathleen Norris' The Cloister Walk:
Are monks wasting their time in seeking to convert themselves, and the world, from evil? Many have said so. For myself, I appreciate their realism about human beings confronted by evil, and the good sense that does not allow them to be easily fooled when evil attempts to disguise itself by adopting innocuous dress. Both the monks of the ancient tradition and contemporary monastics, it seems to me, have a refreshing sense of what really matters in human behavior. They know that the roots of sin are not to be found in the acts of gambling, drinking, dancing, smoking, playing dominos (an activity that got my grandfather Norris fired by a Methodist church in 1919), or even in adultery or fornication. Looking deeper, they recognize, as one monk said to me, a man who’d sown plenty of wild oats before entering a monastery, that “even though I gave up fornicating years ago, pride and anger are still with me.” Pride and anger were recognized by the desert monks as the most dangerous of their bad thoughts, and the most difficult to overcome. Abba Ammonas said, “I have spent fourteen years [in the desert] asking God night and day to grant me the victory over anger.” In the words of Benedicta Ward, “For all sins, there is forgiveness. What really lies outside the ascetic life is despair, the proud attitude which denies the possibility of forgiveness.” All committed life is ascetic, in some sense; the word originally meant an exercise, practice, or training adopted for a certain way of life. Athletes, monks, artists, musicians, married people, and celibates all learn to recognize the practices that will hinder or foster the growth of their commitment.

As for designating despair as an aspect of the sin, or “bad thought,” of pride, I find it enormously helpful. Among other things, it defeats my perfectionism, my tendency to give up when I can’t do things “just right.” But if I accept the burden of my despair, in the monastic sense, then I also receive the tools to defeat it. I have a hope that no modern therapeutic approach can give me. “The desert fathers were convinced that the words of scripture possessed the power to deliver them from evil,” writes Douglas Burton-Christie, another scholar of the early monks. “They believed that the Word of God has the power to effect what it says.” Or, as Amma Syncletica wrote early in the fifth century, in a catalogue of Bible quotations to be used in times of temptation, “Are you being tried by fever? Are you being taught by cold? Indeed, scripture says, ‘We went through fire and water, yet you have brought us forth to a spacious place.’” (Ps. 66:12). She adds, “For he said, ‘The Lord hears me when I call’ (Ps. 4:3). It is with these exercises that we train the soul.”