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existential contingency

This imperfect state of incompleteness, isolation and separation from the goal is the basic source of our existential anguish – anguish that arises not because of our existence but because of our separated existence. Hence the anguish running through the writings of the mystics and reflected in the cry of St. John of the Cross: “Where have you hidden, Beloved, and left me moaning?” Here the mystic is separated from the beloved whom he has inchoately experienced; and he longs for completion, for union, for the goal. If this means death, joyfully will he die – “finish your work, my Lover, break the last thread, wound me, make me whole!” Clearly the anguish is that of separation and incompleteness at the level of existence. One can experience one’s incompleteness emotionally or economically or culturally or sexually; and all this is painful. But how terrible to experience it at the deepest level of all, that of existence! For all these other sorrows are partial experiences of one root experience of existential contingency.

With the English author it is mainly in Privy Counselling that the notion of separation with all its suffering is stressed. At the beginning of his treatise he makes a statement that echoes through the whole work: “He is your being and in Him you are what you are.” And he keeps stressing that the great suffering and illusion of ours is our failure to experience that God is our being. Rather do we experience our being apart from God. The whole aim of his direction is to lead us to the experience that “he is your being and in him you are what you are.” It is not in isolation, not in separation from the totality that we find our true self; but only in God. The knowledge and feeling of any self other than this must be destroyed.

This leads to the inexorable law that the incomplete self must die in order that the true self may rise.

In this context we understand the author’s relentless assertion that the thought and feeling of self must be annihilated. Yet this annihilation is less terrible because it is the work of love: “For this is the way of all real love. Lovers strip themselves of anything theirs to gain the other. They want to be enveloped by the other forever in the full and final forgetting of self. This is the work of love that no one understands but the person who feels it. This is what our Lord is trying to teach us when he says, “If any want to come after me, let them abandon themselves.” It’s as if he is saying: “Strip yourself of your self if you really want to be clothed in me, the long and flowing robe of everlasting love.”

Johnston, William. (1973)  Introduction: The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counselling.  NY. Image Books. Doubleday.

 

no longer knew anything

In the inner wine cellar
I drank of my Beloved, and when I went abroad
Through all this valley
I no longer knew anything,
And lost the herd which I was following.

                         That elevation and immersion of the mind in God, in which the soul is as though carried away and absorbed in love, entirely transformed in God, does not allow attention to any worldly thing. She is not only annihilated before and estranged from all things, but even from herself, as if she had vanished and been dissolved in love; all of which consists in passing out of self to the Beloved.

live where He lives

Hurry and come down, for I must stay in your house today.

The master unceasingly repeats this call to our soul which He once addressed to Zacchaeus. Hurry and come down. But what is this descent that He demands of us except an entering more deeply into our interior abyss? Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am. Such is Christ’s last wish, His supreme prayer before returning to His Father. He wills that where He is we should be also, not only for eternity, but already in time. It is important to know where we must live with Him in order to realize His divine dream. The place where the Son of God is hidden is the bosom of the Father, or the divine Essence, invisible to every mortal eye, unattainable by every human intellect, as Isaiah said: Truly You are a hidden God. And yet His will is that we should be established in Him, that we should live where He lives.

  • St Elizabeth of the Trinity

interior castle

We will consider our soul to be like a castle made entirely out of diamond or of a very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling places.

I don’t find anything comparable to the magnificent beauty of a soul and its marvellous capacity.

It is a shame and unfortunate that through our own fault we don’t understand ourselves or know who we are.

Wouldn’t it show great ignorance, my daughters, if someone when asked who she was didn’t know, and didn’t know her father or mother or from what country she came? Well now, this would be so extremely stupid, we are incomparably more so when we do not strive to know who we are, but limit ourselves to considering only roughly these bodies. We seldom consider the precious things that can be found in this soul, or who dwells within it, or its high value. Consequently, little effort is made to preserve its beauty. All our attention is taken up with the outer wall of the castle; that is, with these bodies of ours.

Well, let us consider that this castle has, as I said, many dwelling places and in the centre is the main dwelling place where the very secret exchanges between God and the soul take place.

We must see how we can enter it… if this castle is the soul, clearly one doesn’t have to enter it since it is within oneself. How foolish it would seem were we to tell someone to enter a room she is already in. But you must understand that there is a great difference in the ways one may be inside the castle.

It should be kept in mind here that the fount, the shining sun that is the centre of the soul, does not lose its beauty and splendour; it is always present in the soul, and nothing can take away its loveliness. But if a black cloth is placed over a crystal that is in the sun, obviously the sun’s brilliance will have no effect on the crystal even though the sun is shining on it.

How is it possible that in realizing these things you don’t strive to remove the pitch from this crystal? How miserable is the state of those poor rooms within the castle! How disturbed the senses are, that is, the people who live in these rooms!

  • St Teresa of Jesus.

self abandonment

Take up your cross, lose yourself.
Renounce self daily.

Take nothing for the journey

Do not to worry about your life
and what you are to eat,
nor about your body
and how you are to clothe it. 
Do not worry about tomorrow.

To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too;
to the man who takes your coat from you, do not refuse your shirt.
Give to everyone who asks you,
– do not ask for your property back from the man who robs you.
– lend without any hope of return.

Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who treat you badly.

*****

The soul is withdrawn from its customary manner of experience to bring it to the divine experience which is foreign to every human way. You are being made a stranger to your usual knowledge and experience of things so that annihilated in this respect you may be informed with the divine.

  • St John of the Cross.  (Dark Night II 9:5)