Very truly I tell you, when you were younger
you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but …
you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will …
lead you where you do not want to go.
- John 21:18
In today's video Fr. Thomas presents two versions of the unfolding of the Night of Sense from the experiences of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. Teresa describes felt experiences of her progressive deepening in God — the "levels of absorption" — as stages of prayer. Infused Recollection is a mysterious gift amidst dryness — a "perfume" of God's presence wafting up from the center of our being and drawing us inward. In the Prayer of Quiet, the will is absorbed in the undifferentiated presence of God, though memory and imagination may roam freely. In the Prayer of Union, imagination and memory begin to be suspended in a state that could be called pure awareness or pure consciousness, leading to a state of complete stillness — total resting and absorption in God, which she calls the Prayer of Full Union.
John describes another path many people experience that he calls the path of pure faith, a path of moving towards Transforming Union by way of a hidden staircase. There may be some awareness of the will resting in God, but dryness continues and even bombardment of thoughts, imagination and memory.
Is one way better than another? We only know for sure that each one of us has a unique experience in our unfolding relationship with God and whatever we are experiencing is the best way for us. At any rate, it is helpful to remember that both paths lead to Transforming Union, which is a total restructuring of consciousness.
As we have already learned, the spiritual journey is a continual lesson in consent, in letting go. In the Night of Sense, we are asked to consent to dryness in our prayer life, the seeming absence of God, and a total re-orientation toward the people and circumstances in our lives. The challenge here is not to be discouraged and give up. When we persevere in our consent, we discover God is communicating with us at an even deeper level, leading us away from self-absorption into abiding in the loving presence of God.
"If we really knew what we were called to relinquish [consent to] on this journey, our defenses would never allow us to take the first step. Sometimes the only way we can enter the deeper dimensions of the journey is by being unable to see where we're going.
"We cannot liberate ourselves; our defenses and resistances will not permit it, and we can hurt ourselves in the attempt. To guide us toward the love that we most desire, we must be taken where we could not and would not go on our own. And lest we sabotage the journey, we must not know where we are going. Deep in the darkness, way beneath our senses, God is instilling 'another, better love' and 'deeper, more urgent longings' that empower our willingness for all the necessary relinquishments [consents] along the way."
-Gerald May, The Dark Night of the Soul
The Work of Inner Christianity can be our gentle companion in this journey of consents. We can apply the fundamental practices (non-critical self-observation, non-identification and Self-remembering) as we become aware of any fear, anxiety or distress over:
As these concerns and questions are brought into the light of the Work, they are surrendered and our will to God deepens.
- dryness in prayer;
- continued revelations of the vestiges and very architecture of the programs for happiness;
- wishing to know where we are on the ladder of consciousness and every other measuring realm of the self in relation to doing it "right";
- comparing ourselves to others;
- desiring to achieve or get something or somewhere;
- clinging to consolations or expectations;
- discomfort over always being at the edge of risk;
- impatience with God's timeline;
- and even secret satisfaction at being the recipient of God's favors or gifts.
"God is constantly inviting us to review our childish emotional judgments and now to accept the good things of life and ourselves, of our being, other people, and the cosmos, and to be grateful for them. Because gratitude is … one of the basic dispositions for growth in the spiritual journey."
- Fr. Thomas, today's video
"The experience of the Transforming Union is a way of being in the world that enables us to live daily life with the invincible conviction of continuous union with God. It is a new way of being in the world, a way of transcending everything in the world without leaving it."
-Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love
Video Reflections: View the video excerpt "The Night of Spirit: Towards Transformation, Part 1." This excerpt is about 22 minutes in length. You will find it and a transcript here. If you would like to stream or Chromecast this video, use this link.
Examen: Reflect on the two paths Fr. Thomas describes in the video, Teresa's stages and John's hidden staircase. Are you able to recognize that you are being led or "taken" where you might not have otherwise gone on your own? Practice gratitude for the perfection of the twists and turns of your own spiritual journey. You may wish to share your reflections in your journal or your Journey Group.
Resources for Further Study:
- You may wish to read Chapters 15-17 from Invitation to Love (20th anniversary edition), Chapters 14-16 in older editions.
- An archive of previous emails may be found here.