James Tomek RP:  Ignatius Teaches Us to Read and to Elect    

 

George Ganns does a “Citizen Kane” analysis of Ignatius. After a “documentary” history of his life and thought, and general introductory remarks on his writings, we move to a more personal account in his Autobiography, dictated in the third person by Ignatius himself, and further written from the earwitness of his secretary Father Camara. We finally see Ignatius’s own words as he deliberates on poverty, teaching us to discern good and evil spirits in decision-making -- how to pray, to confess our sins, and to do service.

In the “General Introduction,” we see Ignatius’s life, 1499-1556, in a Renaissance background of colonialism (10-11). As kings try to structure the world around their states, Jesuits will do the same around their God.  Ignatius converts from a worldly life when convalescing from wounds inflicted by the French in 1521. He reads the life of Christ and the saints (22-3). His whole life afterwards is marked by imitating Christ and the saints, through reading, education and service to the glory of God. The Society of Jesus is a pyramid structure based on teaching his methods. Ignatius’s “spirituality,” which is “meditative and discursive” interacts with his “mysticism” where he “contemplates” or lets himself go completely to experience an aspect of Jesus (61-63).

            In the Autobiography, Ignatius, refers to himself as the Pilgrim, struggling and confessing guilt (77-8), on a sacred journey to live for the glory of God. In The Deliberation on Poverty, The Spiritual Diary, and Rules for the Discernment of Spirits we see Ignatius in action as he deals with his “Election” or choice of his society living in poverty. Feelings of “affectionate awe” to Christ and “charitable humility” will verify our choices (260). Tears based on love, rather than fear, are a sign that the Holy Spirit is confirming our choices (262). Teachers and confessors help us re-examine.

            Election to Ignatius means choice, but it also reminds us that we want to be the elect too – to be chosen by God. Ignatius’s method uses the logic of the supplement in deconstructionist terms. This reflection will look at the various ways Ignatius deconstructs his life to build up a relation to the Trinity.

            Ignatius “retreats” from life in order to study it. In the spiritual exercises “indifferent” is a positive term meaning a cleansing of all thoughts to see Christ (50-4). In the Autobiography, visions of Christ’s humanity, not divinity, are the keys to understanding the divine. In Deliberation on Poverty, he “appreciates” poverty while “depreciating” wealth as a stumbling block to imitating Christ (238-42). In the Spiritual Diary, he advises us to achieve states of “affectionate awe” and “loving humility” (232-6). Living on the supremacy of our own ego limits our experiences and leads us to evil. A loving respect for others and charitable humility allow us to enter into the mind of others. Ironically, getting out of our “selves” is the true way to getting to the truth of ourselves. The “negative” opposite helps us. Desolation moments allow us to use our strength. Non-certainty is a positive ground to re-examine our choices. (Rules129-34). His tears are most useful, especially when he recognizes they are from love and not fear (252-3). The Rite of Election is when Catechumens become Candidates to receive the Sacraments. Who is electing? The Community? The Candidates? God? “Election” means to “gather out” or to “read out.” The act of reading is a mystery election where our thoughts are joined with the texts’ words, and a new being is born -- a Trinitarian experience. It is through use of seemingly less positive human acts of humility, fear and tears that Ignatius builds an image of God. Deconstruction is a discipline of close reading. Ignatius reads his weaknesses and lives at a higher level of service, empowering his students to do likewise.

                                                            Works Cited

 

Ganss, George E. Ed. Ignatius of Loyola: Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works. New York and Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1991.

 

Ignatius of Loyola. “Rules for the Discernment of Spirits.” The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Trans. Anthony Mottola.  New York: Image Books, 1964. pp. 129-134.

 

 

            When you say Jesuit, said an old professor, you are talking about teachers and confessors. Ganss’s reading passages of Ignatius explain why. There is an overall view that decision-making or election is a discipline to be practiced and acquired. The meditative experiences of reading will lead to higher contemplative moments of our existence: moments associated with God. We will see that the passages emphasize the act of reading and structure and education. The second part of this paper will grapple with the idea that Ignatius uses the logic of the supplement, a deconstructionist idea, to get at the truth of thinking and decision-making. In de-centering our being we will be in a place of the Trinity.

 

                                                The Readings

 

George Ganns does a “Citizen Kane” analysis of Ignatius. After a “documentary” history of his life and thought, and general introductory remarks on the Autobiography, Deliberation on Poverty, Spiritual Diary, and Spiritual Exercises, we move to a more personal account in his Autobiography, dictated in the third person by Ignatius himself, and further written from the earwitness of his secretary Father Camara. We finally see Ignatius’s own words as he deliberates on poverty, and on how to discern good and evil spirits in decision making.

In the “General Introduction,” we see Ignatius’s life, 1499-1556, in a Renaissance background of colonialism and monarchical states replacing the feudal system (10-11). As the kings try to structure the world around their states, the Jesuits will do the same around their God.  Ignatius’s converts from a worldly life when, convalescing from wounds inflicted by the French in 1521, he reads the life of Christ and the saints (22-3)

He makes notes as he reads and imagines how it would be like to be a saint and/or Christ. He starts making “exercises” (31) to imitate Christ and the saints, and shares these with friends (34) who will become the founding fathers of the Society of Jesus, when they gain the Pope’s permission (41). A central point is the need for education. Ignatius decides to go to Paris from1525-35, where he will learn skills, including Latin, which will enable him to read the Bible, and teach people to serve the “greater glory” of God which is his central theme. Ganss notes a difference between “spirituality” and “mysticism.” The former consists in an interior life of meditation, prayer and reading which allows us to come in contact with our humanness and how it relates to Christ (61-63). Contemplation is posterior to meditation and is a mystical state where we experience visions of the eternal. It is a letting-go into the gaze of the Divine. Ignatius’s mysticism is tied to the real world.

            In the Autobiography, Ignatius, through his secretary Father Camara, refers to himself as the Pilgrim, on a sacred journey to live a life in the glory of God. He journeys to Paris to learn,  to Jerusalem to “feel” the presence of Jesus,” and to Rome for the Pope’s approval of his exercises and plan. We see the influence of reading as he transfers “imagining serving a lady” to serving “Our Lady” (70-1). We see his struggle with sin and scruples or guilt feelings (77-8), and his constant use of prayer and confessors (77, 87).

            In The Deliberation on Poverty, and The Spiritual Diary, we see Ignatius in action as he deals with his “Election” or choice of living in poverty, both for himself and his order. One can see three “times” in the decision making process. We first live the experience, then we deliberate on pros and cons in several stages of study, before arriving at a tranquil state where we know we are in the right decision (249-50). We have passed through a vision of Christ and see a warm light and are confident we have the “permission” (254) of Christ. We verify our “elections” if we have the feelings of affectionate awe and charitable humility (260). Tears based on love, rather than fear, are a sign that the Holy Spirit is confirming our election (262). In Rules for the Discernment of Spirits, we get further advice on how to deliberate between good and evil, and how to use moments of consolation (the first times) and desolation in a positive way to verify our decision making(129-34).

 

 

                                                Election and the Trinity

 

            Election to Ignatius means choice, but it also reminds us that we want to be the elect too – to be chosen by God. Election is something we do and don’t do. We need the help of the “other” in making decisions. These “others” include books, confessors, and of course the examples of saints and Christ, and God. Ignatius’s method uses the logic of the supplement in deconstructionist terms. He de-centers himself from his ego, referring to himself in the third person as “pilgrim.”  He chooses poverty over riches. He fasts to see his real desires. A life of reading precedes his active life of service. A tactic of “indifference,” which he uses in the exercises, allows him be open to all experiences.

            It is through humans that we see the divine (23), from Ludolph’s Life of Christ. From Peter Lombard’s Sentences, Ignatius learns to appreciate human creatures as reflecting God’s nature (38). From Aquinas he learns to look at creation as instigated by God so that we may know how to serve Him.

            Ignatius also comes up with the idea of “retreating” from life in order to study it. In the spiritual exercises “indifferent” is a positive term meaning a cleansing of all thoughts to see Christ afresh (50-4). In the Autobiography, it is visions of Christ’s humanity, not divinity, which are the keys to understanding the divine.

             In the Deliberation on Poverty, he depreciates wealth as a stumbling block to imitating Christ and the saints (238-42). In the Spiritual Diary, he advises us to achieve states of affectionate awe and loving humility. These feelings will attest that decisions we have made are on the right track (232). He realizes that he does not make good decisions on his own (262). Evil seems to spur from beings based on their own supremacy. This humility is important and helps him stay honest. He tells us the truth, especially when he does not have visions (256). We believe him in his weakness and therefore we will believe him when he thinks he has found the right choice. He uses desolation in a positive manner as sign that God is telling him to be strong. Likewise, in moments of consolation, if he is not quite sure why he is consoled, he questions the validity of his decisions (Rules129-34). His tears are most useful, especially when he recognizes they are from love and not fear (252-3). In RCIA language the Rite of Election is when the Catechumens become Candidates to receive the Sacraments. It is really a three way mysterious election with the community, the candidates, and God all doing the electing. “Election” means to “gather out” or to “read out.” The “lection” part is the gathering or reading and the “e” part is the taking out and sorting. The act of reading is a mystery election where our thoughts are joined with the texts’ words and a new being is born. This act of love is Trinitarian. And to make a final note of an Indian poet Tagore who in a dialog with a dew drop and the sun has the dew drop lamenting because it is too small to take the sun unto itself, and thus its life is all tears. The sun yields in response and makes the dew drop sparkle with the light of life changing the tear to a laughing art (Tuck 102). It is through use of the seemingly less positive human acts of humility, fear and tears that Ignatius builds an image of God. Imperfections are what we have and the Jesuits teach us how to confess them and use them.

           

 

 

  RP: A “Textual Approach to Teresa’s Doors of Detachment   7

            Sister Teresa compares our soul to an interior castle where its ultimate dwelling place, the seventh, will be in union with God in a spousal relationship. Through humility and obedience (266-7, 293-5) we go from discursive meditation, a human-based rational prayer/thought (the first three dwelling places), to contemplative thought or infused prayer from God (the last four dwelling places). Rooms of self-knowledge occupy the First Dwelling(s). Working like poets, we construct  prayers to go deeper (292). Humility and charity minimize our interest in the everyday world and the darkness of sin. We practice prayer in the Second Dwelling (298), and in the Third Dwelling, we start losing need for “consolations” and “securities” which are worldly pleasures, like pay raises. In the Fourth Dwelling spiritual favors, infused by God’s efforts, and not ours, replace consolations, which do not expand knowledge (318). We discern their origin in the Fifth Dwelling (325). Like the silkworm dying to become the butterfly we die to our everyday lives to experience God. We ironically experience God in our resolve to stay in the real world and help others. Love of others is God’s spiritual favor. In the Sixth Dwelling we prepare for complete detachment from the world and become spouses of the Lord. Our attitude toward life and sin are purged. A purer desire of not hurting the Lord replaces a lesser desire not suffering in evil (398). We do not seek “pay” for penance (417).  We consummate our marriage with the Lord in the Seventh Dwelling. In a state higher than rapture we feel with our intellect and have an attitude of love in everything we do. We have a “Mary” attitude even when doing “Martha’s” work. We are so detached from world concerns that we don’t even care about getting to heaven (438). We are absorbed in acts of love (441) and don’t know where Christ begins in us or we begin in Christ.

            Roland Barthes makes a distinction between “work” and “text” when approaching reading material. As a “work” we are only interesting in finishing the book and putting it back on the shelf. As “text” we never finish with it, but enjoy our time with it being lost in its world. Saint Teresa’s advises a “text” approach to prayer and life, seen in Mary, over a more “work” approach seen in Martha. The devil in every dwelling place is a temptation to take the “work” approach to life. Purgatory is ridding ourselves of “work.”     

Everyday business success can deter us from the quest of self-knowledge (294). Ointments of humility keep us from egotistical goals in the first three dwellings. In the fourth Dwelling, “contentos” or concrete consolations are replaced by God’s infused spirit or “gustos” (492). In the Fifth Dwelling, we play the fool and evacuate all possession from our being. In the Sixth Dwelling, there is a complex purging where the final transcendence is not to be desired by jumping any stages of development (392, 401). It is process or “text” which is important, and not the final goal. We remember Christ’s attitude of charity, and not any “concrete” treasure (381-3). Penance consists in Acts of Love to others who are synonymous with the Divine Bridegroom. We are purged from wanting a “concrete” reward. In the Seventh Dwelling the soul and the spouse are intimately sharing the same room. This state is higher than rapture (429). We do not fear the devil since we really do not want to reach heaven. We only want to do Acts of Love.

            Martha’s “work” is important, but Mary has chosen the better part. Teresa sees her as doing Martha’s “work” with a more spiritual attitude (445). We need Martha’s “discursive meditation” but we have to detach ourselves from it to allow God to sit with us in spiritual contemplation. Christ is like a book I read (pray) where I never look at the end to see how many pages I have left. With “textual” Communion, nothing else matters.

Kavanaugh, Kieran, O.C.D. and Rodriguez, Otilio, O.C. D. Translators. The Collected

Works of St. Teresa of Avila II. ICS Publications: Washington DC, 1980.

 

RP: St. John of the Cross and the Poetry of the Veil

            St. John’s verses are a cycle of love poetry where the soul as Bride summons the Bridegroom (Christ) to heal her. She passes through a dark night, love sickness, and other sufferings, with the Groom in a reciprocal manner seeking her. The final “Canticle” is a memory of the first, as the Groom reclaims his Bride under an apple tree. In the commentaries “The Living Flame of Love,” and “Dark Night,” St. John serves as a model on how to expand (“read”) the poetry’s metaphors into our lives. We get the feel of the whole poem, then each stanza, and then line by line, image by image.

            In “Living Flame,” the fire is the Holy Spirit that dries the wood or the soul of its imperfections (642-3). Glowing embers are “habitual” experiences of God, those that we experience in everyday life, while the flaming embers are “actual” out of this world encounters with the divine (646) Christ, the flame, burns the wood, the soul. The Fire “cauterizes” the wounds of the soul – a metaphor of chastisement as education (666). After reflections and “recollections” on spiritual blindness, like mistaking spiritual contemplation for idleness, we enter into a reflexive intimate union with God as our breathings mingle. In “Dark Night” we are children being “weaned” of our physical and spiritual senses. In Book One there is a purgation, or drying of the senses that transform pride, spiritual gluttony and the other capital sins into virtues of humility, contemplation, and patience. In Book Two, the major intellectual senses of mind, will and memory are purged. The fear of rejection by the Bridegroom is met, with dark contemplation allowing room for the Bridegroom to enter. Since we are reading these words, the soul has already gone through the dark night.  The poem is a clothing of hope that protects our faith in the Bridegroom’s love, which is clothed in a beautiful layer of red (445-9).

            The veil that St. John mentions is the setting of poetry. Real poetry is the space between the poem and the reader. There is a union between the two not found either in the words of the poem or in the mind of the reader, but in the abyss of feeling or love that is between them. God’s spirit dwells in this abyss that is covered with a veil that must be removed and experienced. Veils are important settings in the encounters with the divine.

            In “Living Flame” the poet wants to “tear through the veil” (st 1, v6) of the brief encounter. Later in the commentary, St. John wants to tear through the veils of time, nature, and the senses to arrive at the real experience of life in the divine (651-3). Ironically, the only way to get light on the setting of the veil is to live the dark night. “Nothingness” is very useful, allowing us to see the rays of light of God outside our window (422) just the way dust particles allow us to see light (410). Dark contemplation and a voiding of everything we think important helps us see what is really important. The Psalms (eg. Ps 73: 22) have many examples of the need to pass through desolation before arriving at visions of light and consolation (410). We are never in one state, but always in alternating states of ascent and descent along the steps of the ladder to the divine (Ps 84:6-8, p.437). St. John calls this state the abyss of wisdom (437). The spiritual concealment and secret stillness in “Dark Night” is where the devil cannot get at the lover and spouse (450). This special place of secret language without words is the abyss of love that envelops two or more people. When the Bride’s veil is taken away (455), we are able to live in this world and be grateful for the night that brought it. St. John speaks of this place as full of “touches” of God (453) beyond the reach of both bad and good angels. In French, “touches” are also the keys of the clavier. Poetry is always musical with the music residing not in the keys, nor the score, but out there somewhere in the dark night.

Kavanaugh, Kieran, O.C.D. and Rodriguez, Otilio, O.C. D. Translators. The Collected

Works of St. John of the Cross. ICS Publications: Washington DC, 1991.

 

 

A Liberation Spirituality Through the Wisdom of the Abyss

 

            How do we find the sacred space of God’s presence? By withdrawing from the world to contemplate in the desert? Do we contemplate for inner peace or do we seek God’s presence by discerning what actions we need to do in the world? Can mysticism be both concerned with social justice and inner moments of personal divine experience? This paper will compare Liberation Theology’s social justice experience of God with Thomas Merton’s contemplative experience. Both methods evangelize, or spread the good news of the gospels. Intimacy with God is the major goal. The literary concept of “mise-en-abyme” will help us understand the intimacy desired. “Mise-en-abyme” or “setting in the abyss” is where the voice of narration is ambiguous.  We have a narrator who is or is not the author and may be narrating through different characters. Locating the central narrative voice can help the reader interpret the message of the text.  While the source of narration can be complex, the complexity sets up an intimate relationship with the author and reader.  Mise-en-abime” is the ineffable sacred space that will help us connect Liberation Theology’s more praxis oriented approach with Merton’s more contemplative way. After defining “mise-en-abyme,” and making some basic distinctions between mysticism and spirituality, and liberation evangelization and dogmatic evangelization, this paper will explore Liberation Spirituality and compare it to Merton’s “guilty bystander” approach. The paper will conclude with the Exodus’s “moveable dwelling” serving as a model of “liturgical mysticism” where we are to remember God’s saving actions on the Sabbath.

 

                        Mise-en-abyme and God’s sweet native language

 

            In Matisse’s 1905 painting “Luxe, calme, et volupté,” modeled after a Baudelaire poem “Invitation au voyage,” a little boy, attended by Venus and other naked attendants, is dressing after a swim in the ocean, while his mother, unaware of the naked ladies, is preparing a picnic. Matisse, as an older artist, is letting us in on an intimate vision he had as a boy. Since his mother does not have the vision, there is an close relation set up between painter and audience. We see his inner most desires as a young child, and as an adult. In the Baudelaire poem, the poet invites his lover to a land where their souls will speak to each other in a sweet native language without words. The real space of the painting and the poem is the sacred space of intimacy between artist and audience, poet and lover. There is no real origin of the look. The space of the sweet native language and the experience of the painting exist because of the collaboration of the painter and audience, poet and lover. This sacred space is where we experience God.

 

            Distinctions of Evangelization and Spirituality and Mysticism

 

            Hans Kung, in his study of world religions, distinguishes between mystical and prophetic religion, with the former turned more inward to personal experiences of the divine, and the later, more nomadic, turned more towards a will to live, to struggle with doubt, and a desire to make the earth into a place to reach the divine (169-175). Anthony Russell distinguishes between an “ecclesial” spirituality, which is pre-industrial, and a “privatized” spirituality, which is more modern. The Reformation, and the individualization of religion, appeals to a more private conscience (37-8). Spirituality, or life of prayer, is the means to salvation. Russell associates “traditional” salvation  with the ecclesial and the clerical, while advanced societies are in the “lay” tradition (36). As spirituality becomes personal it tends to mysticism or highly subjective experiences of God (33).

            Jon Sobrino defines “evangelization” as the spirit of bringing God’s saving news to all reality (150-1).  José Comblin  defines “traditional”  or “old evangelization” with the medieval gospel of reaching heaven through a life based on dogma, morals and the sacraments. The catechism would be a model to follow. Heaven is a place we have to get to. The other gospel or evangelization is more through social doctrine and establishing heaven here on earth by alleviating poverty (9-10). We owe this “new evangelization” in part to the modern historical study tools of the Bible that refocused the gospel message to social concerns and sexuality (12). Comblin laments that theology is still too medieval. Clericalism, according to Comblin, is where there is a separate scholarly theology for priests, and a more pietistic or devotional theology for the laity.. The laity have been abandoned. All they go do is wait and pray. We need new directions for religious experience. Ironically, mystics in their personal experiences of God, which come from the devotional aspect, can be rebels against traditional authority and lead us to a new middle ground of what Comblin calls a new “Christian Humanism” (15-20). Decision-making is where mysticism meet reality. As mystics choose a moral path in helping each other, based on their experience with Christ, they establish the mystical body of Christ in the world. Jon Sobrino draws a portrait of Bishop Romero mystically united with Christ, and Gustavo Gutierrez establishes a Liberation Spirituality that goes beyond doing good deeds for the poor.

 

                                    Discerning Christ in the Actions of Romero

 

            Liberation theologians interpret the Bible in a pragmatic/participating way by seeing the word of God mediated in the eyes of the poor. Faith is praxis -- a way of reflection and positive action to change the unjust existing social order. (McBrien 142-3). Gutierrez sees the Exodus as the primary experience of God who saves an enslaved people (77). In the New Testament, Jesus is the Liberator. Paul teaches us that Jesus  models a new “Way” to live. Love will be the basis of the new way and it will be seen in the way we treat each other (82). Sobrino sees the Cross as the major symbol of Latin America, a crucified land (Jesus 5). Jesus’s preaching of the kingdom is to liberate the poor from the oppressors (Jesus 136-45). Jesus’s suffering is an example of a way of life. His death is not a payback to save sinners, but a sign that we must join the suffering ones in solidarity and give them faces of Christ for the world to see (Jesus 246, 254-60). Our experience with God will be when we live out moments of Jesus’s life in the way of Monsenor Romero. Romero’s spirit took on the flesh of the persecuted poor (Romero 146). His “mission” was the evangelization of a whole nation –all of reality, by attacking structures of social injustice, like the legal and healthcare systems, and the media (151). His “cross” is that he bore the burden of this reality (152). A Church that enjoys the privileges of the world, and does not bear the burden of the reality of the poor should be afraid (153).  Romero’s Resurrection is when he arrives at a freedom from any obstacle that gets in the way of doing good (154-5). The paradox of the suffering burden is that it creates a look of peace on the suffering person. The grace of God is in the abyss between the suffering and the feeling of love and peace.

 

            Intimacy with Jesus in a Liberation Spirituality of Poverty and Solitude

 

            Gutierrez develops a Liberation Spirituality in his book essay We Drink From Our Own Wells. More than theology (a way of understanding God’s presence), and Christology (a way of seeing Christ as the suffering poor God), a Liberation Spirituality is a way of experiencing God -- a way of life that goes beyond political and social deeds to a global reflection on praxis (1-2, 27). The word of God dwells in the eyes of the poor. We see God in the way we treat the most wretched of our neighbors (103-5). We seek an intimate union with Christ like the followers of John the Baptist who asked Jesus where he lived ((39-40). To be intimate with Christ we have to share the weaknesses of the flesh. “Flesh” here means material needs that cause us to oppress weaker people This flesh also is what unites us in our weaknesses (48-60). We must recognize that we have to be poor like Christ in order to see and share his love. Love exists only with equals. True mystical encounters come in this spiritual poverty. Poverty has many meanings. It points to a spirit of detachment from material temptations (123). Poor in spirit here is the combined body/mind that lives in poverty to experience the life of the poor, and to also focus on what really is essential in life. Poverty is also an indicator of how we make people poor. Poverty also puts us in a position to ask for the grace and love of God. The irony of Liberation Spirituality is that we have to be engaged in the real world of suffering and fight against the causes of injustice, while at the same time being in a passive poor state grateful for the grace of God (107-12). Gratitude is the sacred space of receiving and giving love.

            The last seven chapters of the Book of Exodus deal with the construction of the sacred dwelling tent where the Israelites will pay homage to God and the Ark of the Covenant. Stephen Binz believes that the real covenant with Israel and God is the Sabbath. The Israelites promise to stop their work, be silent, give praise to God, and to think about how they should live (133-47). Gutierrez echoes this idea with the Eucharist. With the Eucharistic service, we share Christ-God’s desert experience. Out of a community experience of solitude comes hope. As Church, in the celebration of the Eucharist, we respond to the gratuitous nature of God’s love. Exodus means “the way.” The desert experience here is the way of solitude, reflection and a practice of a loving way of life (133-6). We drink from our own spiritual wells, our own experiences of poverty and solitude. Resurrected will be intimated spaces of love that we will share with others in our community, and with Christ. While I can relate to a Liberation Spirituality in Latin America, I may need help from a mentor or teacher who drinks from the same well I do. Can Thomas Merton, a mystic who finds God by disengaging from the world, lead me to the same awareness of God, or is he a cop-out? I will look at him as a “contemplative apostle who withdraws from the world to reflect about it, and then teach us how to re-engage.

 

                                    Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

 

                                   

            Christine Bochen and Henri Nouwen both edit books that show a progression of Merton’s writings from a sarcastic student in love with literature to a Trappist monk whose compassion and solitude led him to speak out against the injustices of war, violence, racism and poverty, and who, in later life, dug into the riches of Zen and interreligious dialog. Bochen calls his life one of a “contemplative apostolate” (39) who combined being a monk and engaging into the world (42-3) by teaching others how to see what he sees. In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, a 1965 collection of meditations in five parts, we can see the progression of his thought. “Bystander” means that he is a contemplative who does not really engage in the real world. “Guilty” tells us that he is aware of his non-involvement to such an extent that he makes us aware of what he cannot resolve – that he is involved. He represents the teachers/intellectuals that we need who have to be apart from the world so that they can write and teach us about the world.

            In Part I, “Barth’s Dream,” the theologian has a dream about advising Mozart, whose theological opinions were anti-protestant, to be a child and learn more theology from his music than from his theology (12-13). The idea here is that subjective experience can teach us as well as objective. He prefers the sheep to the wolf (44-5). Violence and power always are hunted down. He cites Crysostom who says that the moment we choose to be wolves we are no longer fed by the shepherd. He looks like a Liberation Spiritualist as he sees the Cross of Christ in Auschwitz, but realizes how hard it is to read it there (58).

            In Part II, “Truth and Violence,” he tells us he is writing in an “interesting” era, a Zen saying that means an era of violence. There is an abyss between the villain and the saint (65-9). Unless we can get into each other’s space, we will always be at odds. Any time we are trying to convince someone we are right, we are in the power game. We need to detach ourselves from the law of technology and quantity (77). We are servants to consumerism. 

            In Part III, “Night Spirit and Dawn Air,” he talks about the “point vierge” which literally means the virgin point or that magic time just before dawn when birds wake up and ask permission to be birds (131). We are not in ourselves, but in the other. We see our inner most desires by voiding ourselves of all that we think belongs to us (156). We learn to live at peace.

            In  Part IV, “the Fork in the Road,” he sees two ways: the way of the city and technology and GE; and the way of the monastery (230-1). General Electric’s faith is stronger than religious faith. One has absolute confidence in the product. Evangelization is advertisement He prefers the “nothingness of Jesus’s love (291). The Lord sees this poverty and can enter (271). In Ignatius fashion, he advises us to know the world and all the facts before you engage in a way of life (271).

            In Part V, “The Madman Runs East,” he and his keeper run East for different reasons. He is searching for freedom from servitude. His monastery and his study of Zen will free him from the slavery of being useful (308-9). Anselm and Sartre have a common ground of good faith. Anslem searches for direct awarenesses of God, but not God itself (326-8). Bad faith love is love that is looking for a reward, a payback. Good faith love is love for its own sake not depending on anything useful. If we arrive at this level of love we are free. Our faith in God and love is free from any other gods of security, money or reward. We can see the results of this love in good works (333). He interprets Anselm as seeing Jesus saving the world because he does not use power. God’s grace and love are always used in the absence of power.

 

                                    Contemplatives and Engaged

 

            We need many people to help build the body of Christ. Bernard McGinn cites Bernard de Clairvaux as advising Christians to seek mystical experiences from Scripture and from their own lives.  The “Book of Scripture” and the “Book of Experience” completes a perfect exemplar of Christian teaching (33). He cites John of the Cross and Saint Teresa as examples. While both saints were engaged in the service of the poor, McGinn believes that Saint Teresa moved from “outside” to “in,” while saint John was turned more inward  (41-2). Gutierrez, Sobrino, and Merton are in the heritage of the three 16th Century mystics we have studied who spent their lives discerning Christ. Saint Ignatius’s desire to learn before he preached, his discernment of a life of poverty (Ganss, 61-63, 238-42) to better guide his engagement in the service of the poor is still seen in the spirit of the Latin American Jesuits and Dominicans. Saint Teresa’s discernment of Christ in the actions of love of neighbor set a priority on good works. Her prayer life becomes so unified with God and love, that the goal of heaven is not even in the picture (Kavanaugh 381-3). She is free from wanting an objective goal.  Saint John’s inwardness” is really the result of purging material and mental desires that would make him “want” something. He achieves the “abyss of wisdom” (Kavanaugh 443) – the poetic state of being in the magic space of love with Christ. Merton’s bystander achieves this wisdom in Part V when he goes “East” away from the sin of being “useful.” If you see Buddha, kill him, advises a wise man, meaning that if you think you’ve experienced God, you haven’t.

 

                                    Liturgical Mysticism

 

            C.P.M. Jones uses the term “liturgical mysticism” to describe moments during the Mass when individual believers can experience closer feelings of God (8). I like to borrow this term ad use it for a goal of all us believers. Kimberly Anne Willis takes the liberation model and talks of Jesus as the”disabled” God who suffers the sin of people with the pain of being handicapped whether it is bodily, psychological, social, including gender, political or economical (223). These people are prevented from participating in the “imago dei” – the attributes of a human being making it capable of a relation with God (218). The “religious” approach would be some kind of repentance. The “medical” approach is to “cure” the sick body. Willis suggest a “social approach where there would be an interaction between the disabled and the well. The disabled will empower the abled with their visions of God, and reflexive. Thomas’s doubt focuses on wanting to see and feel the wounds. If Christ is disabled and hurt, he is our Lord, in the Yahweh sense (225). The “weak” and “poor” Jesus is the only God we should worship; We see him as an example of someone we must help, and we see him as an example of someone who has abandoned the will for power to pour out love. We need Sabbaths in the desert so that we can rid ourselves of the natural desire for power and see each others’ weaknesses in communities of prayer. Genuine feelings of love happen in the abyss of the lovers.

 

                                         Works Cited

 

Goux, Jean-Joseph. Mise en Abyme.”A New History of French Literature. Denis

            Hollier, ed. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989.

Binz, Stephen J. The God of Freedom and Life: A Commentary on the Book of Exodus.

Collegeville, MN, 1993.

Bochen, Christine M. Ed. Thomas Merton: Essential Writings. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis,

2000.

Comblin, José. Called for Freedom: The Changing Context of Liberation Theology.

Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998.

Ganss, George E. Ed. Ignatius of Loyola: Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works. New

York and Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1991.

Gutierrez, Gustavo. We Drink From Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a  People.

Trans. Matthew J. O’Connell. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2000.

Jones, C.P.M. “Liturgy and Personal Devotion.” The Study of

Spirituality. Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, and Edward Yarnold, S.J. eds. New York and Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986.

Kavanaugh, Kieran, O.C.D. and Rodriguez, Otilio, O.C. D. Translators. The Collected

Works of St. Teresa of Avila II. ICS Publications: Washington DC, 1980.

Kavanaugh, Kieran, O.C.D. and Rodriguez, Otilio, O.C. D. Translators. The Collected

Works of St. John of the Cross. ICS Publications: Washington DC, 1991.

Küng, Hans, Van Ess, Josef, Von Steitencron, Heinrich,and Bechert, Heinz. Christianity

and the World Religions: Paths of Dialogue with Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Trans. Peter Heinegg. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1986.

McBrien, Richard P. Catholicism.  San Francisco: Harper, 1994.

McGinn, Bernard. “The Role of the Carmelites in the History of Western Mysticism.”

Carmelite Studies: Carmel and Contemplation: Transforming Human

Consciousness. Kevin Culligan, O.C.D. and Regis Jordan, O.C. D.eds.

Washington DC: ICS Publications, 2000.

Merton, Thomas. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. Garden City, NY: Doubleday

Image Books, 1968.

Nouwen, Henri J.M. Thomas Merton: Contemplative Critic. Ligouri, MI: Triumph

Books, 1991.

Nouwen, Henri J.M. and Sister Helen David. Walk With Jesus: Stations of the Cross.

(Illustrations by Sister Helen David). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2002.

Russell, Anthony. “Sociology and the Study of Spirituality.”  The Study of

Spirituality. Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, and Edward Yarnold, S.J.  

eds. New York and Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986.

Sobrino, Jon. Jesus the Liberator: A Historical-Theological Reading of Jesus of                                                     

Nazareth.  Trans. Paul Burns and Francis McDonagh.  Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993.

_______. “Monsenor Romero, a Salvadoran and a Christian,” Spiritus: A Journal of

Christian Spirituality 1 (Fall, 2001) 143-155.

Willis, Kimberly Anne. “Claiming the ‘Fearsome Possibility:’ Towards a Contextual

Christology of Disability.” Gender, Ethnicity and Religion: Views from the Other Side.  Rosemary Radford Ruether, ed.  Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2002.

 

 

                        St. Teresa’s Guide to Reading and Praying

 

            Roland Barthes makes a distinction between “work” and “text” when approaching reading material. As a “work” we are only interesting in finishing the book and putting back on the shelf. As “text” we never finish with it, but enjoy our time with it being lost in its world. Saint Teresa’s guide to the soul in The Interior Castle uses a “textual” approach to prayer as the door to getting into the deepest regions of the soul where we encounter Christ as our spouse. After reviewing the stages of descent into our soul this paper will focus on the “devil” at each stage and how Teresa advises us to purge ourselves. Martha’s “work”approach to prayer will be enhanced with Mary’s more “textual”approach.

 

                        Doors of Detachment to the Seven Dwelling Places of the Soul

 

            Sister Teresa compares our soul to an interior castle where its ultimate dwelling place will be in union with God in a spousal relationship in the seventh dwelling places. Prayer is synonymous with this union and is a key to enter the doors of these dwelling places (283). Through humility and obedience (266-7, 293-5) we go from discursive meditation to contemplative thought or infused prayer from God. The first three dwelling places are entered through our human efforts with the last four coming from the infused thought of God. The First dwelling Places are the rooms of self-knowledge which are essential for us if we are to enter deeper into our souls. The words we use are important (poetry284) as we construct our prayers to go deeper. Humility and charity keep us from the darkness of sin and too much interest in everyday life. The Second Dwelling Places are where we gain experience in practicing prayer (298). Consolations are for worldly things. In the Third Dwelling Places we start to be soothed of our need for security of things in this life. In the Fourth Dwelling Places we go from consolations to spiritual favors which are infused favors from God (307-8)We cannot obtain these favors. We have to be available to the workings of God (325). The Fifth Dwelling Places are where we discern if the spiritual favors are illusions or not. Like the silkworm dying to become the butterfly we die to our everyday lives to experience God(340-4).We ironically experience God in our resolve to stay in the real world and help others. Love of others is synonymous with the spiritual favor of God. The Sixth Dwelling Places are where we prepare for complete detachment from the world and become spouses of the Lord. Our attitude toward life and sin ar purged from a desire not to do evil to a desire not to hurt the Lord (398).We don’t want “pay’ for our penance. The Seventh Dwelling places are where we consummate our marriage with the lord. In a state higher than rapture we feel with our intellect and have a attitude of love in everything we do. The Mary and Martha of our soul has been reconciled (445). We are so detached from everyday world concerns that we don’t even care about getting to heaven. We are absorbed in acts of love and don’t know where Christ begins in us or we begin in Christ.

 

                                    Purging the Enemy of The Dwelling Places

 

            In order to enter deeper and deeper into our souls and union with God we have to purge ourselves from things which will keep us away. Teresa’s goal is to have such a loss of being into Christ that we are living without the need of personal goals, worldly things, and even returned loved. Our spirit of charity and joy comes from not being attached to any personal object. It takes an enormous amount of obedience to a humility and sense of detachment with an ironic desire to be of a higher world and yet not leave the everyday world so that we can help others the way Christ did. Every Dwelling Places Level helps us fight off the devil or enemy that may kick us out of the castle. In the First Dwelling Places, it is everyday life and business affairs that can make us retire from the room of self-knowledge (294). The Second Dwelling Places level helps us with the stamina and insight to recognize and resist the temptations of everyday life through the practice of prayer (298). Even penance can be egotistical (312). Without humility we could stay at this level indefinitely, but through more grace we resist the enemy of wanting too much security and enter the Third Dwelling Places where we get more ointments of humility (311). Teresa distinguishes between consolations and spiritual favors. Consolations are earthly things that we seek like congratulations after a good job, or coming into good health (317). Spiritual favors come from God (318). In the Fourth Dwelling Places we learn to avoid seeking consolations.In a footnote Teresa distinguishes “contentos,” which are consolations or concrete happinesses versus “gustos,” which are more infused gusts of God’s spirit that do not depend on earthly gratification (488). The devil here could be that are raptures here, suspensions of our mind from the everyday world, might be illusions and not come from charitable sources (334). The devil works hard here, because successful prayers(people who pray) can lead many people away from the darkness of sin. The Fifth Dwelling Places offer help in discerning visions and raptures. Self love is the devil here with humility and seeing love for others as being synonymous with God (352-3). We need to become the fool to evacuate self-love from our being (339). We are silk worms who die in order to become butterflies and build the dwelling places of the Lord (340-4). The marriage metaphor is emphasized here. Christ is the spouse of our soul and there has to be a detachment of our soul from anything that we own (355). The Sixth Dwelling Places is where we really purge ourselves, especially from the desire of transcendence without going through the intellectual human stages (392). This is the big test of the  spouse. We want to arrive at a level of penance more than being sorry for offending our spouse. We want to have an attitude of doing nothing that would offend God or others. It is a positive attitude like being purged of wanting to win a game or finish a book. The act of playing or reading is what we enjoy. When we arrive at an attitude of only doing God’s will for others, not caring about getting to heaven, (getting paid ) but about doing nice things, we have done a successful purgatory (398). In the Seventh Dwelling Places the soul and the spouse are intimately sharing the same room (428). This state is higher than rapture (429). The devil here are fears that God’s favors are too much for our unworthiness, but these feelings pass as we become so detached from our “possessive” side of our human lives that we only care to do Acts of Love (441).

            Teresa combines discursive meditation where we actively use our intellect to seek knowledge with spiritual contemplation which are moments of complete detachment. She never really leaves the rational world completely. She feels with the intellect. The detachment is ironic. We have to not care about dying and winning, yet we have to stay in the world to do the charity that makes us Christ like. I am thinking of baseball when I was at my best hitting or fielding when I did not care about striking out or making an error, so involved in the game was I. I get this attitude going to communion.

            In a low budget movie Savanah Smiles two poor crooks kidnap a girl, only to fall in love with her in a patenal sense. One of the criminals always has a dream of missing the truck his friends was on. At the end, he r is going to jail, but is verey serene because of the loved given to him by Savanah’s smiles. His partners says that they will be in prison a long time. He responds – It don’t matter at all any more. And he smiles – it’s the smile of being able to love.