I love reading saints' autobiographies, but when the moaning about his or her terrible sins starts up I find myself clucking with disapproval. SHE thinks SHE's A SINNER? Oh, come ON !!! Or, Stealing stunted, hard, sour, crunchy pig-worthy PEARS? Really! (I like clucking and tsk-tsk-ing this way.)
But rather than dismissing these kinds of confessions as a mere rhetorical device, I think it's worth looking behind the scene - give saints credit for the insights they're taking the trouble to share. Ordinary people with ordinary character defects perceive the Un-Created Light, and their own shadows sharpen in contrasting clarity. Religious mystics testify that the journey of the unitive life takes on a weird paradox of proximity: the closer you draw near, the farther away you seem.
This week's prompts begin with Peter's shock of recognition. He recognizes the Presence of God. He recognizes his own imperfections in light of that Presence. Jacob Boehme describes the shock of perceiving his own unworthyness by the light of Wisdom breaking forth within his own soul (meditation one). Paul laments his weakness only to receive the revelation that God's power is made perfect in that very weakness (meditation two). But Macrina and Hildegard invite us to embrace the light as Reality within us, too, letting that deep interior light integrate into our character (meditation three).
I love the Epiphany season of Light! Enjoy your insights. -Suzanne
Meditation One feeling utterly unworthy
Boehme describes the soul's state after a period of conversion, repentance, and diminishment of ego. He describes the latent divine principle stirring within, and the appearance of Sophia, Wisdom.
...at which the Soul is so amazed and astonished in its Uncleanness that all its Sins immediately awake in it, and it trembleth before her; for then the judgement passeth upon the Sins of the Soul, so that it even goeth back in its unworthiness, being ashamed in the Presence of its fair Love, and entereth into itself, feeling and acknowledging itself utterly unworthy to receive such a Jewel.
-Jacob Boehme 1575-1624
We have our treasure in earthen vessels, but Thou, O Holy Spirit, when Thou livest in a man, Thou livest in what is infinitely lower. Thou Spirit of Holiness, Thou livest in the midst of impurity and corruption; Thou Spirit of Wisdom, Thou livest in the midst of folly; Thou Spirit of Truth, Thou livest in one who is himself deluded. Oh, continue to dwell there, Thou who dost not seek a desirable dwelling place, for Thou wouldst seek there in vain, Thou Creator and Redeemer, make a dwelling for Thyself; oh, continue to dwell there, that one day Thou mightest finally be pleased by the dwelling which Thou didst Thyself prepare in my heart, foolish, deceiving, and impure as it is.
-Soren Kierkegaard 1813-1855 The Prayers of Soren Kierkegaard
The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, Sanzio Raffaello, c1515
The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, Sanzio Raffaello, c1515, Detail
Meditation Two power made perfect in weakness
Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
-Paul 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Your holiness shall consist of being truly human, not angelic. God has plenty of angels.
-The Kotzker Rebbe 1787-1859
Meditation Three give one's self to God's way
The soul should know herself accurately and should behold the Original Beauty reflected in the mirror and in the figure of her own beauty. For truly herein consists the real assimilation to the Divine - making our own life in some degree a copy of the Supreme Being.
The soul is kissed by God in its innermost regions.
With interior yearning, grace and blessing are bestowed.
It is a yearning to take on God's gentle yoke, it is a yearning to give one's self to God's way.
-Hildegard of Bingen 1098-1179
The Last Word
Once in a saintly passion I cried in desperate grief, "O Lord, my heart is black with bile Of sinners I am the chief!" Then stooped my guardian angel and whispered from behind, "Vanity, my little man, you're nothing of the kind!"
Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.