First, let's consider Chapters 50 and 51 together as Anonymous gives each the following chapter headings:
Chapter 50: “What pure love is, and how some contemplatives rarely experience tangible consolations, while others feel them often” (114-115).
Chapter 51: “That we must be careful not to interpret literally something meant spiritually, especially the words in and up” (116-117).
You’ll remember that in Chapter 49, Anonymous urges us to “bow eagerly to love.” We are to “follow its humble stirrings” in our heart and let it guide us “in this life, and it will bring [us] safely to eternal bliss in the next.” After all, “love is the essence of all goodness” (112). Because love is always superior to knowledge, that is why Anonymous gives it the most important role in our relationship with God. Loved by God who dwells within, we are most blessed when responding in kind, being to Being, as blessed St. John says, “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” Love is the bridge, the clasping, the hyphen, the bonding, the transit that unites us to God, Godself embracing us, our self responding in kind. “We love because He first loved us” (I John 4.19).
As we enter Chapter 50 Anonymous hopes that by now we “see why it’s important [for us to] focus our attention wholly on this humble stirring of love” within us” when we want to be with God. Such a love affair with God surely undoes any special need for to require physical delights, pleasant sensations, or “spiritual” gifts when are intimately in love wity God. If pleasures come, that’s fine. Simply welcome them, Anonymous says, but do not make a big to-do about them. After all, you may find yourself substituting the gift (for healing or teaching perhaps) for God himself. When that happens, then “your love is not pure or perfect.” Mature lovers of God simply love God. They don’t grumble when the gifts somehow disappear. If they do come, mature lovers of God simply accept them without attaching a great deal of importance to them.
Contemplative undergo a whole range of experiences as they love God. What comes and/or does not come is “entirely up to God.” Some contemplative receive many consolations. They may be so “spiritually fragile and tenderhearted that they must be reassured by pleasant feelings.” Other contemplative people “have such frail bodies that they can’t endure rigorous physical acts of [self discipline] for cleansing, but our Lord is gracious and purifies them through feelings of sweet consolation and tears.” At the other end of the spectrum, some contemplatives “are so strong in spirit that they gather all the comforts they need inside their souls as they offer up this heartfelt, humble stirring of love with an obedient will.” Now as to which way is better of “holier,” Anonymous does haven’t a clue. Only God knows.
|As the artist says,"This is not a pipe."|
Such beginners are arrogant and overconfident as to what they can do spiritually. Their contemplative striving becomes “freakish,” characterized with a lot of self-importance, lots of posturing, and not a little self-promotion. “Worst of all,” says Anonymous, “its practitioners don’t know that.” If one wants to see such behaviors working today, one only needs to read numerous Facebook postings wherein so-called “real” Christians and so-called spiritual guides brag about their spirituality, telling others, for example, in no uncertain terms that they are “imitators” of Jesus. They let everyone know they are obsessed with God. “They believe,” Anonymous says, that “their contemplative mission is clear and are resolved to think on nothing but God.”
To grasp what Anonymous is saying, it may be helpful to see a prayer of a mature contemplative who knows his place in the order of things. Take a look at this prayer written in his journal by Thomas Merton:
And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road although I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Here there is no arrogance and overconfidence. The prayer is nearly void of any ego-centric self-posturing. It is the prayer of a mature contemplative.
To make sure that you discern the difference between the self-preening person of prayer who looks for attention, praise, and emulation, Anonymous gives us a sustained five-chapter digression (Chapter 52-56) in which he alerts us to the often revealing mannerisms of spiritual hucksters who try to present themselves as models of Christian life. And, by yet contrast in Chapter 54, he describes the kind of contemplative person whom you may trust.
Port au Prince, Haiti
I'll be going down with my son Kirk, Karen Rider from Servants of Christ Lutheran Church in Indianapolis, IN, and Delette Matheus from Fort Lauderdale, FL. So for our work in the next week or two, I'd like to ask that everyone read Chapters 52-56 as a single unit. As you do so, create a list of the observations that Anonymous makes about teachers whom one should avoid because their spirituality is phony, arrogant, and manipulative; then, paying special attention to Chapter 54, make another list of those traits and characteristics which suggest a spiritual guide may be trusted. Your discussion while I'm in Haiti will be based on the observations that we make in creating these two lists.
Characteristics of a spiritual teacher not to be trusted
Characteristics of a spiritual teacher to be trusted