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CHAPTER XI.

A CONTINUATION OF THE DISCOURSE TOUCHING THE VARIOUS DEGREES OF HOLY QUIET, AND OF AN EXCELLENT ABNEGATION OF SELF WHICH IS SOMETIMES PRACTISED THEREIN.

According then to what we have said, holy quiet has divers degrees. For sometimes it is in all the powers of the soul joined and united to the will; sometimes it is in the will only, and there sometimes sensibly at other times imperceptibly: because it happens sometimes that the soul takes an incomparable delight in feeling by certain interior sweetnesses that God is present with her (as happened to S. Elizabeth when our Blessed Lady visited her): and at other times the soul has a certain ardent 262sweetness in being in God's presence, which for the moment is imperceptible to her, as happened to the pilgrim-disciples, who walking with our Saviour did not fully perceive the agreeable pleasure with which they were thrilled, till such time as they had arrived and had known him in the divine breaking of the bread.295295Luke xxiv. Sometimes the soul not only perceives God's presence, but hears him speak, by certain inward illuminations and interior persuasions which stand in place of words. Sometimes she perceives him, and in her turn speaks to him, but so secretly, sweetly and delicately, that it does not make her lose her holy peace and quiet, so that without awaking she watches with him; that is, she wakes and speaks to her well-beloved's heart, with as sweet tranquillity and grateful repose as though she sweetly slumbered. At other times she hears the beloved speak, but she cannot speak to him, because the delight she has to hear him, or the reverence she bears him, keeps her in silence, or, perhaps, because she is in dryness, and is so languid in spirit that she has only strength to hear and not to speak; as is sometimes the case in corporeal matters with those who are going to sleep, or who are greatly weakened by some malady.

But, finally, sometimes she neither hears nor speaks to her well-beloved, nor yet feels any sign of his presence, but simply knows that she is in the presence of her God, to whom it is pleasing that she should be there. Suppose, Theotimus, that the glorious Apostle S. John had slept with a bodily sleep in the bosom of his dear Master at the Last Supper, and that he had slept by his commandment; verily in that case he would have been in his Master's presence without in any way feeling it. And mark, I pray you, that there is more care required to place oneself in God's presence, than to remain there when placed: for, to place oneself there it is requisite to apply the mind and render it actually attentive to this presence (as I explain in the Introduction.296296II. 2.) But being placed in this presence, we keep ourself there by many other means, so long as, whether by understanding or by will, we do anything in God or for God: as, for example, by beholding him, or anything for love of him; 263by hearing him, or those that speak for him; by speaking to him, or to some one for love of him; and by doing any work whatsoever for his honour and service. Yea, one may continue in God's presence not only by hearing him, seeing him, or speaking to him, but also by waiting to see if it may please him to look at us, to speak to us, or to make us speak to him: or yet again, by doing nothing of all this, but by simply staying where it pleases him for us to be, and because it pleases him for us to be there. But if to this simple fashion of staying before him, it pleases him to add some little feeling that we are all his, and he all ours—O God! how desirable and precious is our privilege!

My dear Theotimus, let us further take the liberty to frame this imagination. If a statue which the sculptor had niched in the gallery of some great prince were endowed with understanding, and could reason and talk; and if it were asked: O fair statue, tell me now, why art thou in that niche?—It would answer,—Because my master placed me there. And if one should reply,—But why stayest thou there without doing anything?—Because, would it say, my master did not place me here to do anything, but simply that I should be here motionless. But if one should urge it further, saying: But, poor statue, what art thou the better for remaining there in that sort? Well! would it say, I am not here for my own interest and service, but to obey and accomplish the will of my master and maker; and this suffices me. And if one should yet insist thus: Tell me then, statue, I pray, not seeing thy master how dost thou find contentment in contenting him? No, verily, would it confess; I see him not, for I have not eyes for seeing, as I have not feet for walking; but I am too contented to know that my dear master sees me here, and takes pleasure in seeing me here. But if one should continue the dispute with the statue, and say unto it: But wouldst thou not at least wish to have power to move that thou mightest approach near thy maker, to afford him some better service? Doubtless it would answer, No, and would protest that it desired to do nothing but what its master wished. Is it possible then, would one say at last, that thou desirest nothing but to be an immovable statue there, within that hollow 264niche? Yes, truly, would that wise statue answer in conclusion; I desire to be nothing but a statue and ever in this niche, so long as my master pleases, contenting myself to be here, and thus, since such is the contentment of him whose I am, and by whom I am what I am.

O true God! how good a way it is of remaining in God's presence to be, and to will to be, ever and for ever, at his good-pleasure! For so, I consider, in all occurrences, yea, in our deepest sleep, we are still more deeply in the most holy presence of God. Yea, verily, Theotimus: for if we love him we sleep not only in his sight, but at his pleasure, and not only by his will, but also according to his will. And meseems it is himself, our Creator and heavenly sculptor, who lays us there on our beds as statues in their niches, that we may settle there as birds nestle in their nests. Then at our waking, if we reflect upon it, we find that God was ever present with us, and that we were in no wise absent or separated from him. We have then been there in the presence of his good-pleasure, though without seeing or noticing him, so that we might say in imitation of Jacob:297297Gen. xxviii. 16. Indeed I have slept by my God and in the arms of his divine presence and providence, and I knew it not!

Now this quiet, in which the will works not save only by a simple acquiescence in the divine good-pleasure, willing to be in prayer without any other aim than to be in the sight of God according as it shall please him, is a sovereignly excellent quiet, because it has no mixture of self-interest, the faculties of the soul taking no content in it, nor even the will save by its supreme point, in which its contentment is to admit no other contentment but that of being without contentment for the love of the contentment and good-pleasure of its God, in which it rests. For in fine the height of love's ecstasy is to have our will not in its own contentment but in God's, or, not to have our contentment in our own will, but in God's.

 


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