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The objections of slothfulness and inactivity made to this form of prayer fully met, and the truth shown that the soul acts nobly, forcibly, calmly, quickly, freely, simply, sweetly, temperately, and certainly; but in dependence upon God, and moved by his Holy Spirit: the restless and selfish activity of nature being destroyed, and the life of God communicated by union with Him.
Some persons, when they hear of the prayer of silence, falsely imagine that the soul remains stupid, dead, and inactive; but it unquestionably acts more nobly and more extensively than it had ever done before; for God himself is its mover, and it now acts by the agency of his Spirit. St. Paul would have us led by the Spirit of God. (Rom. viii. 14.)
It is not meant that we should cease from action; but that we should act through the internal agency of his grace. This is finely represented by the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the wheels, which had a living Spirit; and whithersoever the Spirit was to go, they went; they ascended and descended as they were moved; for the Spirit of life was in them, and they returned not when they went. (Ezek. i. 18.) Thus the soul should be equally subservient to the will of that vivifying Spirit which is in it, and scrupulously faithful to follow only as that moves. These motions never tend to return in reflections on the creatures or self; but go forward in an incessant approach toward the end.
2. This activity of the soul is attended with the utmost tranquility. When it acts of itself, the act is forced and constrained, and, therefore, it is more easily distinguished; but when the action is under the influence of the Spirit of grace, it is so free, so easy, and so natural, that it almost seems as if we did not act at all. “He brought me forth also into a large place; He delivered me, because He delighted in me.” (Ps. xviii. 19.)
When the soul is in its central tendency, or in other words, is returned through recollection into itself, from that moment, the central attraction becomes a most potent activity, infinitely surpassing in energy every other species. Nothing, indeed, can equal the swiftness of this tendency to the centre; and though an activity, yet it is so noble, so peaceful, so full of tranquility, so natural, and so spontaneous, that it appears to the soul as if it were none at all.
When a wheel rolls slowly we can easily perceive its parts; but when its motion is rapid, we can distinguish nothing. So the soul which rests in God, has an activity exceedingly noble and elevated, yet altogether peaceful; and the more peaceful it is, the swifter is its course; because it is given up to that Spirit by whom it is moved and directed.
3. This attracting Spirit is no other than God himself, who, in drawing us, causes us to run to Him. How well did the spouse understand this, when she said, “Draw me, we will run after thee.” (Cant. i. 4.) Draw me unto Thee, O my divine centre, by the secret springs of my existence, and all my powers and senses shall follow Thee! This simple attraction is both an ointment to heal and a perfume to allure: we follow, saith she, the fragrance of thy perfumes; and though so powerful an attraction, it is followed by the soul freely, and without constraint; for it is equally delighted as forcible; and whilst it attracts by its power, it carries us away by its sweetness. “Draw me,” says the spouse, “and we will run after thee.” She speaks of and to herself: “draw me,” —behold the unity of the centre which is drawn! “we will run,”—behold the correspondence and course of all the senses and powers in following the attraction of the centre!
4. Instead, then, of encouraging sloth, we promote the highest activity, by inculcating a total dependence of the Spirit of God, as our moving principle; for it is in Him, and by Him alone, that we live and move, and have our being. (Acts xvii. 28.) This meek dependence on the Spirit of God is indispensably necessary, and causes the soul shortly to attain the unity and simplicity in which it was created.
We must, therefore, forsake our multifarious activity, to enter into the simplicity and unity of God, in whose image we were originally formed. (Gen. i. 27.) “The Spirit is one and manifold, (Wisdom vii. 22,) and his unity does not preclude his multiplicity. We enter into his unity when we are united to his Spirit, and by that means have one and the same spirit with Him; and we are multiplied in respect to the outward execution of his will, without any departure from our state of union.
In this way, when we are wholly moved by the divine Spirit, which is infinitely active, our activity must, indeed, be more energetic than that which is merely our own. We must yield ourselves to the guidance of “wisdom, which is more moving than any motion,” (Wisdom vii. 24,) and by abiding in dependence upon its action, our activity will be truly efficient.
5. “All things were made by the Word, and without Him was not anything made, that was made.” (John i. 3.) God originally formed us in his own image and likeness; He breathed into us the Spirit of his Word, that breath of Life (Gen. ii. 7) which He gave us at our creation, in the participation whereof the image of God consisted. Now, this Life is one, simple, pure, intimate, and always fruitful.
The devil having broken and deformed the divine image in the soul by sin, the agency of the same Word whose Spirit was inbreathed at our creation, is absolutely necessary for its renovation. It was necessary that it should be He, because He is the express image of his Father; and no image can be repaired by its own efforts, but must remain passive for that purpose under the hand of the workman.
Our activity should, therefore, consist in placing ourselves in a state of susceptibility to divine impressions, and pliability to all the operations of the Eternal Word. Whilst tablet is unsteady, the painter is unable to produce a correct picture upon it, and every movement of self is productive of erroneous lineaments; it interrupts the work and defeats the design of this adorable Painter. We must then remain in peace, and move only when He moves us. Jesus Christ hath life in himself, (John v. 26,) and He must give life to every living thing.
The spirit of the church of God is the spirit of the divine movement. Is she idle, barren, or unfruitful? No; she acts, but her activity is in dependence upon the Spirit of God, who moves and governs her. Just so should it be in her members; that they may be spiritual children of the Church, they must be moved by the Spirit.
6. As all action is estimable only in proportion to the grandeur and dignity of the efficient principle, this action is incontestably more noble than any other. Actions produced by a divine principle, are divine; but creaturely actions, however good they appear, are only human, or at least virtuous, even when accompanied by grace.
Jesus Christ says that He has life in Himself: all other beings have only a borrowed life; but the Word has life in Himself; and being communicative of his nature, He desires to bestow it upon man. We should therefore make room for the influx of this life, which can only be done by the ejection and loss of the Adamical life, and the suppression of the activity of self. This is agreeable to the assertion of St. Paul, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new,” (2 Cor. v. 17;) but this state can be accomplished only by dying to ourselves, and to all our own activity, that the activity of God may be substituted in its place.
Instead, therefore, of prohibiting activity, we enjoin it; but in absolute dependence on the Spirit of God, that his activity may take the place of our own. This can only be effected by the consent of the creature; and this concurrence can only be yielded by moderating our own action, that the activity of God may, little by little, be wholly substituted for it.
7. Jesus Christ has exemplified this in the Gospel. Martha did what was right; but because she did it in her own spirit, Christ rebuked her. The spirit of man is restless and turbulent; for which reason he does little, though he seems to do a great deal. “Martha,” says Christ, "thou art careful and troubled about many things; but one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke x. 41,42.) And what was it Mary had chosen? Repose, tranquility, and peace. She had apparently ceased to act, that the Spirit of Christ might act in her; she had ceased to live, that Christ might be her life.
This shows how necessary it is to renounce ourselves, and all our activity, to follow Christ; for we cannot follow Him, if we are not animated by his Spirit. Now that his Spirit may gain admittance, it is necessary that our own should be expelled: “He that is joined unto the Lord,” says St. Paul, “is one spirit.” (1 Cor. vi. 17.) And David said it was good for him to draw near unto the Lord, and to put his trust in him. (Psalm lxxiii. 28.) What is this drawing near? it is the beginning of union.
8. Divine union has its commencement, its progress, its achievement, and its consummation. It is at first an inclination towards God. When the soul is introverted in the manner before described, it gets within the influence of the central attraction, and acquires an eager desire after union; this is the beginning. It then adheres to Him when it has got nearer and nearer, and finally becomes one, that is, one spirit with Him; and then it is that spirit which had wandered from God, returns again to its end.
9. Into this way, then, which is the divine motion, and the spirit of Jesus Christ, we must necessarily enter. St. Paul says, “If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. viii. 9): therefore, to be Christ’s, we must be filled with his Spirit, and emptied of our own. The Apostle, in the same passage, proved the necessity of this divine influence. “As many,” says he, “as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Rom. viii. 14.)
The spirit of divine filiation is, then, the spirit of divine motion: he therefore adds, “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption whereby ye cry Abba, Father.” This spirit is no other than the spirit of Christ, through which we participate in his filiation; “The Spirit beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.”
When the soul yields itself to the influence of this blessed Spirit, it perceives the testimony of its divine filiation; and it feels also, with superadded joy, that it has received, not the spirit of bondage, but of liberty, even the liberty of the children of God; it then finds that it acts freely and sweetly, though with vigor and infallibility.
10. The spirit of divine action is so necessary in all things, that St. Paul, in the same passage, founds that necessity on our ignorance with respect to what we pray for: “The Spirit,” says he, “also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us, with groanings which cannot be uttered.” This is plain enough; if we know not what we stand in need of, nor how to pray as we ought for those things which are necessary, and if the Spirit which is in us, and to which we resign ourselves, must ask for us, should we not permit Him to give vent to his unutterable groanings in our behalf?
This Spirit is the Spirit of the Word, which is always heard, as He says himself: “I knew that thou hearest me always;” (John xi. 42;) and if we freely admit this Spirit to pray and intercede for us, we also shall be always heard. And why? Let us learn from the same great Apostle, that skillful Mystic, and Master of the interior life, where he adds, “He that searcheth the heart, knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit; because he maketh intercession for the saints, according to the will of God” (Rom. viii. 27): that is to say, the Spirit demands only what is conformable to the will of God. The will of God is that we should be saved, and that we should become perfect: He, therefore, intercedes for all that is necessary for our perfection.
11. Why, then, should we be burthened with superfluous cares, and weary ourselves in the multiplicity of our ways, without ever saying, let us rest in peace. God himself invites us to cast all our care upon Him; and He complains in Isaiah, with ineffable goodness, that the soul had expended its powers and its treasures on a thousand external objects, when there was so little to do to attain all it need desire. “Wherefore,” saith God, “do you spend money for that which is not bread; and your labor for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” (Isa. lv. 2.)
Oh! did we but know the blessedness of thus hearkening to God, and how greatly the soul is strengthened by such a course! “Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord” (Zech. ii. 13); all must cease as soon as He appears. But to engage us still farther to an abandonment without reservation, God assures us, by the same Prophet, that we need fear nothing, because he takes a very special care of us; “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, she may forget; yet will not I forget thee.” (Isa. xlix. 15.) O words full of consolation! Who after that will fear to abandon himself wholly to the guidance of God?59
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