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CHAPTER IX: Of the Five Windows of this dark Image, and what cometh in by them, and how they are to be ordered

LIFT up thy lanthorn, and thou shalt see in this image five windows, by which sin cometh into thy soul, as the Prophet saith: Death cometh in by our windows.139139    Jerem. 9. These are the five senses by which thy soul goeth out of herself, and fetcheth her delight, and seeketh her feeding in earthly things, contrary to the nobility of her own nature. As by the eye to see curious and fair things, and so of the other senses. By the unskilful using of these senses willingly to vanities, thy soul is much letted from the sweetness of the spiritual senses within; and therefore it behoveth thee to stop these windows, and shut them, but only when need requireth to open them.

And this would be little mastery or difficulty for thee to do, if thou didst once see thy own soul by clear understanding what it is, and how fair it is in its own nature, and so is still, were it not so overlaid with a black mantle of this foul image. But because thou knowest it not, therefore leavest thou the inward sight of thyself, and seekest thy food without, abroad, like a brute beast. Thus saith our Lord in a threatening way to a chosen soul in holy Writ: Thou fairest among women, if thou knowest not thyself, go out, and walk after the steps of the flock of thy fellows, and feed thy kids.140140    Cantic. 1. And it is as much as to say: Thou soul, fair by nature, made after the likeness of God, frail in thy body as a woman, by reason of the first sin, that thou knowest not thyself, nor how that angels’ food should be thy delights within, therefore goest thou out by thy bodily senses, and seekest thy meat and thy liking as a beast of the flock, that is as141141    Reprieved. one outcast and rejected, and therewith thou feedest thy thoughts and thine affections, which are unclean as goats. It is a shame for thee to do so.

And, therefore, turn home again into thyself and hold thee within, and beg no more without, namely, swines’ meat. For if thou wilt needs be a beggar, ask and crave within of thy Lord Jesus, for He is rich enough, and gladlier would give thee than thou canst ask, and run no more out as a beast of the flock, that is a worldly man or woman, that hath no delight but in his bodily senses. And if thou do thus, thy Lord Jesus will give thee all that thou needest, for He will lead thee into His wine cellar, and make thee to taste and try His wines, which liketh thee best for he hath many tuns. Thus a chosen soul, joying in our Lord, saith of Him in holy Writ: The King brought me into His wine cellar.142142    Cantic. 2. That is to say: Inasmuch as I forsook the drunkenness of fleshly lusts and worldly likings, which are bitter as wormwood, therefore the King of bliss, the Lord Jesus, led me in; that is, first into myself for to behold and know myself, and after He led me into His cellar; that is to say, above myself by ascending and passing into Him alone, and gave me a taste of His wine; that is for to taste a certainty of spiritual sweetness and heavenly joy. These are not the words of me, a wretched caitiff, living in sin, but they are the words of the spouse of our Lord in holy Writ; and these words I say to thee, to the end that thou mightest draw in thy soul from without, and follow on further as well as thou canst.

I will show thee furthermore (for thy desire draweth more out of my heart than I thought to have said in the beginning) when the use of thy senses be deadly sin, and when venial. Thus, therefore, our Lord saith in the Gospel: A man made a great supper, and called many thereto, and sent his servant at supper-time, after them that were bidden. The first excused himself, and said on this wise, that he could not come, for he had bought a farm. The other also excused himself, that he could not come, for he had bought five yoke of oxen, and went to try them. The third, for that he had married a wife.143143    St Luke 14. I forbear to speak of the first and of the last, and will tell ye of the middlemost of them, that had bought the oxen, for he is to our purpose. Five yoke of oxen betoken the five senses, which are beastly as an ox. Now this man that was called to the supper was not rejected because he bought the oxen, but because he went to try them, and so he would not come. Right so say I to thee; for to have thy senses, and to use them in need, it is no sin, but if thou go voluntarily to try them by vain delights in creatures, then it is sin. And if thou choose that delight as a final rest of thy soul, and as a full liking, that thou carest not to have any other bliss but such worldly vanities, then is it deadly, for thou choosest it as thy God, and so shalt thou be put from thy supper; for St Paul forbids us to use our senses in that manner when he said thus: Thou shalt not go after thy lusts, nor voluntarily try thy likings. A man or a woman that is encumbered with deadly sin shall hardly escape deadly sin in this business, though he perceiveth it not; but I hope this toucheth not thee.

Nevertheless, if thou through frailty delight thee in thy senses, and in such vanities, but yet keepest thyself in charity and the grace of God as to other things, and choosest not this delight for a full rest of thy soul, but always settest up God above all things in thy desire, this sin in thee is venial; and that more or less according to its circumstances; nor shalt thou for these venial sins be put from the supper in the bliss of heaven, but thou shalt want the tasting and the assaying of that delicate supper, whilst thou livest here on earth, unless thou be busy with all thy might to withstand and conquer such venial sins, for though it be so that venial sins break not charity, yet soothly they let the fervour and the ghostly feeling of charity.

But thou wilt say again, that thou canst not keep from hearing of vanities, for divers, both those that live in the world and others, come oft to speak with thee, and tell thee some tales of vanity.

As unto this I say thus, that thy communing with thy neighbour is not much hurt to thee, but helpeth thee sometimes, if thou order thy business wisely; for that thou mayest try and find out thereby the measure of thy charity to thy neighbour, whether it be much or little. Thou art bounden (as all other men and women are) to love thy neighbour principally in thy heart, and also in deeds to show him tokens of charity, as reason asketh, according to thy might and knowledge. And since it is so that thou oughtest not to go out of thy house to seek occasion how thou mightest profit thy neighbour by deeds of charity, because thou art enclosed; nevertheless thou art bound to love all men in thy heart, and to show some tokens of true love to them that come to thee. And therefore, whoso will speak with thee, whatsoever he be, or of what degree soever, though thou knowest not what he is, nor why he cometh, yet be thou soon ready with a good will to ask what his will is, be not dainty, nor suffer him long to wait for thee, but look how ready and how glad thou wouldst be if an angel of heaven should come and speak with thee, so ready and so buxom be thou in will for to speak with thy neighbour when he cometh to thee, for thou knowest not what he is, nor why he cometh, nor what need he hath of thee, or thou of him, till thou hast tried. And though thou be at prayer, or at thy devotions, that thou thinkest loth to break off, for that thou thinkest that thou oughtest not leave God for to speak with anyone, I think not so in this case, for if thou be wise thou shalt not leave God, but thou shalt find Him, and have Him, and see Him, in thy neighbour, as well as in prayer, only in another manner.

If thou canst love thy neighbour well, to speak with thy neighbour with discretion shall be no hindrance to thee. Discretion shalt thou have on this manner as me thinketh; Whoso cometh to thee, ask him meekly what he would have; and if he come to tell thee his disease or trouble and to be comforted by thy speech, hear him gladly, and suffer him to say what he will, for ease of his own heart; and when he hath done, comfort him if thou canst, gladly, gently and charitably, and soon break off. And then, after that, if he will fall into idle tales, or vanities of the world, or of other men’s actions, answer him but little, and feed not his speech, and he will soon be weary, and quickly take his leave.

If it be another man that cometh to teach thee, as some Churchman, etc., hear him humbly, and with reverence to his order; and if his speeches comfort thee, ask of him more what thou needest, and take not upon thee to teach him, for it falleth not to thy share to teach a priest, but in case of necessity. If his speech comfort thee or profit thee not, answer little, and he will soon take his leave.

If it be another man that cometh to give thee his alms, or else for to hear thee speak, or to be taught by thee, speak gently and humbly to them all, reprove no man for his faults, for that belongeth not to thee, unless he be the more homely or familiar with thee, that thou knowest that he will take it well from thee. And to be short in this matter of thy telling of another of his faults, I say, that when thou conceivest that it will do him good (namely, in his soul) thou mayest tell him thy mind, if thou hast opportunity, and if he is likely to take it well. And above all other things, in this matter of conversing with thy neighbour, keep silence as much as thou canst, and then shalt thou see that by so doing thou shalt in short time be troubled with little press or company that would come to hinder thy devotions. This is my opinion herein; do thou better if thou canst.

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