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CHAPTER XII: A Commendation of Prayer offered up to Jesus by a Contemplative Soul, and how stableness in Prayer is a secure work to stand in; and how every Feeling of Grace in a chosen Soul may be called Jesus. But the more clean the Soul is, the more worthy the Grace is
THE soul of a man, whilst it is not touched with special grace, is blunt and gross for spiritual work, and can do nought therein. It skilleth not thereof by reason of its weakness. It is both old and dry, undevout and unsavoury in itself. But then cometh the light of grace, and through touching maketh it sharp and subtle, ready and able to spiritual work, and giveth it a great freedom and a perfect readiness in will to be pliable319319 Buxom. to all the stirrings of grace, ready to work after that grace stirreth the soul. For by opening of the spiritual eye it is wholly applied to grace, ready to pray. And how the soul then prayeth I shall tell thee.
The most special prayer that the soul useth and hath most comfort in, I suppose, is the Pater noster or else Psalms of the Psalter. The Pater noster for unlearned men; and Psalms and Hymns and other service of holy Church for the learned. The soul prayeth, therefore, not in that manner as it did before, after the common way of men by highness of voice, or by reasonable speaking out; but in full great stillness of voice and softness of heart. For why? His mind is not troubled nor hindered with outward things, but wholly gathered together into itself. And the soul is set, as it were, in the spiritual presence of Jesus, and, therefore, every word and every syllable is sounded savourly, sweetly and delectably, with full accord of mouth and of heart. For why? The soul is then turned all into the fire of love. And, therefore, every word that it secretly prayeth is like a spark rising out of a burning fire, which heateth 320320 Chaffeth. all the powers of the soul, and turneth them into love, and enlighteneth them so comfortably that the soul listeth ever to pray and to do nothing else. The more it prayeth the better it may, and the mightier it is. For grace helpeth the soul well, and maketh all things light and easy, that it delighteth to chant and sing the praises321321 Lovings. of God with spiritual mirth in heavenly delight. This spiritual work is the food of the soul, and this prayer is of great virtue, for it wasteth and bringeth to nought all secret and open temptations of the enemy, and slayeth all the mind and all the liking of the world and of fleshly sins. It beareth up the body and the soul from painful feeling of the wretchedness of this life. It keepeth the soul in the feeling of grace and working of love, and nourisheth it ever alike hot, as sticks nourisheth the fire. It putteth away all irksomeness and heaviness of heart, and holdeth it in strength and spiritual gladness.
Of this prayer speaketh David thus: Dirigatur oratio mea sicut incensum &c.—Let my prayer be dressed as incense in Thy sight.322322 Ps. 140. For even as incense that is cast into the fire maketh a sweet smell by the smoke rising up to the air, right so a Psalm savourly and softly sung or said in a burning heart, giveth up a sweet smell to the face of our Lord Jesus, and to all the Court of Heaven. There dare no flesh-fly rest upon the pot’s brink boiling on the fire. Even so can no fleshly delight rest upon a clean soul, that is all bilapped323323 Happed. and warmed in the fire of love, boiling and blowing up Psalms and prayers to Jesus. This prayer is always heard of Jesus. It yieldeth grace to Jesus, and receiveth grace again. It maketh a soul familiar,324324 Homely. and, as it were, hail-fellow with Jesus, and with all the Angels in Heaven, use it who so can. The work is good and gracious in itself. And though it be not altogether perfect Contemplation in itself, nor the working of love by itself, nevertheless it is in part Contemplation. For why? It cannot be exercised in this manner but by plenty of grace through opening of the spiritual eye. And, therefore, a soul that hath this freedom and this gracious feeling in praying with spiritual savour and heavenly delight hath the grace of Contemplation in the manner as it is.
This prayer is a rich offering filled all with fatness of devotion, received by Angels and presented to the face of Jesus. The prayer of other men, who are busy in active works, is made of two words; for they oftentimes form in their hearts one word through thinking of worldly business, and speak with their mouth another word of the Psalm sung or said. Yet, nevertheless, if his intent be true his prayer is good and acceptable, though it lack savour and sweetness. But this prayer of a Contemplative man is made but of one word; for as it is formed in the heart, right so doth it wholly sound in the mouth, as it were nothing but one and the same thing, both which formeth it and which soundeth it. And verily no more it is, for the soul, through grace, is made whole in itself so far parted from sensuality,325325 Fleshly heed. that it is master of the body, and then is the body nothing else but as an instrument and a trumpet of the soul in the which the soul bloweth sweet notes of spiritual prayers to Jesus. This is the trumpet that David spake of thus: Buccinate in neomenia, &c.—Blow ye the trumpet in the new moon.326326 Ps. 130. That is, ye souls that are reformed in spiritual life through opening of the inner eye, blow ye devoutly the sounding of Psalms with the trumpet of your bodily tongue. And, therefore, since this prayer is pleasant to Jesus, and so profitable to the soul, it is good for him who is new converted to God (and desires to please Him, and coveteth to have some quaint feeling of grace) to covet this feeling, that he may through grace come to this liberty of spirit and offer his prayers and his Psalms to Jesus continually and stably and devoutly, with whole mind and burning affection towards Him, so that he may be ready for it through custom when grace will stir him up thereto. This is a secure feeling, and a true one. If thou canst attain unto it and keep it, thou shalt not need to run about here and there and ask questions of every spiritual man what thou shouldst do, how thou shouldst love God, and how thou shouldst serve God, and speak of spiritual matters, that pass thy understanding, as perhaps some do: Such kind of doings are not profitable unless in case of necessity. Keep thee to thy prayers, quietly at first with thy own great industry, that thou mayest afterwards come to this restful feeling of spiritual prayer, and that shall teach thee wisdom enough in verity without feigning or fancy; and hold thee on in such prayer if thou hast gotten it and leave it not; but if grace come otherwise, and removeth it from thee for a time, causing thee to work on another manner, then mayest thou leave it for a time, and after return again thereto. And he that hath this grace in prayer asketh not whereupon he should set the point of his thought in his prayer, whether upon the words that he speaketh, or else on God, or on the Name of Jesus, as some ask, for this feeling of grace will teach him well enough. For why? The soul is turned into the eye, and sharply beholdeth the face of Jesus, and is ascertained that it is Jesus that it feeleth and seeth. I do not mean Jesus as He is in Himself, in fulness of His blessed Godhead; but I mean Jesus, as He is pleased to show Himself to a clean soul, yet in the body according to the cleanness that it hath. For thou must know that every feeling of grace is Jesus, and may be called Jesus. And according as the grace is more or less, so feeleth the soul more or less of Jesus. Yea, the first feeling of special grace in a beginner, which is called grace of compunction and contrition for his sins, is verily Jesus. For why? He causeth that contrition in a soul by His presence. But Jesus is then very grossly and rudely felt, very far from this spiritual subtlety; for the soul can nor may do no better by reason of its uncleanness. Nevertheless, afterward, if the soul profit and increase in virtues and in cleanness, the same Jesus, and none other, is seen and felt by the same soul when it is touched with grace; but that is more spiritually, and nearer to His Divinity. And verily that is the chiefest thing that Jesus loveth in a soul, that it may be made spiritual and divine in sight and in love, like to Him in grace, as He is by nature; for that shall be the end of all lovers.
Then mayest thou be secure, that at what time thou feelest thy soul stirred by grace, specially in that manner as I have said before, by opening of thy spiritual eye that thou seest and feelest Jesus, hold Him fast whilst thou may, and keep thyself in grace, and let Him not easily go from thee. Look after none other Jesus but that same, by feeling of that self-same grace more divinely that it may increase in thee more and more. And be not afraid, though Jesus whom thou feelest be not Jesus as He is in His full Godhead, that thou therefore mayest be deceived if thou trust to that feeling. But trust thou well, if thou be a lover of Jesus, that thy feeling is true, and that Jesus is truly felt and seen of thee through His grace as thou canst see Him here. And therefore trust fully to thy feeling when it is gracious and spiritual, and keep it tenderly, and have great dainty, not of thyself, but of it, that thou mayest see and feel Jesus still better and better. For grace shall ever teach thee by itself, if thou wilt fall thereto, till thou come to the end.
But perchance thou beginnest to wonder why I say one time that grace worketh all this, and another time that love worketh, or God worketh?
Unto this I answer thus: That when I say that grace worketh, I mean both love, and Jesus, and God; for all is one, and nought but one; Jesus is love,327327 1 John 4. Jesus is grace, Jesus is God. And because He worketh all in us by His grace for love, as He is God, therefore may I use which of these four words I list after my stirring in this writing.
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