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What a Man is to take heed of in his Prayers and Meditations
BUT of certain things it behoveth thee to beware in thy meditations; of some of them I shall tell thee. One is that when thou hast had a spiritual thought or imagination of the humanity of our Lord, or of other bodily things, and thy soul hath been comforted and fed therewith, and afterward it passeth away of itself; do not seek, as it were, by mastery or force to hold it still, for then it will turn thee into pain and bitterness. Also, if it pass not away, but dwell still in thy mind, without any travail or industry of thine, and thou, for the comfort thou findest in it, wilt not leave it, and thereupon it still continuing with thee, cometh to bereave or hinder thee of thy sleep at nights, or else in the day times hindereth thee from other good deeds, or else through the great fervour that it worketh in thy body, thy body or thine head by it falleth into a great feebleness, then must thou lessen or moderate, and sometimes forbear such exercise of thine, even when thou hast most devotion in it, or to it, and wouldst otherwise be most loth to forbear it, or part from it; and therefore thou must needs use discretion in the matter, for to avoid those mischiefs, or any of them, which now I have reckoned up to thee, or any other mischief or peril that may come to thee through indiscreet fervour or love to those thy exercises; and in particular, give it over when it is reasonable time to give it over, or when thy Christian brother may receive harm, or take just offence at thee by occasion of thy long stay at such thy devotions. If thou do otherwise in this matter than I have told thee, I think thou dost not well nor wisely in it.
A worldly man or woman that peradventure feels not devotion twice in a year, if he (through the grace of our Lord Jesus) feel great compunction for his sins, or think seriously or devoutly on the Passion of our Lord, or upon any other good matter, if he by occasion thereof, and his devotion therein, be put from his sleep and his rest, for one, or two, or three nights, until his head ache, it makes no great matter, nor will he be the worse for it; such devotion cometh but seldom upon such persons. But as for thee, or any other man or woman, that every day duly performest, or hath such devotions, and intendest to continue in pursuing of such daily exercises, it is expedient for thee to use and hold discretion in thy performance of those thy exercises, and not fully to yield and plunge thyself into devotion, so far as it will offer itself unto thee, but moderate thyself in it, and take it moderately, though it offer itself to thee in abundance.
Also I hold it good, that thou observe this discretion in thy exercise, which is, that thou tarry not too long at it, that thereby thou put thyself from taking thy meat or of thy sleep, when the time shall be for taking of them, or do give just cause of displeasure or damage to any other man, through occasion of overlong tarrying at such thy devotion. The wise man saith: That all things have their time.77Eccles. 3:1.
Another thing which behoveth thee to beware of is that when thy mind hath been employed for a time in the imagination of the humanity of our Saviour, or any other good matter, and after this thou seekest with all the desire of thine heart, for to have a more spiritual knowing or feeling of the divinity; press not too much upon such desire, nor suffer the desire of thine heart to tarry too long therein, as if thou wert expecting and tarrying for some better or higher elevation of thy spirit, or for a feeling that had more worth or excelling in it than any thou hast hitherto had. Thou shalt not do so. It is enough for thee and for me for to have a desire and a longing to our Lord; and if He out of His grace and goodness will vouchsafe, over and above such desires of ours, freely, and of His own accord, to send us of His spiritual light, and open our spiritual eye, for to see or know more of Him than heretofore he did or could, by our own labour and industry, let us thank him for it; but if He do not (because we are not as yet humble enough, but were likely to grow proud by reason of such extraordinary favours, if He bestowed them on us, or are not disposed in other respects, and namely, by cleanness of conscience through well living, for to receive such grace and favour at His hands), then let us humbly acknowledge our own unworthiness, and hold ourselves satisfied with the desire we have of Him, and with other common good thoughts, that may easily be had and used by our imagination; as thinking of our sins, of Christ's Passion, or other such like things, or else with some vocal prayers of the Psalter or other vocal prayers, and thank Him with all our hearts, that He bestoweth upon us any portion of His grace or favour, though it be the least that any man hath. And if thou do otherwise, thou mayest easily be deceived (for thy presumption) by the spirit of error; for it is a great folly for a man of his own head or wilfulness to press or strain himself too much, to get into the sight or exercise of spiritual things further than he seeth well that he hath invitation and enablement for it. For the wise man saith that the searcher of the Majesty (of God) shall be oppressed by the glory of Him;88Prov. 25:27. for not having humility, cleanness and worthiness in soul, for such a sight he shall be cast down, and made to know himself better than he did through this confusion. And therefore the same wise man in another place saith thus: Do not seek for things that are higher, nor search into things that pass thy strength;99Ecclus. 3:22. that is to say, high things that are above thy natural reason and apprehension seek not after, and great matters that are above thy ability or strength do not search into. By these words the wise man doth not wholly forbid us to seek after and desire the knowing and having of spiritual and heavenly things, but he forbiddeth us to seek for them in a preposterous manner, which is too soon, and sooner than we are fit for them or that God calleth us to them, as when we are as yet sensual, and not cleansed from the vain love of the world; being in that degree, we are not to take upon us as if we could or would by our labour or industry, or by our own wit, enable ourselves to discern, see or know spiritual things, or procure in us great fervour of the love of God; so that albeit we see that we set at nought all worldly things, and it seem to us that we would for God's love forsake all the wealth, honour and joys of this world; yet for all this we are unfit and indisposed for to seek and behold spiritual things that are above us, until our souls through precedent exercises of the imagination, become to be more subtle, or as it were thin, or somewhat spiritual, and withal he become well mortified and settled in virtues by process of time and by increase in grace. For (as St Gregory saith) no man suddenly (or hastily) becometh supreme or perfect in grace, but beginneth with little, and proceedeth on by little and little, until that he come to be perfect, the which God grant that we all may one day be. Amen.
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