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THE TEACHING OF CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE IN PRAYING, MEDITATING, FASTING, AND WAKING: AND OF THE PROUD CONTEMPLATIVE: AND OF TRUE AND VERY GHOSTLY SONG
Therefore one chosen and alway desiring love turns himself into his love; for he has neither worldly substance nor desires to have, but following Christ by wilful poverty lives content and paid by the alms of other men, whiles his conscience is clear and made sweet with heavenly savour. All his heart shall he shed forth in love of his Maker, and he shall labour to be enlightened by daily increase in high desires. Every man forsaking this world, if he desire to be enflamed with the fire of the Holy Ghost, must busily take tent not to wax slow in prayer and meditation. Soothly by these, with tears following and Christ favouring, the mind shall be gladdened; and being glad, shall be lift into contemplative life.
The soul goes up into this height whiles soaring by excess it is taken up above itself, and heaven being open to the eye of the mind, it offers privy things to be beheld. But first truly it behoves to be exercised busily, and for not a few years, in praying and meditating, scarcely taking the needs of the body, so that it may be burning in fulfilling these; and, all feigning being cast out, it should not slacken day and night to seek and know God’s love.
And thus the Almighty Lover, strengthening His lover to love, shall raise him high above all earthly things and vicious strifes and vain thoughts, so that the wicked and dying flies of sin lose not the sweetness of the ointment of grace since dead, they become as nought. And henceforward God’s love shall be so sweet to him, and shall be also moistened with sweetness most liking, and he shall feel nought but the solace of heavenly savour shed into him, and token of high holiness. Truly fed with this sweetness he desires ever to wake, inasmuch as he feels verily the heat of endless love burning his heart, nor goes it away, enlightening the mind with sweet mystery. And yet some others that men trowed had been holy had this heat in imagination only. Wherefore being not in truth but in shadow, when they are called to the wedding or the feast of Christ’s espousals, they are not ashamed unworthily to challenge the first place. No marvel that in the righteous examination they shall go down with shame, and shall have the lower place. Of these truly it is said: Cadent a latere tuo mille, et decem milia a dextris tuis, that is to say: ‘From thy side a thousand shall fall, and ten thousand from thy right hand.’
But would God they knew themselves and that they would ransack their conscience; then should they not be presumptuous, nor making comparison with the deeds of their betters would they empride themselves. Truly the lover of the Godhead, whose inward parts are verily thirled with love of the unseen beauty and who joys with all the pith of his soul, is gladdened with most merry heat. Because he has continually given himself to constant devotion for God, when Christ wills, he shall receive—not of his own meed but of Christ’s goodness—a holy sound sent from heaven, and thought and meditation shall be changed into song, and the mind shall bide in marvellous melody. Soothly it is the sweetness of angels that he has received into his soul; and the same praises, though it be not in the same words, he shall sing to God.
Such as is the song of the angels so is the voice of this true lover; though it be not so great or perfect, for frailty of the flesh that yet cumbers the lover. He that knows this, knows also angels song, for both are of one kind here and in heaven. Tune pertains to song, not to the ditty that is sung. This praising and song is angels meat; by which also living men most hot in love are gladdened, singing in Jesu, now when they have received the doom of endless praise that is sung by the angels of God. It is written in the psalm: Panem angelorum manducavit homo, that is to say: ‘Man has eaten angels bread.’ And so nature is renewed and shall pass now into a godly joy and happy likeness, so that he shall be happy, sweet, godly, and songful, and shall feel in himself lust for everlasting love, and with great sweetness shall continually sing.
Soothly it happens to such a lover what I have not found expressed in the writings of the doctors: that is, this song shall swell up in his mouth, and he shall sing his prayers with a ghostly symphony; and he shall be slow with his tongue, because of the great plenty of inward joy, tarrying in song and a singular music, so that that he was wont to say in an hour scarcely he may fulfill in half a day. Whilst he receives it soothly he shall sit alone, not singing with others nor reading psalms. I say not ilk man should do this, but he to whom it is given; and let him fulfill what he likes him, for he is led by the Holy Ghost, nor for men’s words shall he turn from his life.
In a clear heat certain shall he dwell, and in full sweet melody, shall he be lift up. The person of man shall he not accept; and therefore of some shall he be called a fool or churl because he praises God in joyful song. For the praise of God shall burst up from his whole heart, and his sweet voice shall reach on high; the which God’s Majesty likes to hear.
A fair visage has he whose fairness God desires, and keeps in himself the unmade wisdom. Wisdom truly is drawn from privy things, and the delight thereof is with the lovers of the everlasting; for she is not found in their souls that live sweetly in earth. She dwells in him of whom I spake, because he melts wholly in Christ’s love and all his inward members cry to God. This cry is love and song, that a great voice raises to God’s ears. It is also the desire of good, and the affection for virtue. His crying is outside of this world because his mind desires nothing but Christ. His soul within is all burnt with the fire of love, so that his heart is alight and burning, and nothing outward he does but that good may be expounded. God he praises in song, but yet in silence: not to men’s ears but in God’s sight he yields praises with a marvellous sweetness.
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