Recently I have turned again to Thomas Traherne’s Centuries. In #342, he wrote that God gave us “an eye to behold Eternity and the Omnipresence of God, that [we] might see Eternity, and dwell within it; a power of admiring, loving, and / prizing, that seeing the beauty and goodness of God, [we] might be united to it forever more” 132f.
The “eye to behold” may be our intuition or, perhaps more likely, our imagination. This is comparable to St. Paul’s insistence that we must consider or reckon our selves as dead to sin and alive to God, in union with Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).
Our imagination can lead us to God or away from God! If we live our lives as though there were no God, then that is likely what our life will look like. Conversely, if we live our lives as though in God’s presence, we may ‘see’ God all around us. There is nothing wrong with training ourselves to see things a certain way–especially if that way is full of goodness and beauty.
always seeing God
Like a gift for music which will atrophy if unused, so this human birthright may fade away if we never use it looking for God.
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The name of this blog site is Pathways to God. Today I want us to begin thinking about the Mystic Way. In the Christian context, three movements are usually affirmed: purification, illumination and union. However, two additional steps are sometimes mentioned. One may occur between illumination and union. It is traditionally called the Dark Night of the Soul. The other is prior to purification. It is awakening. And it is awakening that I want to think about today.
The experience of awakening can happen in at least two different ways. One is to experience the glory of God externally. Nicholas Hermann (popularly known as Brother Lawrence) saw a dead tree in winter and thinking about how it would come back to life, he was awakened to the greatness of God. It was life-changing. Men as different as St. Paul and Rulman Merswin saw a great light and they were never the same. Even Jesus heard a divine voice at his baptism and a ‘normal’ life was no longer a possibility.
The other way is inward. Richard Rolle felt a heat or warming in his heart. (I don’t think it was heat that Tums could ‘fix’!) Catherine of Genoa was struggling in a loveless marriage and perhaps with depression. She went to a priest for her normal Lenten confession, but wasn’t able to say anything. As she knelt, her heart seemed pierced by the love of God. In one moment she saw her own miserable state, but more importantly God’s boundless love. Both Rolle and Catherine became great affirmers in word and deed of a divine love that fills and overflows our hearts.
Awakening comes in different ways, but when it comes the person is never the same. The Divine becomes the ever present reality of their lives. They live for God and God’s will. They affirm the beauty and the love of God.
So, what can we do to be awakened? Perhaps nothing. It comes to irreligious and religious persons alike. We can’t make it happen. All I can suggest is to pay attention to life within and without. All life comes from God and perhaps if we pay attention, we are more likely to experience a moment of awakening that will last a lifetime.
Pat and I love to go to the Gatlinburg area of the Smokies. Every season is a beautiful season in those mountains. But I especially like to go in the Spring to view the wildflowers. A line from Edna St. Vincent Millay describes my experiences each time I go, “I am waylaid by Beauty.”
Some years ago on a contemplative retreat I was asked (if I remember correctly) what kind of plant I would like to be, if I were a plant. Without hesitation I answered, “a wildflower.” Of all the flora in the world, I love wildflowers the most.
I believe that wildflowers can teach is some things about God. R.S. Thomas thought so as well:
It was easier to come out with you into the fields, where birds made no claim on my poor knowledge and flowers grow with no thought but to declare God.
What do they declare about God? One thing is obvious. God loves beauty. God’s love for beauty is manifest in the stunning profusion of wildflowers. In North America alone there are around 10,000 different types of wildflowers!
Another thing that wildflowers teach about God is that size really does not matter. We humans are more often impressed with bigness. Not so with God. To speak of God in human terms, God is as moved by a little stand of white Trillium
as by a majestic mountain or a deep blue sea.
On a recent hike, I found a Mayapple wildflower in bloom. You have to really look carefully for it because when God created this wildflower, the flower was made to appear under the leaves.
Only by bending down can one see this beauty. Perhaps wildflowers are intended in part to teach us about the beauty of humility.
April 22 is Earth Day. It is a good day to be thankful for the beautiful world created by God–the great Lover of Beauty. It is also a good day to renew our commitment to encouraging those in authority to protect our fragile environment.