But what do we actually say to God in our solitude? In fact we say nothing to him until we have heard in hard attention what he has to tell us.
It is necessary, especially in the early part of a person's spiritual life, to set aside certain periods each day when the soul can commune without distraction with God. When we know him as an unfailing presence deep within us as well as the source of all creation immeasurably above us, we shall always be with him in clear consciousness and our work will be his work also. The object of special times of silence is to celebrate and strengthen the bond that links the conscious mind with God. In my experience the most effective time of willed silent communion with God is in the early morning shortly after arising from one's sleep. It is then that the mind is most alert, refreshed and free from disturbing emotions and anxious thoughts. Furthermore, if the mind is opened to the blessing of God in the silence of peace and acceptance early in the day, it will retain something of that blessing as it descends to the atmosphere of the market-place and is sullied by the psychic emanations of the many distraught, unhappy people whom one meets in a day's work. Prayer should be practised during periods set aside later in the day and in the evening also.
In the same way when I am silent before God in contemplation, which is the deepest, most formless most intense mode of meditation, I can begin to converse spontaneously with him and listen to what he is telling me. We know that silence in the secret place where we are alone to ourselves, where, in the depths of the soul, a communion with God is eternally celebrated. When we are still to the clamour of the world outside and the mind within, when no further noise or images impinge themselves upon us, when distractions cease to hammer on the door of consciousness, a silence descends on us that is a true balm to the soul: it is no negative void but rather the impulse of a positive wave of love that pervades the whole personality and lifts it spiritually to a new revelation of meaning and purpose.
When we give ourselves fully to the moment in hand, God is with us also and our trust in his providence is the height of wisdom: In him alone can we attain peace and do the work for which we were called.
It can be summarized therefore that the life in abundance is the life in God, in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17.28). This life is essentially one of constant acknowledgement of the divine providence by prayer, thanksgiving and an identification of oneself with all aspects of the present scene. To see the world eternally anew requires a self-giving to every creature one meets, a blessing upon all who impinge on one as one moves through the varied pageant of life, moment by moment. Even more essential is to be able to pour out oneself in concern on all who require one's attention, never forgetting to thank the Creator that the world is as it is. This is no hollow complacency appropriate for those whose lives are prosperous and whose future seems assured, at least in terms of worldly attainments. It is an intuitive acknowledgement of the essential goodness of life and the justice of each situation as it arises, that even when, on the surface, the event appears disastrous, it is invested with superhuman possibilities that will show themselves to us provided we have the courage to persist and the faith to wait. As St Paul says: "For I reckon that the sufferings we now endure bear no comparison with the splendour, as yet unrevealed, which is in store for us" (Rom. 8.18). The basis of this hope is not wishful thinking. It is a deep mystical vision of the world of reality that underlies the insubstantial astral mist in which we live in everyday consciousness. This mist is a psychic emanation of desire that arises from the unsatisfied ego, and its components are boredom, fear, jealousy and resentment. These are assuaged by the constant distractions that the world needs for entertaining itself and diverting its attention from the one thing that is necessary for health - the spirit of truth. Only when the distractions have been finally torn away in the pain of loss can the reality of God be clearly known. Then there is silence, and all who can hear will listen to the message of truth. The truth alone sets us free, because it tells us of the day when all will be well as we progress beyond the limitation of worldly selfishness and enter into the knowledge of eternity. This is attained by living perfectly in the moment, and offering ourselves freely as a living sacrifice for all that presents itself to us at that moment.
To trust God means praying without ceasing, remembering him not only during the times set-aside for prayer but also when one is in the heat of life's struggle for survival. To remember God in our work means to do everything to his power and glory, and to see him as the nameless Christ who shows his face in the stranger whom we meet in the street and at the place of work
We gradually learn that the physical senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste have their inner subtle counterparts that emanate from the true self. Though our outer humanity may be in decay, yet day by day we are renewed inwardly (2 Cor. 4.16). It seems that in the loss of physical attributes that follows illness and the process of ageing, those of us who are spiritually attuned are given proof of deeper, more enduring spiritual gifts.
To be humble before the mystery of a fellow human being is the beginning of a genuine relationship with that person. To give of oneself in respectful silence to a person is to begin the work of counselling and healing, for in the tranquillity of self-giving, the Holy Spirit commences His work and a strengthening bond is effected between the one who serves and the one who is served. But that inner silence from which all good things are fed to those in need of help can dwell only in the person who has attained self-knowledge. When one can face and accept the areas of conflicting light and darkness within one's own psyche, only then can the Spirit of God use one in His healing work.
One cannot listen attentively to another person until one is at peace within oneself. A dialogue with oneself effectively excludes meaningful conversation with anyone else. If one is ill at ease in one's own depths, one will be in poor communication with all outside one. Only when one is deeply centred in the core of one's own being, which is called the soul or spiritual self, can one be available to hear the complaint of another person, and to flow out in silent attention to his needs. It is at this juncture that the Holy Spirit enters the conversation and sheds His healing grace upon the participants who are engaged in exploration of the depths of inner reality. Through His mediation there can be an exchange of psychic elements that is not only the heart of a true relationship between people but also the means of healing a broken personality.
Until one can enter into rapt silence and surrender one's awareness in trusting love to the unknown ground of existence, one cannot effect a real communication with the Deity. But how can one carry out that sublime practice of contemplation in the heat of everyday encounter when silence is barely attainable and seen to be remote from one's consciousness? The secret is to practise the presence of God in all situations and on all occasions. If one is constantly aware of God's providence so that one is dedicating all one's thoughts, words and actions to Him, one is in effect contemplating Him. In a situation that requires urgent counsel one can call upon the divine presence at once and receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Words that are startling in their power then flow from one's lips, shaking one's preconceived ideas even as one kneels in the depth of self-effacement that is the prerequisite of a divine encounter. These are the words of truth appropriate to the situation in hand. If they are heard and inwardly digested, they can effect a revolution of spiritual renewal, and cause one to see the present dark way ahead in a completely different context.
Of one thing I have no doubt: until we can love ourselves there is no possibility of our loving anyone else, even a person as close to us in physical relationship as a parent, spouse or child. Only when we love ourselves with the intensity of charity that will accept all aspects of ourselves as infinitely treasurable, even when they are palpably immature if not frankly perverse, can we be still and flow out in charity to all around us. Love, as Jesus reminds us, if it is real should be bestowed on enemy as well as friend, just as our prayers of intercession if they are to be effective in changing people according to the will of God, must include those who treat us spitefully and whose attitude to us is disfigured with destructive jealousy.
By an act of personal will I can regulate my outer activities so as to deceive not only other people but also myself as to my true nature. I may certainly become more efficient and materially successful, but I am further away from my centre than ever.
If, on the other hand, I acknowledge the darkness that is mine and lift it up to God in prayer, He will, through His healing grace, effect an inner transformation of my psyche, so that I will be driven by love and compassion for others and not by motives of self-improvement. The paradox about self-awareness is that once we have achieved it we should let it go. It is far removed from the self consciousness of the selfish man grasping for material or spiritual gifts to boost the self that he really hates, or that of the neurotic person enslaved by the imagined contempt of others for the self that he despises. It is the way towards self-acceptance and a gratitude to God that we are as fully ourselves as He has made us, defects included no less than gifts and talents. This is what is meant by self-love, a love that we are instructed to afford our neighbours equally as ourselves. Once we can accept ourselves as we are and can love our life as we find it, we can move progressively from self-concern to concern for others, until the moment of supreme sacrifice comes when we are able to give up ourselves entirely for the highest we know - love of the brethren and of God.
In my experience the most useful dreams have been those that related to a present circumstance or a past memory and showed that my unconscious reaction to these was at variance with my conscious attitude.
All knowledge is potentially beneficial provided it is not the end of the quest. In the spiritual path a detailed understanding of the body, mind, and soul, as far as this is possible, is most important. It is a basic truth that dietary excesses and alcoholic intemperance damage the body and weaken the mind. A person on the spiritual path learns almost intuitively to cut down on his food intake and to take as little alcohol (and the various psychotropic drugs that are so widely prescribed for sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression) as possible. The vegetarian way becomes ever more attractive - though the aspirant will never embarrass his host by indulging his personal whims regarding food - and smoking loses its emotional urgency.
The danger of any gift of the Spirit is that it inflates the personality of the recipient without integrating it.
I personally believe that all gifts come from the Holy Spirit, and are therefore charismatic, but that they often infuse highly fallible men who then colour the gift with their own personality. It follows therefore that until the personality is becoming integrated around the centre of the soul where God is known, any gifts that may be made manifest in that person will tend to exalt him above his fellows.
There is no one infallible seat of authority below the heavenly throne, but in order of priority I would place the inner light of man (the spark of God placed deep within the soul) and the wisdom of the human race. This wisdom is compounded of three elements: a scriptural authority, an ecclesiastical tradition, and the fruits of reason that have accrued from the intellectual, artistic, and scientific achievements of past generations of men. In the end we have to obey the dictates of our own conscience, for God is eternally making all things new (Revelation 21:5). Every life is a milestone in the progress of the whole human race on the path to self-mastery and consecration of itself to God's service. We cannot turn back or find refuge in old formulae. This would be a real betrayal of the work of the Holy Spirit, Who, contrary to the belief of some Christians, did not end His work after the apostolic period, but is as active in the lives of men today as He was in those far-distant times. And His activity is primarily that of leading us into all truth. Whatever is of durable value in the scriptures, the tradition of the Church, or the later achievements of mankind has been directly inspired by the Holy Spirit. He has no favourites, but works indiscriminately amongst all those who are prepared to give up their lives to the service of the highest they can conceive; this may be scientific truth, aesthetic beauty, or self-transcending love. In this true aristocracy, the caste-mark is self-dedication to the highest that can be known through the reason. Where truth, beauty, and goodness coincide, there God will be recognised by the intellect. But He is never known intellectually. Unitive knowledge is supernatural; God gives Himself to those that know their need of Him (the poor in spirit), and the proof of this grace is the changed person who has received it.
This means that the person who gives of himself fully to life will reach a point where his personal intellectual endeavours will be overshadowed by something external to him. This is the cloud of unknowing. It will take him up into itself, and he will see that which is hidden from mortal sight, and comprehend that which lies beyond rational understanding. Then he will know the truth, the truth that sets him free (John 8:32). It is noteworthy that Jesus was recognised by the common people around Him to speak with a note of authority that was denied the doctors of the law (Mark 1:22). Their authority was scriptural and traditional - in itself unexceptionable - but it was not confirmed in their hearts. One begins to know and to speak with that inner authority when one's personality is cleansed in the refining fire of God's love, which comes, as I have already stated, to those who are giving themselves unstintingly to the world around them.
But how does the authentic inner voice of God differ from the merely subjective sensation of certitude to which we are all heir? This certitude may vary from a "hunch" about some future event - which may or may not be confirmed - to the expression of some deep inner prejudice of which we are scarcely aware. The most important difference between inner authority and subjectivity is that true authority does not boost, or inflate, one's personality. On the contrary, the person endued with true authority not only recognises his own unimportance in the scheme of things but is indeed oblivious of himself in his devotion to the Most High. Nor is he personally affronted by opposition or derision. On the other hand, subjectivity tends to exalt the person, making him feel rather special and, like the Pharisee in the famous parable, decidedly unlike other men (Luke 18:11).
Subjectivity is personal, and proceeds by the assertiveness of the personal self. It is loud, assertive, and anxious for power over others. It seeks to justify itself. The authority from on high transcends personality, for it proceeds from the spirit of the soul. It is quiet, peaceful, and makes no attempt either to coerce others or to exalt itself. This is because it arises from God, Who is the source of all power. Far from imposing itself on others, it remains calm and at rest. It is, in fact, actively sought by those who understand reality. It does not lead the searcher into material prosperity, but it does show him the way to the abundant life.
Spiritual revelation never claims supremacy over the conscious mind. It is, by its very nature, supreme and the reason bows in reverence before it. It does not give us personal instruction or information, nor is it concerned about our individual well-being, material success, or prosperity, nor does it direct us into the most rewarding path. But it does infuse the whole personality with warmth, it integrates the personality around the "centre" of the soul (or the spirit), and it allows the person himself to decide his future in a mature, responsible way. It guides us by making us complete people; it does not dictate to us, and then leave us as incomplete and inadequate as before. In fact, the authority from the light of God transcends both the categories of subjectivity and objectivity. It is transpersonal, and its action is directed towards the fulfilment of true humanity in all mankind. It comes quite unobtrusively to many people at various times and in diverse ways as a sudden widening of spiritual vision, so that what was previously obscure in the scriptures, or confusing in the past course of their own lives, now takes on a new light and is illuminated with meaning.
A sense of humour is an important quality of the mystic whatever his religious belief. It is seen in the intuitive solution of nonsensical riddles (koans) in the Zen Buddhist tradition, in the quaint and beautiful legends of the Hasidic rabbis of the eighteenth century, in the lives of St. Francis and St. Teresa, and in not a few of the retorts of Jesus - often taken with such straight faces by those who read the Gospel dutifully but unimaginatively.
Where there is an ebullient sense of humour, the Holy Spirit cannot be far away.
It is a well recognised discipline of the spiritual life that a period should be spent each night in recollection of what we have done, and how we have comported ourselves during the day. This period of recollection brings us back to the way we have revealed ourself to others (and ourself) during the stress of relationships, and as such gives us a useful self-portrait of how we stand at the moment. This discipline should not be regarded as one of morbid introspection or a painstaking analysis of possible motives for every action we have performed. God alone can judge the heart; we have to consider the action itself and what it shows us about ourselves. The practice of awareness in everyday life is one way of developing a conscious response to the details of our surroundings instead of moving around in the witless state of a sleepwalker which too often characterises unawakened man.
The paradox of the situation is this: while the rational mind at its peak of understanding cannot comprehend God, the quiet mind can be receptive to the grace of God Who approaches it in the form of personality. In other words, when we are silent and at peace in ourselves, God can come to us and make Himself known to us as a person among persons.
To contemplate the things that confront us minute by minute in the day's work means being aware of them, giving our attention to them and flowing out in recognition to them. It means being grateful that they are themselves however humble may be their form and function. And this gratitude should embrace three aspects: the One by whom all things are created, the creature itself, and the inner gift of being able to respond with a healthy body and an alert mind to the many wonderful things one meets day by day in an on-going life. Jesus tells us quite starkly that unless we become as little children we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven; we must accept the Kingdom of God like a child (Mark 10.15). The little child is not conspicuous for its spirituality in terms of such qualities of excellence as charity, wisdom, selflessness or devotion to God: all these have to be learnt and acquired in the school of life. Nevertheless, the child does have the one thing that is needed for salvation, an open mind uncluttered with dogmatism, arrogance and cynicism. Being innocent of subversive thoughts, the child's mind is immediately receptive to the wonders of the present moment. Everything around it still possesses an aura of exquisite uniqueness to the little child; it is seen as a new creation. If we, of adult stature, are to move towards the heavenly Kingdom, we must learn to relinquish our customary attitude of bored indifference to the things around us. Our senses have to be cleansed of the heavy weariness that comes from a long, heedless association with the articles of common life that we have for so long taken for granted and used without reverence. Even an object of great beauty soon cloys if we experience it simply as an article to be used, something apart from us that can be dismissed at will. Only when we enter into its excellence so that it takes its place in the greater vision of reality does it become a testimony to the everlasting providence of God.
The important fact that emerged from this encounter and the subsequent course of my life was that there was nothing essentially wrong with me mentally or emotionally. I was certainly an unusual type of person - and who, in his own way, is completely devoid of unusual characteristics? But there was nothing intrinsically abnormal about me. The psychological difficulties were the result of involuntary attempts at suppressing my true nature and conforming slavishly to the standards of the world. My case was comparable with that of a person with exceptionally fine vision who tries to view his surroundings with spectacles designed for one that is very short-sighted, and who even pretends to the world that the result is pleasant. Once I came to myself I could at last begin to relax. What I had to do was to return to the inner completeness of my early childhood, but with the wisdom and compassion that had accrued from my experience in the world.
What I had been given through the grace of God had now to be transmitted to others. Both the inner revelations and the outer suffering I had endured were to be fertilised in service to those on the path of self-realisation
Two spiritual gifts showed themselves almost as soon as I came to myself, as the beautiful Parable of the Prodigal Son puts it. The first was an ability to reach a state of formless contemplation at will. I was concentrating on everyday questions, like "How are you?" or "What is the time?" repeated over and over again without an answer. Suddenly I became aware of the silence, a mere second that elapsed between the conclusion of the question and its repetition. That silence was more eloquent than the words which encompassed it, for in the silence I was aware of the eternal life lifting up the world and giving it meaning. As soon as I became aware of the reality of that momentary silence, I could attain it at will and remain in it indefinitely. Of course, I now realise that what, on the face of it, sounds a childishly simple exercise may need the work of a lifetime. I myself needed all the previous understanding I had to attain it, and its attainment was God-given as well as self-achieved.
In this silence my psychic powers, latent for the last sixteen years, were once again activated. I became aware of other people's inner needs and dispositions, and I could sense with remarkable accuracy the presence of evil in an environment. At one time I might have discounted such extrasensory - or perhaps I should rather say higher sensory - information, but my disillusionment with the narrow limits of knowledge set by conventional scientific philosophy made me less sceptical and more willing to accept these hidden sources of knowledge. On the other hand, my critical intelligence and scientific training prevented me falling into the morass of credulity that so often bedevils amateur enthusiasts of psychical research. On more than one occasion, when my mind was quiet and untroubled, I was aware of mental communication with friends who had died and were now living in the greater life beyond the grave. Sometimes the messages were emotional and loving, but therefore less evidential.
The second gift, which was directly related to the first, was that of spontaneous spiritual utterance of such a calibre that I was soon able to deliver completely unprepared addresses and lectures, lasting up to an hour on some occasions. When I reached the silence and lifted up my soul to God in prayer, His Holy Spirit descended on me, and I started to speak with an authority and eloquence far outside my usual range. And yet I was in complete control; my state of consciousness was raised, and I had lost all self-concern or self-consciousness. It was as if the Holy Spirit was speaking through me, and using the great storehouse of wisdom and experience that my educated, sensitive mind had accumulated during the painful process of its growth. In other words, the addresses were of a completely different order from the boring, platitudinous utterances that Spiritualist mediums in the dissociated state of trance so often deliver. At first I used to prepare notes beforehand, but when the time for speaking arrived, I found that the written word interfered with the spontaneous communication that passed between me and the audience. It required great faith to dispense with all such preparations and depend entirely upon God for inspiration, but once this had been attained, I never doubted the source of inspiration and relied on it absolutely. My particular qualifications for this gift appeared to be a well-educated mind with much experience of the inner life and a selfless concern for those who were listening. This selflessness was the result of the harrowing period in the wilderness that I had undergone. All concern for self-inflation ceased after the private self had been destroyed in the refining fire of suffering. If I had ever used the gift to impress myself on others, it would soon have left me, and my address would have descended to the level of a personal display designed to win applause.
In the beginning of the spiritual ascent it is all too easy to become otherworldly and to lose concern for humanity. Two baneful results accrue from this: a general impotence in asserting oneself in the world, so that one is bullied and overridden, and a reciprocal feeling of contempt for those who behave insensitively to one. At the same time there is a deep, incoherent awareness of black evil around one, an evil that shows itself as an anonymous external power seeking to destroy the vision of completeness vouchsafed one, and leading one into a negative state of selfish living that culminates in a loss of identity within a dark shapeless mass of lifeless debris that was once living men.
I must have been a strange child! Silence I loved more than anything else. In it I was in perpetual communion with my surroundings and with a world far greater than my physical surroundings. Each object, each flower, the sky and the atmosphere were bathed in a supersensual radiance. Each created thing pulsated with a life that was far more intimate than the coarse, movable life of worldly activity. In the darkness of night there was an even brighter light, the light of tumultuous silence in which the story of creation was celebrated in everlasting glory. Each object, no matter how little, was supreme, for God had made it and it reflected, in its own humility, the divine imprint. Each human face was pulsating with hidden meaning. That there was so much dull incomprehension of the very vision of life eternal was overwhelming in its sadness for me. In the depths of receptive silence no secret remains hidden. One's own inner life becomes open and transparent.
But the world does not know of this mystical reality that sustains the life of flux in which we all have to graduate to a measure of full personality. People lose sight of the embracing love that bears up all creation in its everlasting arms when they are immersed in surface living from day to day.
This evil was not related especially to my home, which was a place of beauty and warmth, but to the whole created universe which had been corrupted and desecrated by the selfish actions of its creatures, especially the angelic hierarchy and men, since the time of willed disobedience to the law of life, which is love for all things and for God who created them. No one who lives in full awareness, and has not blinded himself to reality by the abuse of intellectual ratiocination, can fail to feel the full power of psychic darkness, which has been personified, in various religious traditions as the devil. And some of this darkness has been assimilated by personalities, even our own, when they have been in a negative, destructive frame of mind. The end of evil is the complete destruction of the person, yet that word should mean the unique identity of every creature and especially of man, in whom personality is developed to its supreme degree, at least in the experience of the world we inhabit. This destruction is both an incorporation into nothingness and an annihilation of all uniqueness. It is the final result of living in isolation oblivious of the full body of mankind, and is an ever-present menace lurking for any whose life is selfish and centred in ignorance.
One learns in the course of life that evil has no primary, or substantive existence, but is the psychic residue left after a selfish, unredeemed action. What it is important to realise is that evil can never simply be averted. It must be confronted in the power of love and redeemed by love. I know now, as I glimpsed then as a child, that He who came to me could alone redeem evil, for He was love.
What was painfully lacking in my life was human contact with my peers. This lack was accentuated by a paralysing shyness and social ineptitude. It is clear to me now that I was not properly earthed as a child; the spirit, as it were, had not fully incarnated. I could roam with facility in realms of mental speculation, but I doubted the efficacy of my own bodily actions.
The true mystic is born and not made. He is not really of this world at all, so, if his life is to be successful, he has to learn to come down to earth and mix fully with all sorts and conditions of men. His task is the reverse of that of the much more common earth-bound man, who, if he is to succeed fully, has to move beyond personal acquisitiveness to universal sympathy.
Joy comes from within; it is assuredly present in the world, but it does not come to us merely from agreeable outer circumstances. Rather it is the radiant joy from within ourselves, the knowledge of God immanent in our own being, that sheds radiance on the world, raising it from the corruption of mortality to the splendour of eternity. Joy came to me whenever I could centre my attention, in childlike wonder, on any phenomenon or object. As I have said, I knew, early in my life, the joy of identification with nature in her many forms: the countryside with its changing pattern of beauty; from spring blossoms to the yellow summer grassland, the flowers of the field, the autumn tints of brown and red, and the sharp cleansing winter barrenness when all was desolate and yet full of that true beauty that comes of a shriven landscape. In nature there is not merely the outer form, but also an inner realm that palpitates with psychic and spiritual life. To him who can observe there is nothing empty save the emptiness of a vapid, selfish human being intent only on himself and his needs.
Already I had experienced an ecstatic state when I contemplated the excellence and completeness of geometry. Even simple forms, like the triangle and the circle, had enclosed within them immutable laws of nature. I saw God in the very excellence of the form, and in the point of intersection of concurrent lines within the form.
The end of suffering courageously borne is growth of the person into something of the nature of Christ, Who until then was merely a seed deeply planted in the soul and was awaiting germination to become the tree of life.
Antichrist is not a demonic figure typified in our own century by the person of a fascist or communist dictator or one of his henchmen....Antichrist reveals himself much more subtly and plausibly than this. He appears as an outwardly enlightened man of apparent good nature and well-disposed to his fellows, who takes charge of the world and usurps the place of God. He organises the world into the form of an advanced welfare state and makes everyone happy provided they bow down and worship him. All who co-operate with him live pleasant, uneventful lives, have plenty of possessions, and strive for the maintenance of their present status. Their inner eye is no longer lifted up to the Figure on the cross, who is the way, the truth and the life in God. Therefore they are not themselves transformed. They remain comfortable, complacent people, selfish and blind to the greater world, living like intelligent animals. They do not respond to the existential problems of life until they disappear, like the followers of Korah, swallowed up by the earth that splits and opens to receive their mortal bodies (Numbers 16:31). This is the way of Antichrist, that great deceiver, who promises us all the kingdoms of the world in their glory if we will only fall down and do him homage (Matthew 4:9).
WE SUFFER WHEN our personalities are in malalignment with the will of God, Whose law is union in love with Himself and all His creatures. Suffering began when God granted man free will, so that man could see himself apart from God as well as one with Him. What we call the Fall was man's descent from idyllic union with God into the world of manifold forms where separation was the order of creation. The more I consider the parable of Adam, Eve, and the serpent, who symbolises the dark subterranean forces of self-assertiveness in the human psyche, the more I realise how necessary the Fall was for man to recognise and realise the divinity that God had implanted in Him. Only if the supreme gift of free will had been withheld would man have stayed immutably fixed to his creator. But the love of God is such that He willed his creatures to become full of their own being, so that they could respond to His love as friends and not as puppets. It is in this context that Jesus' farewell discourses to His disciples have particularly moving poignancy: "You are my friends, if you do what I command you. I call you servants no longer; a servant does not know what his Master is about. I have called you friends, because I have disclosed to you everything that I heard from my Father" (John 15:15). It is hardly too great a simplification to place the whole burden of man's path to abundant life on the development of his will in harmony with the will of God.
Every experience in relationships with others is a little suffering. For in exposing ourselves to the scrutiny of the unfeeling glance of another person, we are shriven of some clinging conceit.
It is the strange nature of man that, in his prosperity and success, he tends to become self-centred and aloof from the feelings of his fellows, but once he has been brought low, he is able to identify himself with them. And in this state of silent identification, God Himself can at last gain entry into what is in reality His own domain, but which He has given unreservedly to self-willed man. Of all the ways of attaining mystical experience, it is the one of identification through suffering that is the most exalted, because it tells of love in a fashion that no other mode of approach to the divine can. It is man's duty and his joy to suffer in the image of Christ until all that is corrupt, astray, and lost can be reclaimed, redeemed, and sanctified.
Life spent in the world is a continuous and arduous process of self-giving to the world. The world is assuredly our material for experimentation and self-expression, but it too has demands to make on us. We have to raise it from the corruption of mortality to the eternal life known to the children of God. We redeem the world by giving up ourselves to it, in following the way of Christ Who gave up His mortal life for the redemption of mankind. Thus the life of service is also the life of God made flesh. "Among you, whoever wants to be first must be the willing slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give up his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:43-45).
How often have I met people who have never really made the grade! They are notorious among their own colleagues for their unpleasant personalities as well as their very modest professional ability, but they see nothing of this at all. Their lives are a dreary dirge of resentment and hatred of others whom they believe have betrayed them and robbed them of the success that was their due. They cast a malign psychic influence in their environment, and make everyone else unhappy also. It is from this morass of human inadequacy that political and racial hatred stems and bizarre religious cults and fanaticisms arise. These people have never known what true service means, and have regarded life as merely a means to their self-satisfaction and self-aggrandisement. The interesting thing is that not a few of them are ardent religionists, punctilious in outer orthodoxy (as were Jesus' opponents also). Bad religion (which is found in all the higher religions of the world) can be an impenetrable smoke-screen to conceal God and His searing truth from the sight of the believer.
We cannot know the reality of life while we continue to act as spoilt children for whom the world exists merely to amuse us.
In the seventeenth century a humble French soldier, Nicholas Herman, entered a community of Carmelites in Paris in middle life, where he was called Brother Lawrence. This lowly man combined in his person the qualities of Mary and Martha. Even in the kitchen he was full of recollectedness and heavenly-mindedness. "The time of business" said he "does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquillity as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament"
The basis of the way of service is that every task is done to the greater glory of God. This applies not only to human relationships, but also in our everyday work with inanimate objects and abstract ideas. The immaculate cleaning of a house, the considerate service that a shop assistant gives to the customer, the care we take of our clothes and possessions (which are in a very real way an extension of our own physical body), are all prayers of praise to God for His marvellous creation and thanksgiving that we are considered worthy enough to be custodians of the creatures of this world.
He who fears death also fears life. He who loves life and all the creatures of life has already passed from death to the life of eternity.
When we live sacramentally, we are less concerned about what the future has in store for us, and our actions are not directed primarily towards results. Instead we do the work for its own sake and to its own glory (and the glory of God), and do not become trapped in vain imaginings or dashed hopes. We can begin to see the strength of St. Paul's dictum, "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God" (Romans 8:28). While we naturally hope for success, we are more inclined to leave the means of success and its fruit to God, and make fewer demands ourselves.
It follows from this that every relationship is sacred. This applies especially to the most intimate of all relationships, the sexual one. It is a sacrament, and is defiled to the detriment of all participating in it. It is worth remembering that in the properly consummated sexual act, an act in which both parties have lost themselves in love for each other, each experiences a new reality, one that transcends the narrow isolation of personal gratification. Such an experience is the glimpse of mystical union destined for Everyman - by which I mean the person who does not aspire to great spiritual understanding but lives in a useful mundane way - by God's grace. I believe that this is the primary purpose of sexual union; the other two, growth into a full person and the procreation of the race, are secondary to it. It follows from this that sexual intercourse is a holy action, and should not be contemplated except in a spirit of awe and gratitude. How far man has fallen from this understanding is a measure of his distance from the divine nature implanted in him. I should add at the same time, that those exceptional people called to the state of celibacy in the cause of a greater love for all mankind, may also experience mystical union in their unceasing self-giving to others.
The wise person delays marriage until he has attained sufficient intellectual and emotional balance to judge clearly how he wishes to order his life. The practice of self-control, which is the last fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.z2), should govern all physical explorations of sex until there is a deep love for the other person.
Well attested is the psychological observation that when the will and the imagination come into conflict, it is the imagination that triumphs. When the imagination is filled with God's presence, worldly desires cease to impinge on it, and the will can act unimpeded. When sexual intercourse is recognized as a sacrament of God's love for all his creatures, it will have ascended from its customary place as a physical activity of pleasure and emotional release to the way of growth of the human to full emotional maturity and spiritual knowledge.
There is also a significant difference between aloneness and loneliness. The lonely person is depressed, unhappy and yearning for company. Yet there is something inside himself that seems to separate him from other people. It is, if it could be properly analysed, an inner feeling of inferiority, of unworthiness that robs him of composure and fellowship. One can be lonely even in the centre of a crowd of revellers or in a club of people sharing a common interest. This indicates that the root of loneliness lies far deeper than intellectual incompatibility. In the end we begin to realize that there is One who alone can satisfy the soul - God. Our hearts, as St Augustine reminds us, are restless until they are filled with his rest. Until we know the living God we will know neither ourselves nor our fellows.