The need for love – received and given — is the deepest need of the human heart. Our “fallen condition” does not include the destruction of this need and its operation. Indeed, people will go to extraordinary lengths to satisfy this need. Sin and death, operating in us and around us, does however distort this need. It counsels us to seek that love “in all the wrong places” as the song says. That realization comes to us in retrospect. And yet, even though we may realize this has been the case we often end up exchanging one “wrong place” for another. (See Orthodox Spirituality, by Fr. Dimitru Staniloae.)
In addition to the need for love is the ongoing assurance of that such love continues to be available and the basis of that availability. In short, is it conditional or unconditional? Upon what is its availability based and what is the limit of it? Is it the result of something or is it the source of something?
One of the most important aspects of our growth in Christ, in my opinion, is the shift of the assurance of love from the signs of it to the giver of it. In other words, what do we desire (love) the most, the things of God — consolations — or God? (Please do misunderstand. I am not suggesting that consolations have no place in the Christian life.) Could it be that our journey of transformative requires us to move beyond the assurance of God’s love residing, necessarily, in the things of God and becoming located in God Himself ? ! This would force us to think about our relationship with God to be a communion with His real presence instead of signs or tokens of His presence ! ! Indeed, this would require letting go on one set of presuppositions (wherever we got them) for another set.
Here are some excerpts from some not so ancient authors that might help us think more deeply about this important constellation of questions…
Friday after Trinity 2
Reading from Abandonment to Divine Providence
by Jean-Pierre de Caussade
Let us proceed to reflect upon our understanding of the divine action and its loving deceptions. What God seems to take away from us, he returns to us, as it were, incognito. Never does he allow us to be in want. He acts like one who at first maintains a friend by gifts of which he is openly the source, but who subsequently, in the interest of his friend, pretends no longer willing to oblige him, while continuing to help him anonymously. If the friend did not suspect this mysterious ruse of love, he might well feel hurt. What reflections would he not make on the behaviour of his benefactor? But as soon as the mystery began to unveil itself, God knows what sentiments of tender joy, of gratitude and love, of confusion and admiration would arise in his soul. Would he not burn still more with zealous affection for his friend, and would not this trial confirm him in his attachment, fortifying him for the future against similar surprises? The application of this parable is simple. The more we seem to lose with God, the more we gain; the more he strips us of the natural, the more he showers us with supernatural gifts. We loved him a little for his gifts; when we no longer see them, we begin to love God for himself alone. It is by the apparent subtraction of those sensible gifts that God is preparing us to receive this great gift, the vastest and most precious of all because it contains all the rest. Robert Atwell, Celebrating the Seasons, Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd.
“FALSE AND REAL HUMILITY”
By François Fénelon
It is false humility to believe ourselves unworthy of God’s goodness and to not dare to look to him with trust. True humility lies in seeing our own unworthiness and giving ourselves up to God, never doubting that he can work out the greatest results for and in us. If God’s success depends on finding our foundations already laid, we might well fear that our sins had destroyed our chances. But God needs nothing that is in us. He can never find anything there except what he himself has given us. No, we may go further and say that the absolute nothingness of the creature, bound up as it is with sin in a faithless soul, is the fittest of all subjects for the reception of his grace. He delights to pour it out on such souls, for sinful souls who have never experienced anything but their own weakness cannot claim any of God’s gifts as their own possession. It is just as St. Paul says: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.”
Do not fear then, that your past faithlessness must make you unworthy of God’s mercy. Nothing is so worthy of mercy as utter weakness. He came from heaven to earth to seek sinners, not the righteous; to seek that which was lost— as indeed all were lost if it were not for him. The physician seeks the sick, not the healthy. Oh, how God loves those who come boldly to him in their foul, ragged garments, and ask, as of a father, for some garment worthy of him!
You wait to be familiar till God shows a smiling face. But I tell you that if you will open your heart thoroughly to him, you will cease to trouble yourself about the particular appearance of his face. Let him turn a severe and displeased countenance upon you as much as he will, he never loves you more than when he threatens. For he threatens only to test, to humble, to detach souls from themselves.
Do you want the consolation God can give, or do you want God himself? If it is the first, then you do not love God for his own sake, but for yours; and in that case, you deserve nothing from him. But if you seek him alone, you will find him even more truly when he tests you than when he comforts you. When he comforts you, you have cause to fear that you might care more for his gifts than for himself; but when he deals roughly with you and you hold on fast, it is to him alone that you cling. The real time for progress is not when we delight in a conscious sweetness, but when faith is dry and cold— if we do not yield to discouragement.
Leave it all to God. It is not your business to judge how he should deal with you, because he knows far better than you do what is good for you. You deserve a certain amount of trial and dryness. Bear it patiently! God does his part when he pushes you away. Try to do yours too, and that is to love him without waiting for him to assure you of his love for you. Your love is a guarantee of his; your confidence will disarm him, and turn all his severity into tenderness. Even if he were not to grow tender, you ought to give yourself up to his just dealings, and accept his intention of nailing you to the cross in union with his beloved Son, Jesus.
Such is the solid food of pure faith and generous love with which you should sustain your soul. I pray that God may make you strong under your troubles.
Expect all, and all will be given you: God and his peace will be with you!
“THE DECEITFULNESS OF SELF-LOVE”
By François Fénelon
Generally speaking, I should fear that reading about extraordinary spiritual matters tends to harm weak imaginations. Self-love easily flatters itself that it has attained the altitudes that it has admired in books. It seems to me that the only course in such a case is to take no notice of such things. I advise you never to dwell voluntarily on extraordinary experiences. This is the real way to discover how much self-conceit has to do with these supposed gifts. Nothing tends so much to wound the vanity of self-conceit and bring illusions to light as a simple direction to set aside the marvelous, and to require a person who aspires to the marvelous to act as though nothing of the sort existed. Without such a test, I do not think the genuineness of a person can be proven thoroughly, and without it, I do not think due caution has been taken against delusion.
The blessed John of the Cross advises souls to look beyond such light, and to abide in the twilight of simple faith. If the gifts are real, such detachment will not hinder them from leaving their marks upon the soul; if not, such uncompromising faith will be a sure guarantee against delusion. Moreover, such a line will not keep a soul back from God’s true leadings, for there is no opposition. It can only distress self-conceit, which finds a hidden self-satisfaction in such unusual gifts; and that self-conceit is the very thing that needs pruning.
Even if such gifts are unquestionably real and good, it is most important to learn detachment from them, and live by simple faith. However excellent the gifts may be, detachment from them is better still. “And now I will show you the most excellent way”— the way of faith and love; not clinging either to sight, feeling, or taste— only to obedience to the beloved One. Such a way is simple, real, straightforward, free from the snares of pride.
“FALSE NOTIONS OF SPIRITUAL PROGRESS”
By François Fénelon
Almost all who aim at serving God do so more or less for their own sake. They want to win, not to lose. They want to be comforted, not to suffer. They want to possess, not to be deprived. They want to increase, not to diminish. Yet all the while our whole interior progress consists in losing, sacrificing, decreasing, humbling, and stripping self even of God’s own gifts, so as to be more completely his. We are often like an invalid who feels his pulse fifty times in the day, and wants the doctor to be perpetually ordering some fresh treatment, or telling him how much better he is.
Some people treat their spiritual director or pastor in this way. They move round and round in a petty circle of easy virtues, never stepping beyond it heartily and generously, while they expect the director (like the physician) to soothe, comfort, encourage, and foster perfectionism, only ordering little sedative treatments that drop into mere habit and routine. As soon as they are deprived of conscious grace— grace that they can feel inwardly, grace that is like the milk of babes— such people fancy that all is lost. But this is a plain proof that they cling too much to the means and overlook the end, and that self is their main object.
Privations are the food of strong minds: They invigorate the soul, take it out of itself, and offer it as a living sacrifice to God. But weak people are in despair at the first touch of privation. They fancy that all their work is being overthrown just when it is really beginning to be solidly fixed and thoroughly purified. They are willing to let God do what he will with them, provided always it be something great and perfect. But they have no notion of being cast down and crushed, or of being offered as a sacrifice to be consumed by the divine flames. They seek to live by pure faith, yet want to retain all their worldly wisdom, to be as children, yet great in their own eyes. But what a spiritual mirage this is! Francois Fénelon, The Complete Fenelon, Paraclete Press.
I AM ALL AROUND YOU, like a cocoon of Light. My Presence with you is a promise, independent of your awareness of Me. Many things can block this awareness, but the major culprit is worry. My children tend to accept worry as an inescapable fact of life. However, worry is a form of unbelief; it is anathema to Me.
Who is in charge of your life? If it is you, then you have good reason to worry. But if it is I, then worry is both unnecessary and counterproductive. When you start to feel anxious about something, relinquish the situation to Me. Back off a bit, redirecting your focus to Me. I will either take care of the problem Myself or show you how to handle it. In this world you will have problems, but you need not lose sight of Me.
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
“Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” LUKE 12 : 22 – 31
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” JOHN 16 : 33 Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, Thomas Nelson.