29 October 2008

Free Falling

I have given much thought to where I've traveled in the past twenty-odd years in the spiritual sense. Reading last night, I ran into descriptions of stages a soul passes through in seeking God. How strange - I know I've read the same years ago but it didn't move me or even make much sense; evidently I wasn't at a place where I could understand it. Now it moves me. How fascinating a journey of the soul is, and how interesting that each soul, searching alone for God, travels a road similar to those who have gone before...

Christian mystic tradition identifies several stages on the way of the interior journey. St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross gave descriptive language to them . . .

The Purgitive Way (also called the Way of Beginners or Ordinary Way)
The first stage which the soul passes through, where it completely comprehends itself as stained with original sin and as humanly imperfect. Through vocal prayer, penance, and self-denial it grows and consciously purifies itself. This is a conscious effort on the part of the contemplative person: vices and faults can to an extent be eliminated or lessened through sincere personal effort. This is called the Dark Night of the Senses.

The Illuminative Way (also called the Way of Proficients)
The second stage consists of the soul learning contemplative prayer, learning the value of silence in seeking God's presence, and one begins to know Christ more intimately. The Illuminative Way is different than the Purgative in that this second stage requires God's intervention. While a person may pass through the first stage by will alone, true illumination only happens through grace, with the Holy Spirit working to lead the soul and intellect. Thus, the second stage (like the third) is purely a gift from God to the individual.

The Unitive Way
This is a state of ecstatic union with God, the highest state of grace in an earthly life.

And where do I fall in the spectrum? I believe I am at the end of the Way of Beginners, where I have been since roughly 1985, and am just leaving it and moving into the Illuminative Way. I find myself continually in a state of amazement at the sudden change, and infusion of grace.

What did I do differently now, that suddenly that long road seems behind me? It was so often a lonely road - I never doubted God, honestly, but often doubted that I had any of his attention. I felt desolate, isolated, hopeless, for years. Suddenly now, I feel an energy, a transformation of some kind. . . as if I am on the brink of a new great awareness. I am excited by this, and afraid when I wonder if I will be adequate to the work required to achieve it. I

Even writing this, I feel some shame. . . who am I to speak of this grace, to announce its presence? But I feel strongly called to leave some record of this, as others greater than I in the past have done. Their voices have been there through centuries for us to learn from if we choose.

God keep me on a true path, guard my humility, chastise my pride, help me recognize fantasy and heresy whenever I might fall victim to them. Thank you for your intervention in my life - a life so ordinary and insignificant and commonplace. Amen.

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