Friday, October 19, 2018

Carthusian Solitude

According to the belief of most people, sanctification of self is the goal toward which the Carthusian strives. To prune and purify the soul; to ennoble it by the practice of the virtues, patiently exercised, vivified and nourished in the forcing-house of the monastery; in order to taste at last the pure blessedness of living and dying in the Law of the Lord – surely this is more than enough to justify a man in giving up the world, and very likely some of those who come to the solitude have no wider or deeper desire.

This is a very lofty purpose and surely worthy of a soul’s devotion, and yet it does not contain the blissful secret which is the first principle and essence of our life. At the beginning of our spiritual journey, most of us are drawn toward the realm of these desires, but gradually we come to know that this is not the Promised Land, and to feel that we are called to possess a more hidden, a more real and a purer Eden.

To attain to the lofty goal, enfeebled fallen man lacks one single quality, the holy audacity to aim high enough, to dare to draw at the zenith the slack bow of his love and faith. He who with a single heart desires the righteousness of the Kingdom of God receives also in full measure the crown of glory, and to him it is granted to dispense to souls the excellent wine of triumph from the Eternal Feasts. But from the soul that hath aimed her desire at self-hallowing, or any other lower goal, shall be taken away even that for which she hath yearned. To live by God alone and for God alone, that is the heart of our secret and the true essence of our solitude. It is also the one condition of our victory: for everyone who, eschewing all other, hungers and thirsts after God alone possesses Him All in All.

To wish for nothing else, to know nothing else, to have nothing else, but God and God alone; “to be nothing else, so that only thou be God,” to quote the profound words of a contemplative soul: that is a just description of the life of any soul in this place that is true to her calling. Every other care beside this one and only Love is superfluous. Anything that has no part in the infinite self is too small for the human heart. Far, far above our scrannel holiness, our righteousness so impure that it is almost blasphemous, above even the gifts of grace with which we are enriched; above all social, all human, even all spiritual, ideals; beyond every temporal striving; in God alone: that is where life eternal begins for us even while we are still here on earth.

It is not possible to formulate a “theory” of this kind of life or to express in words its essence: it is too simple. “To love,” “to live in naked reality” – that is all that we can say with human words. In order to convey some faint conception of this life, we have no choice but to make known its effects upon the soul that is swallowed up therein, and to show their relation to the theological mysteries and the life of the Church. But in so doing we are descending from the heights; we are exchanging the pure gold of silence for the base metal of words.

For a long time more, until its transformation is perfected, the soul that is made one with its God doubtless commits faults and registers relapses, at any rate in appearance. But these very imperfections become occasions of love, and feed the flame wherein the gazing heart has its permanent abode. Its own frailties amaze not nor hinder it, no more than do its virtues, for it has arrived at the meeting place of two infinites, its own infinite need for mercy and the infinite mercy of God. From the bottomless abyss where these two abysses meet, the heart unwearyingly draws up, like water, both the humble trust and the clear, calm thankfulness which fused together are the perfect hymn of praise.

The soul to which it has been granted to despise the world and to despise itself to the point of entire self-oblivion – or, to go to the root of the matter, the soul which possesses the ability to see as nothing everything that is nothing – such a soul, being detached from itself, sees how the Divine Wisdom supplants its selfhood. When the image of every creature and all limited desires have been swept away by the continuous trials which have purified it, then it becomes that spotless mirror whereof Solomon speaks, the Face of the Father is reflected in it, and it is identified with Him in glory incomprehensible, and Love ineffable.

We have been selected from out of the world and called to the secret garden of solitude for the good pleasure of God, to assuage the inexpressible thirst of Love rejected. These thoughts are beyond the range of our minds and hearts, and there is no hope at all of our being understood by those to whom no such experience has come. But mankind is deaf to this call; he draws away from God’s kiss. And so Love shut out, Love suppliant, Love crucified, has chosen certain souls from among the weakest and the poorest, to take comfort at least in them.

God is Love. Thus He wills and can will only Love, and the divine thirst of Jesus can be assuaged only by love. To comfort Jesus; to let God’s will be fulfilled in us; among thankless mankind to be Christs, in whom the Father may live and perfect His adorable work – that is the mystery of our calling. In the soul that gives itself over to Him and consents to the total sacrifice in which all love finds fulfillment, God quickens His Word. Such a soul belongs no more to the generations of earth; it is no longer the daughter of the flesh, nor of its own will, but it is born of God in the fullness of every moment. Its life is drawn from the Divine Life; it knows God with the knowledge wherewith He knows Himself; it loves Him with the love wherewith He loves Himself; it has become Truth, perfected praise; it is uttered with the Word. In short, it corresponds to the pattern contained from all eternity in the blessed Being of God; it is simply that which God wills. In it are confirmed the prophetic words of the holy Books: “This is my rest forever and ever: here will I dwell, for I have chosen it.” “And the bridegroom shall rejoice over the bride, and thy God shall rejoice over thee.”

Thanks to those hearts that are reborn in love, Christ continues to live upon earth, and to suffer for the salvation of men and the glory of the Father; for they may in very truth say: “And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me.” And, because of this transformation of personality, it is proper for them too to say: “Our conversation is in heaven.” They know too the inner meaning of the following words: “Blessed are the clean of heart.” “He that seeth me seeth the Father also.” “And this is the will of my Father that sent me: that everyone who seeth the Son, and believeth in him, may have life everlasting.” “I will that where I am, they also whom thou has given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou has given me...that they may be one, as we also are one: I in them and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one.”

The emanation from these hearth fires of love is incalculable, for by virtue of their union with Christ such souls are kings even as He is King. We must put it more strongly, even at risk of being misunderstood: such souls deliver the world. By acting only in and through God the man of prayer puts himself at the center of all hearts; he influences all; he gives to all of the fullness of the grace which he knows and by which he is possessed.

On the mountain heights of contemplation, the Carthusian abases himself to the lowest depth of the abyss of not being, where he lays upon himself absolute death of self and total detachment from the world, thus making actual his shining ideal: IN SOLITUDE TO LIVE BY GOD ALONE.

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