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Mystical Marriage

Mystical Marriage

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Week Nineteen Summary and Practice

Sunday, May 9—Friday, May 14, 2021

Sunday
The big and hidden secret is this: an infinite God seeks and desires intimacy with the human soul. Once we experience such intimacy, only the intimate language of lovers describes the experience for us: mystery, tenderness, singularity, specialness, changing the rules “for me,” nakedness, risk, ecstasy, incessant longing, and of course also, necessary suffering.

Monday
If we could glimpse the panoramic view of the biblical revelation and the Big Picture of which we are a part, we’d see how God is forever evolving human consciousness, making us ever more ready for God. The Hebrew prophets and many Catholic and Sufi mystics used words like espousal, marriage, or bride and groom to describe this phenomenon.

Tuesday
There is even a term—“bridal mysticism”—for the many mystics (both female and male) whose experience of profound love of God was so deep and all-encompassing that it led to a spiritual sense of being “married” to God. —Carl McColman

Wednesday
Describing the soul’s relationship with God, Mechthild of Magdeburg marvels at “the powerful penetration of all things and the special intimacy which ever exists between God and each individual soul.” —Carol Lee Flinders

Thursday
The soul who deeply desires to remain in Christ’s holy company, and is sincerely grateful for the intimacy with him that is possible, and finds herself truly in love with this Lord who does so much for us—is the soul whom I consider to be most evolved. —St. Teresa of Ávila

Friday
I lost myself. Forgot myself. /  I lay my face against the Beloved’s face. /
Everything fell away and I left myself behind, / Abandoning my cares /  
among the lilies, forgotten. —St. John of the Cross

 

Allowing God to Love Us

In my experience, few Christians have a sense of what it feels like to be loved by God. We might get it intellectually or even sense it in our hearts, but the marriage of the soul and God is experienced on a deeper level when we make ourselves vulnerable to being overtaken by God’s overwhelming desire for us. I offer this contemplative reflection from Carmelite nun Ruth Burrows on prayer as an experience of allowing God to love us.

What do we mean by prayer? What does the word mean in the Christian context? Almost always when we talk about prayer we are thinking of something we do and, from that standpoint, questions, problems, confusion, discouragement, illusions multiply. For me, it is of fundamental importance to correct this view. Our Christian knowledge assures us that prayer is essentially what God does, how God addresses us, looks at us. It is not primarily something we are doing to God, something we are giving to God but what God is doing for us. And what God is doing for us is giving us the divine Self in love. . . .

What is the core, the central message of the revelation of Jesus? Surely it is of the unconditional love of God for us, for each one of us: God, the unutterable, incomprehensible Mystery, the Reality of all reality, the Life of all life. And this means that divine Love desires to communicate Its Holy Self to us. Nothing less! This is God’s irrevocable will and purpose; it is the reason why everything that is, is, and why each of us exists. We are here to receive this ineffable, all-transforming, all beatifying Love. . . .

We must realize [therefore,] that what we have to do is allow ourselves to be loved, to be there for Love to love us. . . . True prayer means wanting GOD not ego. The great thing is to lay down this ego-drive. This is the ‘life’ we must lose, this the ‘self’ we must abandon if we are to have true life and become that self God wants us to be, which only God can know and ultimately only God can bring into being. . . .

The essential thing we have to do is believe in the enfolding, nurturing, transforming Love of God which is the Reality: the Reality that is absolutely, totally there whether we avert to It or not. Prayer, from our side, is a deliberate decision to avert to It, to respond to It in the fullest way we can. To do this we must set time aside to devote exclusively to the ‘Yes’ of faith. . . .

If we are convinced that this is the heart of prayer, this basic decision to remain open to the inflowing of divine love, then we shall understand that we can choose any method we like to help us maintain this basic desire and intention.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound. 

Reference:
Ruth Burrows, Essence of Prayer (HiddenSpring: 2006), 1, 2, 3, 5–6.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, swan (detail), 2017, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The lines, curves and graceful beauty of the swan on water guide us into awe. Wouldn’t that be how one would respond to the presence of a beloved? God, the beloved. We, the beloved.
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Mystical Marriage

Transformed in the Beloved
Friday, May 14, 2021

The infinite love that is the architect of our hearts has made our hearts in such a way that nothing less than an infinite union with infinite love will do. It’s the setup in the beginning. . . . That infinite love creates you as a capacity for love, for love’s sake alone. That love is our destiny, love is the fabric of the true nature of everything that’s happening. This is the love nature of life. —James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush

Few people understand the love poetry and mysticism of John of the Cross (1542–1591) better than my friend James Finley. I never tire of hearing him teach on John, whether it’s at our Living School or on his recent podcast. I offer a few stanzas of John’s poetry with nothing more to guide you than Jim Finley’s conviction that God’s “infinite love” is in all in us. This first passage is from the “The Ascent of Mount Carmel”:

On a dark night,
Inflamed by love-longing—
O exquisite risk!—
Undetected I slipped away.
My house, at last, grown still.

Secure in the darkness,
I climbed the secret ladder in disguise—
O exquisite risk!—
Concealed by the darkness.
My house, at last, grown still.

That sweet night: a secret.
Nobody saw me;
I did not see a thing.
No other light, no other guide
Than the one burning in my heart.

This light led the way
more clearly than the risen sun
To where he was waiting for me
—The one I knew so intimately—
In a place where no one could find us.

O night, that guided me!
O night, sweeter than sunrise!
O night, that joined lover with Beloved!
Lover transformed in Beloved!

Upon my blossoming breast,
Which I cultivated just for him,
He drifted into sleep,
And while I caressed him,
A cedar breeze touched the air. . . .

I lost myself. Forgot myself.
I lay my face against the Beloved’s face.
Everything fell away and I left myself behind,
Abandoning my cares
among the lilies, forgotten. [1]

 

This second passage is from “The Spiritual Canticle”:

O soul,
most beautiful among all creatures,
you who so long to know the place
where your Beloved is,
so as to seek him
and become one with him,
now it has been stated:
you yourself are the home in which he dwells.
Here is a reason to be happy;
here is a cause for joy:
the realization that every blessing
and all you hope for
is so close to you
as to be within you.
Be glad,
find joy there,
gathered together
and present to him
who dwells within,
since he is so close to you;
desire him there,
adore him there,
and do not go off
looking for him elsewhere . . .
There is just one thing:
even though he is within you,
he is hidden.  [2]

References:
[1] John of the Cross, “The Ascent of Mount Carmel,” stanzas 1–6, 8, in Dark Night of the Soul, trans. Mirabai Starr (Riverhead Books: 2002), 23–24, 25.

[2] John of the Cross, “The Spiritual Canticle,” commentary on stanza 1, parts 7–8, in Saint John of the Cross: Devotions, Prayers & Living Wisdom, ed. Mirabai Starr (Sounds True: 2008), 39–40.

Season Three of James Finley’s podcast, “Turning to the Mystics,” focuses on St. John of the Cross.

Story from Our Community:
The cumulative effect of reading Fr. Richard’s meditations is that I have developed a deeper appreciation for the tradition in which I was raised, Roman Catholic. I have been given permission to let go of what doesn’t fit and embrace its mystical, contemplative tradition. This has created a deep longing to shed the separate self and has opened me up to the bounty of the Divine Healer within. The freedom that comes from this journey is indescribably rich and endless. —Theresa G.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, swan (detail), 2017, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The lines, curves and graceful beauty of the swan on water guide us into awe. Wouldn’t that be how one would respond to the presence of a beloved? God, the beloved. We, the beloved.
Read Full Entry

Mystical Marriage

Spousal Prayer
Thursday, May 13, 2021

The soul who deeply desires to remain in Christ’s holy company, and is sincerely grateful for the intimacy with him that is possible, and finds herself truly in love with this Lord who does so much for us—is the soul whom I consider to be most evolved. —St. Teresa of Ávila, The Book of Her Life

Spiritual teacher and psychologist John Welwood has written extensively about intimate human relationships as a “path of conscious love.” To engage deeply with another, we must allow the spontaneous nature of passion to bloom within us. He writes, “Since our very being is open to begin with, it naturally resonates and wants to connect with what is greater than ourselves—the vastness of life itself. Passion is the feeling of life wanting to connect with life. . . . Unconditional passion has no agenda. It is like the freely radiating energy of the sun.” [1] Though we may need to be careful about where we direct our life-force in our everyday lives, we needn’t hold back any passion we experience for divine life itself! Passion is essential to our relationship with God.  

Tessa Bielecki, a modern mystic, friend, and author, writes about how this type of passionate love, which she calls “spousal prayer,” is available to all—no matter what our relationship “status.”

Contemplation and mysticism are synonymous terms. They both mean loving experiential awareness of God: not ideas in the head or on the lips, but personal living experience. In the Teresian tradition, this experience takes a special form [sometimes called] . . . “spousal prayer.” . . .  In spousal prayer we come to know God the way a human spouse knows the spouse, the way a friend knows a friend, the way a lover knows the beloved. Spousal prayer is for men and women, for married couples and celibates, for people raising children or living in monasteries. . . .

Spousal prayer does not make God the divine rival of a human spouse. Human love prefigures divine love. Spiritual matrimony with God may be the goal of our human longings. Is this our real desire when we marry another human person? In the deepest relationships, lovers do not turn each other into idols, but recognize one another as icons, leading them through their love into the very bosom of the Godhead. . . .

Spousal prayer lies at the very heart of the Christian mystical tradition. . . .

We will never know God spousally if we think this prayer is impossible, improper, or unimportant. Even if we accept the reality of spousal prayer in general, we may preclude it by saying, “But it’s not for me.” For many years I believed that this particular kind of prayer was not meant for everyone. But St. Teresa has convinced me of the opposite. She insists that everyone is called to this prayer to some degree or another, at one time or another.

May nothing hinder us from begging God for this intimate friendship. We need ardent desire and what Teresa calls “holy daring.” She chides us for being content with so little. God wants to give us absolutely everything. Why do we settle for less?

Reference:
[1] John Welwood, Journey of the Heart: The Path of Conscious Love (HarperPerennial: 1996), 60.

Tessa Bielecki, Holy Daring: The Earthy Mysticism of St. Teresa, the Wild Woman of Avila, 2nd ed. (Adam Kadmon Books: 2016), 43, 44, 57, 59.

Story from Our Community:
The cumulative effect of reading Fr. Richard’s meditations is that I have developed a deeper appreciation for the tradition in which I was raised, Roman Catholic. I have been given permission to let go of what doesn’t fit and embrace its mystical, contemplative tradition. This has created a deep longing to shed the separate self and has opened me up to the bounty of the Divine Healer within. The freedom that comes from this journey is indescribably rich and endless. —Theresa G.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, swan (detail), 2017, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The lines, curves and graceful beauty of the swan on water guide us into awe. Wouldn’t that be how one would respond to the presence of a beloved? God, the beloved. We, the beloved.
Read Full Entry

Mystical Marriage

God is Entirely Intimate
Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Lie down in the Fire
See and taste the Flowing
Godhead through thy being;
Feel the Holy Spirit
Moving and compelling
Thee within the Flowing
Fire and Light of God.

Mechthild of Magdeburg, The Flowing Light of the Godhead 6.29 

Mechthild of Magdeburg (c. 1212–c. 1282) was a member of the Beguines, lay women who lived communal lives of Christian devotion and service in the Low Countries of Western Europe and in France and Germany. Her book The Flowing Light of the Godhead is said to be the first book written in German. Scholar Carol Lee Flinders writes:

Describing the soul’s relationship with God, [Mechthild] marvels at “the powerful penetration of all things and the special intimacy which ever exists between God and each individual soul.” (Flowing Light 3.1) . . .  The paradox enchants her: God is everywhere and surely, therefore, impersonal; and yet in relation to the individual soul, God is entirely intimate and surely, therefore, personal.

Richard here: When we get to the more mature stages of mystical union everything becomes a metaphor for the divine, and we grab for metaphors to make concrete the mystery that is now in everything and everywhere!

“Our redeemer has become our bridegroom!” Mechthild exults. Others had said as much, but in a relatively formal, allegorical mode. When Mechthild writes of the soul’s romance with God, she is no allegorist: in the depths of her being, she has found a lover who is fully, deliciously responsive. “Thou art my resting place,” God tells her, “my love, my secret peace, my deepest longing, my highest honour. Thou art a delight of my Godhead . . .  a cooling stream for my ardour” (1.19). God is there, Mechthild insists, for every one of us, not in a general, impersonal sense, but there—so exquisitely right for you it’s as if you’d made him up. He “whispers with His love in the narrow confines of the soul” (2.23). Her language is almost shockingly erotic at times; for Mechthild, the sweet goings-on between God and the soul are the reality—all-consuming and exquisitely fulfilling—of which human sexuality is only a pale shadow.

Perhaps we need to emphasize this. The astonishing concreteness of Mechthild’s imagery—its unembarrassed physicality—is somewhat deceptive if she is read casually. One might think she was celebrating the senses, the body, and even sexuality in and of themselves. In a way, she is, but readers of her time would have understood unequivocally that she conjures up the pleasurable experiences of the physical realm as presentiments, or intimations, of an awakening into supreme joy—joy that is interior and immaterial and unending. Rather than distinguish sharply between the physical and spiritual realms, then, and reject the physical, she joins them in a natural continuity and progression. We are led inward by way of everything in this life: everything in this life, therefore, has its own sanctity.

References:
Carol Lee Flinders, Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics (HarperSanFrancisco: 1993), 44–45. Quotations from The Revelations of Mechthild of Magdeburg; or, The Flowing Light of the Godhead, trans. Lucy Menzies (Longmans, Green: 1953).

Story from Our Community:
I find unstoppable salty tears tracking over my cheeks as I realize how well the language of these meditations articulates a deep inner Yes. Somehow in this mystical meeting of Truth and awareness comes this irresistible, resounding affirmation buoyed by copious gratitude. And with this grateful gratitude comes new life, comes everything. —Shawn B.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, swan (detail), 2017, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The lines, curves and graceful beauty of the swan on water guide us into awe. Wouldn’t that be how one would respond to the presence of a beloved? God, the beloved. We, the beloved.
Read Full Entry

Mystical Marriage

The Great Love Song
Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Carl McColman has written many accessible books on spirituality, the mystics, and contemplative prayer. Here he explores a biblical book of “bridal mysticism” and also offers an example of a modern mystic who experienced this kind of union with God.  

“God is love” (1 John 4:16) may be the single most important verse in the entire
Bible. . . . Is it any wonder that many of the great Christian mystics are renowned as lovers of God? This can take a variety of forms: for some, being God’s lover is very ethereal and philosophically abstract; but for others, an embodied, physical, even erotic quality characterizes their mysticism of love. There is even a term—“bridal mysticism”—for the many mystics (both female and male) whose experience of profound love of God was so deep and all-encompassing that it led to a spiritual sense of being “married” to God. . . .

[It’s important to] consider that this derives from the Bible itself. One of the loveliest books in the Hebrew Bible . . . is the Song of Solomon, also called the Song of Songs or the Canticle of Canticles. . . . It is the story of a bride and bridegroom, their passion for one another, their devotion to one another, and their (strongly hinted at) passion as physical lovers.

Historically, the Song of Songs has been read as a kind of allegory: the two lovers symbolize the caring relationship between God and Israel, or Christ and the Church, or Christ and the individual believer. This is where the mysticism of love comes in. . . .

Elizabeth of the Trinity [1880–1906] serves as a wonderful modern example of a bridal mystic. She entered the Carmelite order at age twenty-one and died only a few years later, but her legacy of letters and other writings reveals a deep sense of God’s presence in her life, a presence luminous with love. As she wrote in one of her letters, “I feel so much love over my soul, it is like an Ocean I immerse and lose myself in: it is my vision on earth while waiting for the face-to-face vision in light. [God] is in me, I am in Him. I have only to love Him, to let myself be loved, all the time, through all things: to wake in Love, to move in Love, to sleep in Love, my Soul in His Soul, my heart in His Heart, my eyes in His eyes . . . .” [1]

Elizabeth prayed that God would make her soul his heaven. In doing so, she recognized the heart of the mystery: that heaven is not just a place we go after we die, it is a state into which we are invited now.

References:
[1] Elizabeth of the Trinity, letter to Canon Angles, August 1903, in I Have Found God: Complete Works, vol. 2: Letters from Carmel, trans. Anne Englund Nash (ICS Publications: 2014), 123.

Carl McColman, Christian Mystics: 108 Seers, Saints, and Sages (Hampton Roads: 2016), 49–50, 59.

Story from Our Community:
I find unstoppable salty tears tracking over my cheeks as I realize how well the language of these meditations articulates a deep inner Yes. Somehow in this mystical meeting of Truth and awareness comes this irresistible, resounding affirmation buoyed by copious gratitude. And with this grateful gratitude comes new life, comes everything. —Shawn B.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, swan (detail), 2017, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The lines, curves and graceful beauty of the swan on water guide us into awe. Wouldn’t that be how one would respond to the presence of a beloved? God, the beloved. We, the beloved.
Read Full Entry

Mystical Marriage

Christ, Our Beloved Bridegroom
Monday, May 10, 2021

If we could glimpse the panoramic view of the biblical revelation and the Big Picture of which we are a part, we’d see how God is forever evolving human consciousness, making us ever more ready for God. The Hebrew prophets and many Catholic and Sufi mystics used words like espousal, marriage, or bride and groom to describe this phenomenon. That’s what the prophet Isaiah (61:10, 62:5), many of the Psalms, the school of Paul (Ephesians 5:25–32), and the Book of Revelation (19:7–8, 21:2) mean by “preparing a bride to be ready for her husband.” It has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with the human soul that is being gradually readied so that espousal and full partnership with the Divine are the final result. It’s all moving toward a marriage between God and creation. Note that such salvation is a social and cosmic concept, and not just about isolated individuals “going to heaven.” The church was meant to bring this corporate salvation to conscious and visible possibility.

Could divine marriage and intimacy really be God’s plan? Or is this just poetic exaggeration? If this is the divine agenda, why were most of us presented with an angry deity who needed to be placated and controlled? And why would such a God even want to “marry” God’s creation? I don’t think I am stretching the point. Look for all the times Jesus uses a wedding banquet as his image for eternity, and how he loves to call himself “the bridegroom” (Mark 2:19–20). Why would Jesus choose such metaphors if they weren’t deeply true? The very daring, seemingly impossible idea of union with God is still something we’re so afraid of that most of us won’t allow ourselves to even think in that direction. The Eastern Church developed this idea in their theology of divinization (theosis) much better than the Western Church, and we are all much poorer for our loss.

Only God in you will allow you to imagine such a possibility, which is precisely “the Holy Spirit planted in your heart” (Romans 8:11 and throughout Paul’s letters).

Jesus came to give us the courage to trust and allow our inherent union with God, and he modeled it for us in this world. Union is not merely a place we go to later—as long as we are good. Union is the place we come from, the place we’re called to live from now. At the end, the fitting conclusion of the “Second Coming of Christ” is that humanity becomes “a beautiful bride all dressed for her husband” (Revelation 21:2), with Jesus Christ as the Eternal Divine Bridegroom (Matthew 9:15; John 3:29) waiting for all of us at the altar.

The clear goal and direction of biblical revelation is toward a full, mutual indwelling. The eternal mystery of incarnation will have finally met its mark, and “the marriage feast of the Lamb will begin” (Revelation 19:7–9). History is no longer meaningless but has a promised and positive direction. This creates very healthy, happy, hopeful, and generative people, the ones we surely need right now. All I know for certain is that a good God creates and continues to create an ever-good world, by enticing it back into the place where it began.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 251–252, 253, 254.

Story from Our Community:
Having experienced profound mystical experiences, I felt frightened and alone. As time passed, I began to understand that I was on the mystics path, and was not alone. Friar Richard Rohr has served as a beacon of light for me. I find great joy in knowing that I am not alone, but am holding the mystic path with many other souls, as we work together bringing forth the Christ consciousness of unity. —Ruth B.H.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, swan (detail), 2017, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The lines, curves and graceful beauty of the swan on water guide us into awe. Wouldn’t that be how one would respond to the presence of a beloved? God, the beloved. We, the beloved.
Read Full Entry

Mystical Marriage

We Are the Beloved
Sunday, May 9, 2021

Saint Bonaventure taught that we are each “loved by God in a particular and incomparable manner, as in the case of a bride and groom.” [1] Francis and Clare of Assisi knew that the love God has for each soul is unique and made to order, which is why any “saved” person feels beloved, chosen, and even “God’s favorite.” Many people in the Bible also knew and experienced this specialness. Divine intimacy is always and precisely particular and made to order—and thus “intimate.”

The inner knowledge of God’s love is described as joy itself (see John 15:11). This inner knowing is the Indwelling Presence. Which comes first? Does feeling safe and held by God allow us to deal with others in the same way? Or does human tenderness allow us to imagine that God must be the same, but infinitely so? I do not suppose it really matters where we start; the important thing is that we get in on the big secret from one side or the other.

Yes, “secret,” or even “hidden secret,” is what writers like the Psalmist (25:14), Paul, Rumi, Hafiz, Bonaventure, Dame Julian, and many mystics called it. And for some sad reason, it seems to be a well-kept secret. Jesus praises God for “hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them only to the little ones” (Matthew 11:25). Well, what is it that the learned and the clever often cannot see?

The big and hidden secret is this: an infinite God seeks and desires intimacy with the human soul. Once we experience such intimacy, only the intimate language of lovers describes the experience for us: mystery, tenderness, singularity, specialness, changing the rules “for me,” nakedness, risk, ecstasy, incessant longing, and of course also, necessary suffering. This is the mystical vocabulary of the saints. Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) puts it beautifully:

Who could explain the benefit that lies in throwing ourselves into the arms of this Lord of ours and making an agreement with His Majesty that I look at my Beloved and my Beloved at me . . . . Let Him kiss me with the kiss of His mouth, for without You, what am I, Lord? If I am not close to You, what am I worth? If I stray a little from Your Majesty, where will I end up? Oh, my Lord, my Mercy, and my Good! And what greater good could I want in this life than to be so close to You, that there be no division between You and me? With this companionship, what can be difficult? What can one not undertake for You, being so closely joined? [2]

References:
[1] Bonaventure, “Breviloquium,” part 5, 1.5, in Works of St. Bonaventure, vol. 9, trans. Dominic V. Monti (Franciscan Institute Publications: 2005), 172.

[2] Teresa of Ávila, “Meditations on the Song of Songs,” 4.8,9, in The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, vol. 2, trans, Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (ICS Publications: 1980), 246.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 35–36.

Story from Our Community:
Having experienced profound mystical experiences, I felt frightened and alone. As time passed, I began to understand that I was on the mystics path, and was not alone. Friar Richard Rohr has served as a beacon of light for me. I find great joy in knowing that I am not alone, but am holding the mystic path with many other souls, as we work together bringing forth the Christ consciousness of unity. —Ruth B.H.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, swan (detail), 2017, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The lines, curves and graceful beauty of the swan on water guide us into awe. Wouldn’t that be how one would respond to the presence of a beloved? God, the beloved. We, the beloved.
Read Full Entry
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