Monday, June 22, 2009

Excerpt from the Epistle of Discretion

Please forgive the Elizabethan English. It makes it much harder to wade through for sure. The full epistle can be found at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library It is an anonymous work found in a collection called The Cell of Self-Knowledge: Seven Early English Mystical Treatises which was published in 1521.

It speaks a reminder that is pretty consistent in all that I have been reading on contemplative prayer lately, but applies to things much more broadly than that. In all that we do, it is God who must be our pursuit. When we make it a pursuit of prayer for the sake of prayer, or fellowship for the sake of fellowship, we are crudely extracting God from the equation.

When we are pursuing God with all of our being in truth and love, all of those external things like prayer, service, devotion and study can find a fruitful and meaningful place in our spiritual life. If God is not at the center of these endeavors, then we are deceived in thinking they will make us more holy or better people.

Of course the reality is that we are constantly trying to do those things without God at the center. We mean well, and we may try very hard to keep that focus. Sooner or later though, we will shift that focus away from him. In those cases we can be thankful that the Holy Spirit has come to guide us back to the way, truth and life that is found in God alone.

But now thou askest me, what is that thing. I shall tell thee what I mean that it is: It is God; for whom thou shouldest be still, if thou shouldest be still; and for whom thou shouldest speak if thou shouldest speak; and for whom thou shouldest fast, if thou shouldest fast; and for whom thou shouldest eat, if thou shouldest eat; and for whom thou shouldest be only, if thou shouldest be only; and for whom thou shouldest be in company, if thou shouldest be in company. And so forth of all the remenant, what so they be.

For silence is not God, nor speaking is not God; fasting is not God, nor eating is not God; onliness is not God, nor company is not God; nor yet any of all the other such two contraries. He is hid between them, and may not be found by any work of thy soul, but all only by love of thine heart. He may not be known by reason, He may not be gotten by thought, nor concluded by understanding; but He may be loved and chosen with the true lovely will of thine heart.

Choose thee Him, and thou art silently speaking, and speakingly silent, fastingly eating, and eatingly fasting, and so forth of all the remenant. Such a lovely choosing of God, thus wisely lesinge and seeking Him out with the true will of a clean heart, between all such two leaving them both, when they come and proffer them to be the point and the prick of our ghostly beholding, is the worthiest tracing and seeking of God that may be gotten or learned in this life.


Robb said...

That's a really cool and powerful quote. I think living in this mysterious distinction is hard for us in a society where perception is so often really functional reality - eg. pervasive ads for products like clothes or beer or cars that manufacture a brand-value association to create a desire in people for the product, and then that brand-value association actually sinks into the cultural consciousness so people actually do associate the value with you when you have the brand!

This highly influential context can creep into our spirituality very easily I think, and then it is hard not to just subconsciously acquiesce to pursuing our more concrete means as ends when it comes to faith. It's definitely easier than trying to maintain focus on the mysterious, both beyond and too near for us, not fixed by time and matter God who gave us the means to know and love him as we can. I've known the temptation and subtle carelessness to have things like the Bible, worship songs/leaders, other strong faith leaders, "community," "justice," "beauty," etc. become gods themselves, and think, though I wouldn't presume to conclude, that I've seen people I know truly and almost excitedly cross into this place at times.

It'd be interesting to explore the whole phenomenon of how ideas go from being rich, deep, profound, powerful touch points of God's revelation in our lives to buzzwords like the stuff in quotes above, and I'm sure plenty of other ones people have thought of. (Though I want to make sure it's not thought I'm not dumping on "community" and "justice" people in particular, as I am unapologetically one, but know there are touchy perceptions and opinions out there - but the important thing here is the means/end distinction).