t happens one night that,
Cambridge professor engages a student
In a very
lively and absorbing philosophical discussion that lasts
wee hours of the morning.
professor at one point:
puppy dog suffering from rabies
probably struggle for life as we were killing it . . .
But if we
were kind – we should kill the puppy.
– a truly omniscient, all knowing God,
US out of our pain.
simply strike us dead.”
a moment, the student asks his teacher:
doesn’t God strike us dead?”
- He is dead himself.” answers the philosopher,
is why God” is truly enviable,
anyone who thinks deeply,
pleasures of this life, trivial and soon tasteless,
simply bribes to bring us into the torture chamber.
see that for any thinking man, mere extinction is actually . .
professor stops in mid sentence, his eyes widen; his jaw
student with whom he’s been engaging in philosophical debate
produced a gun and is pointing the gun – at him.
professor screams: “My God! What are you doing?”, lunges
over a chair toward the window and
to climb out, only to find himself a moment later
on top of a gargoyle unable to go any further.
then, just at this moment, on the last morning of his life,
rises, bathing the world before him in an enchantment of
once, an amazing abundance of shapes and FORMS APPEAR,
the most exquisite nuances of pinks, and blues and violets, .
thousand variegated FORMS blooming splendidly all around him,
silence before dawn . . .
come down off this place . . . PLEASE”
professor begs miserably,
understand you to say,” says the man with the gun “That
to come back to life?”
give anything, absolutely anything to come back.”
says the student, “Really!”
I’ll have a song damn you.Sing
for me.I said sing!”
point the professor eeks out a rather plantive song
him when he was a little boy:
the goodness and the grace,
my birth have smiled,
perched me on this curious place,
which, the student obliges his teacher
present to God an itemized thanksgiving list
the beautiful things he can see from his perch
On top of
that gargoyle outside the window:
ducks on the pond,
houses just becoming visible
shimmering on rain puddles,
sticks and rags and bones,
spotted curtains glimpsed through framed windows.
that day giving a deposition to the police,
man charged with attempted murder,
absolutely necessary for me to know what you really believed
they’re parting, turning finally to the professor he says:
realized sitting on top of that stupid gargoyle
the world is a beautiful place:
that because – I SAW IT at the same moment you did:
sun came up and the grey clouds turned pink,
saw the little gilt clock in the space between the houses . .
I saw the
little gilt clock in the space between the houses
was THEN I realized . . .
THOSE INDIVIDUAL VERY PARTICULAR THINGS
TO LEAVE – NOT LIFE,
story, fortunately, is not a true story,
taken from the novel “Manalive” by G.K. Chesterton.
THINGS you hated to leave . . .
whatever that is.”
the student saying?
saying: “life” as a topic for philosophical debate;
we can contemplate as an abstraction,
with detachment; weigh in the balance and find wanting . . .
is NOT THE POINT:
not “life” the professor was afraid to lose,
THINGS – all those beautiful and manifold created THINGS!
ducks, the gilt clock, the sticks and rags and bones of this
things, CREATURES the professor loved
cleaved to with all his heart; so much so he was moved to say:
Oh, please let me come back!”
I took a
risk beginning a quiet contemplative retreat
rather disconcerting story,
in which you yourself have been, in a sense,
out a window and made to perch on top of a gargoyle.
pushed you out the window on to that gargoyle,
to take another risk,
recommend as your retreat director that – YOU STAY THERE.
to suggest that imaginatively but really,
the whole of the next two days perched on that gargoyle.
it’s not a very comfortable place to sit,
is, for all that, such a wonderful place to sit – isn’t it?
OF THE VIEW IT AFFORDS of life; of the created world,
the mystery of the human heart,
to the reality of God – IN THINGS.
there, this weekend, brothers and sisters;
perched on top of that gargoyle as the sun comes up
its kindly beams on the world,
your own the vitally important lesson learned
poor terrified Philosopher:
learned that THIS WORLD IS A BEAUTIFUL BEAUTIFUL PLACE
what he loved; loved so much it made his heart ache,
very individual particular things
up this world.
training as a philosopher led him to believe that
creatures are finite, limited, and destined to pass away
was a monstrous conceit of his intellect – was it not?
no matter what philosophy may conclude,
teaches us that creatures; THINGS that are finite, limited,
beautiful, precious . . .
magic PRECISELY AS things that are finite and pass away.
invaluable to us precisely because they are passing away.
why we love them!
sun came up on what he believed was the last day of his life,
professor experienced a CONVERSION TO THINGS:
gun pointed at the back of his head,
He had a
whole new perception and appreciation for
clocks, rags, sticks and bones . . .
indescribably beautiful precious and desirable all of them,
as they last and precisely because THEY WILL NOT LAST . . .
what our HEART teaches us about the beauty of the world:
wrenching paradox that
Eternal God MANIFESTS HIMSELF TO US
BEAUTY OF FINITE THINGS PASSING AWAY . . .
particular object of contemplation this week-end
Song of Songs.
are going to benefit from this meditation,
be absolutely necessary
to let your HEART tell you
YOUR HEART KNOWS, all about the beauty of things
finite, limited things of this world which are passing away.
years ago, I gave this group a talk on asceticism
just happened to be scheduled about a week before I went to Rome
three months studying.
talk I proposed the life style of the Romans,
author has called the simple pursuit of pleasure
opposite of the ascetical life.
strongly recommended the latter.
week-end, I’m going to be pressing almost the opposite point,
encourage you, accompanied by the Lord and his Holy Spirit,
suspend somewhat your ascetical impulse to dismiss or devalue
passing and finite things of God’s creation,
another look, a long contemplative look
beauty of creatures:
nature, of human love, of human bodies, touch, affections,
I propose for you this week-end is that
savoring A FEW BASIC TRUTHS OF CHRISTIAN REVELATION
your seat on that gargoyle,
AT THE WORLD WITH NEW EYES.
to propose that revelation has the power to open your eyes
truth of HOW THINGS REALLY LOOK;
beauty of God’s creation whose whole purpose is to speak –
sing of what has been revealed to us about God
creation is haunted and shimmers with the light
burst on the world in Jesus’ passion death and resurrection.
you were curious to hear me report on my experience in Rome.
simply say the experience changed my life.
end of the program, I spent a week in Florence
day, a little shell-shocked by the mobs converging on Florence
in the Spring,
down a quiet nearly abandoned street near the Duomo.
walked, my nerves a little frazzled,
I felt a
space suddenly open up to my left,
shady, dark space and I turned my face toward it.
looking into a doorway beside which was a brass plaque
simply: “Dante’s Church”.
learned that I was standing in the original 13th
church where Dante and Beatrice went to church on Sunday as
church, amazingly, is virtually intact in its original
And as I
seated myself on a very primitive looking wooden bench,
imagined Dante sitting on that bench, spotting Beatrice seated
rows ahead of him and gazing at her.
myself to this reverie,
at the wall to my left and saw, only inches away from
knee was resting against the wall a few stone plaques
the name “Portinari”, and on one the name
that stone wall against which me knee was resting,
experience was a kind of culmination of my whole Italian
one of the greatest poets of all time,
greatest work, by his own testimony,
inspired by the beauty of a girl
A girl he
saw for the first time when he was nine years old.
sitting in the original parish church where on Sundays
would have met and gazed in awe at the young Beatrice.
experience of Beatrice
for many years, at the center of my reflection about God.
incident in particular.
in May 1285, about nine years after D and seen B for the first
her on a street in Florence
18 year old Beatrice spoke to him for the first time,
Dante, frozen in his spot as she passed by,
smiled – and, gave him a nod: a simple greeting,
Dante will later write in the language of love:
greeted me with ineffable courtesy such that
seemed to see all the terms of beatitude . . .
uniquely blessed by God, in B’s greeting,
returns home, falls asleep, and has a dream:
dream, Love himself holds Beatrice in his arms,
gives Beatrice Dante’s heart to eat
Love begins to weep
slowly ascends with Beatrice up into heaven.
dream, as it turns out, is a prophecy
that the world will not long know
beauty of this girl – she will die very young.
records the dream in a sonnet.
which quickly circulate all over Florence.
written replies to his poem,
important came from a young man D. called,
first among his friends” – the poet and mentor
replied with a sonnet of his own
opening words I read for the first time in college,
have haunted me ever since:
“VEDESTE, AL MIO, PARERE, OMNE
to Dante’s encounter with Beatrice he says:
saw, in my opinion, was a vision of all worth.”
stunning declaration.What is
GOOD AND WORTHY
HAS EVER CREATED
THAT IS BEAUTIFUL
PHYSICAL, MORAL, INTELLECTUAL OR SPIRITUAL
VISIBLE TO YOU – IN THE FIGURE
saw – was a vision of ALL worth!
time later, Dante passes Beatrice on the street again,
with a few girlfriends.
his face blanche
evidence of the reverential awe with which he regarded her,
behaved the way one might expect most teenage girls to behave,
circumstances like that:
giggled, teased him a bit, and moved on.
Themoment, was a turning point for
of course, crushed – deeply, deeply distraught . . .
been mocked . . . by Beatrice,
on his bed in agony, it all at once became clear to him,
not his fate to be Beatrice’s lover or husband
possess or enjoy Beatrice as a man might wish who is in love.
vocation, he realized was what he would call:
of my lady”.
be a poet.
poet, Dante would explore
insight given him that day in May 1283
occasion he saw in Beatrice: “All the terms of Beatitude”.
result was The Divine Comedy,
the greatest works of art ever created,
Beatrice presides over Dante’s
him through Purgatory into Paradise,
him finally into the Beatific vision itself.
Amalia Ciardi Duprè,
Beatrice and Dante
Bozzetto/Model for Statue, 'English' Cemetery, Florence
* * *
fascinated by Dante’s experience of God and beatitude,
it seems to have been made possible for him
experience of the beauty of a girl.
able to, as it were, “read off” from Beatrice’s physical
vision of God and Paradise
described in the Divine Comedy.
are steeped in the truths of Christian revelation,
with the proper disposition of faith and humility,
beauty of just one of God’s creatures,
experience of your physical senses
awaken your spiritual senses and lead you
vision of the Godrevealed in
This is a
contemplation of the beauty of physical forms
Can be a
revelation of the God revealed to us
man Jesus Christ.
remember sitting in my choir stall at Vigils one morning
young novice who had come to the monastery
having ever having read the bible,
hearing a monk get up to read:
are beautiful, my beloved,
are doves, behind your veil.
is like a flock of goats
down the mountains of Gilead.
TEETH -are like a flock of ewes
to be shorn,
come up from the washing,
them big with twins, none of them thin and barren.
are like a scarlet strand
MOUTH is lovely,
CHEEK is like a half pomegranate behind your veil.”
graphic descriptions continue of
bride’s neck, and her breasts . . .”
And I’m a
novice sitting there thinking
earth are we listening to?
the bible describing with undisguised delight
various parts of a beautiful woman’s body . . .
are we reading this in church?
be a long time
with the help of Hans Urs Von Balthasar,
would learn of the existence of: “THEOLOGICAL AESTHETICS
aesthetics is the study of beauty inspired
contemplation of God’s form given us in Christian revelation.
God is a
form – that is because at a moment long ago
night was midway through its course
whole world was still,
almighty Word leapt down from heaven to earth
became A FORM.
became a newborn child and on that night,
aesthetics was born.
reflection about aesthetics; all consideration of anything
it’s starting point THIS mystery:
the person of Jesus Christ and most especially
events of his passion, death, and glorious resurrection from
HUMILIATED HIMSELF OUT OF LOVE FOR US . . .
And in God’s
humiliation, shown to human eyes, in Jesus Christ,
became a form; a sensible form in the presence of witnesses;
little band of eye witnesses
eyes was shown the beauty of God.
brothers and sisters, is really the SCANDAL OF CHRISTIANITY,
offer as an object of reflection for you this week-end:
just imagine . . . we are a people who profess the belief
KNOWN MORE PERFECTLY
he had never become incarnate, and remained pure spirit.
and form, God is more perfectly and more fully known
angels knew him as pure spirit in heaven.
garment of human flesh actually uncovers God;
form exposes the depths of God’s mystery to human eyes,
pure transcendence a relatively superficial experience of God.
of Nyssa, ventures this amazing opinion - that
angels in heaven know God better now after having seen Him
in the person of Jesus Christ
of Jesus Christ
* * *
So – what
I propose for you this week-end
you stay perched on top of that stone gargoyle
our friend the philosopher, look around you with new eyes
splendor of God’s creation as if you were
the sight for the very last time.
disposed yourself to be receptive to the beauty of God’s
I hope to
help you to a deeper appreciation and understanding
you are actually looking at in the beauty of the world around
secret to this understanding is offered you in the Song of
follows, I’m going to draw on the writings of
Von Balthasar and of the Mystic Denys the Areopagite
illumine for us how meditating on the Song of Songs
Can be a
path to contemplation of not just human
on the poetry of The Song of Songs
to draw you into the mystery of all mysteries:
eternal God, creator of the world and of the starry heavens
among us as a man, and he was beautiful.
weekend I invite you to look at his beauty,
not the beauty of an angel or a Platonic idea
beauty of a human being percieved by human senses,
celebrate his beauty with the Bride of the Song of Songs
him too and sings:
are rods of gold, adorned with Chrysolites.
is a work of ivory covered with sapphires.
are columns of marble resting on golden bases.
stature is like the trees of Lebanon,
is sweetness itself; he is all delight.
my lover, and such my friend.”
Saturday a.m.VISION OF SPIRITUAL MARRIAGE. Wedding of GRACE and NATURE .
ast night, by way of ushering you into this weekend
retreat, I pushed you out a window
you perched on top of a stone carved gargoyle,
recommended that you stay there for the duration of the
that uncomfortable perch is where our Cambridge professor
that sensible things like ducks and sticks and rags and
revelations of the infinite mystery of God.
professor experienced what I am going to call
CONVERSION TO FORMS,
we mean, that poignant and sudden, heart stopping awareness
the sensible forms of creatures destined to pass away
precious, precious things, of inestimable value –
precisely AS sensible forms that are finite, imperfect,
and destined to pass away,
revelations of the eternal God.
conversion to forms; I believe, is required of anyone
himself a Christian: a follower of Jesus Christ
the eternal God appeared in a sensible form.
By way of
helping you toward this conversion to forms,
you to reflect on Dante’s experience of Beatrice . . .
Florentine girl in whose beauty Dante is said to have seen
of all worth – of everything good, worthy, and beautiful.
Divine Comedy, fidelity to this experience
spent contemplating the beauty of Beatrice
Dante to the beatific vision,
A face to
face encounter with God.
brings us to an interesting question.
the end of the Divine Comedy,
stands in Paradise;
is soul is inundated with the fullness of the light of God’s
into it. . . – why is Beatrice
Beatrice still standing next to Dante
threshold of the beatific vision itself?
not the memory of a pretty girl
somehow left behind, dispensed with at this point,
or - dissolved in the light of beatitude?
the question became very personal and urgent
morning at Vigils as a novice
that, having entered the monastery,
left all that behind; come to the threshold of the absolute,
hear an elderly monk at in the morning
lips . . .”
said to myself . . . it’s Beatrice.She’s
Beatrice get in here?
* * *
you to reflect on that question this week-end.
Dante approaches the ultimate fulfillment of all human desire,
enjoyment of the Beatific Vision,
Why – is
Beatrice still standing beside him?”
It is a
question that will prepare you to deal with
question; perplexing in the very same way:
What is a
poem like the “Song of Songs” doing in the Bible?
is the last of the five books traditionally grouped together
“Wisdom” books – in the O.T. – note that:
regarded the Song of Songs as a book of “wisdom” . . .
But it is
quite unlike any book of Wisdom
other book in the whole bible – why?
it is the only book in the entire bible whose expression
here not a single mention of Yahweh,
or even of religious belief.
is a straightforward very explicit celebration of physical
man and a woman.
this book doing in the bible?
precisely the question I asked myself as a novice,
asked the question with a certain urgency.
an answer and quickly because the simple fact is
poetry of the Song of Songs was awakening in me
feelings – of the sort a newcomer to monastic life Is apt to
regard with some anxiety.
of Songs, almost in spite of myself,
calling forth from me a response,
awakening and stirring my heart certain feelings,
that have potential to carry a man away,
outside himself toward an uncharted destiny.
kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
delightful is your love than wine!
spoken is a spreading perfume – that is why all the maidens
Draw me!We will follow you eagerly!
O King to your chambers!”
the Song of Songs.
It is the
song of a woman in love
with a man who is at moments elusive
other moments appears quite suddenly and unbidden.
lover’s tendency to appear unexpectedly
as unexpectedly, disappear,
effect of intensifying the woman’s desire,
her with longing and moving her to sing a song
an unabashed and expansive celebration of desire.
Bridegroom likewise lends his voice to this song of desire:
my beloved, my beautiful one, and come . . .
dove, in the clefts of the rock,
secret recesses of the cliff,
hear your voice,
voice is sweet – and you are lovely.”
one point – all commentators on the Song of Songs are in
Christian, all pre-modern scriptural exegesis,
ancient rabbis; later Jewish commentators,
Fathers of the Church, medieval mystics,
Reformation commentators – all of them maintained
BELONGS IN THE BIBLE
. . . THE LOVERS SPOKEN OF HERE
AND YAWHEH Later:
CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH, OR CHRIST AND THE BELIEVING SOUL . . .
that’s nice.That’s -good to know . . . really, that’s
helps guide us in interpreting the symbols in the poem . . .
probably will NOT help us much with the task
integrating into our prayer life
powerful FEELINGS; the erotic feelings awakened in us
identified God as the Bridegroom and Israel as the Bride . . .
not yet addressed the real challenge posed by this poem have
challenge is not that it is symbolic,
the symbols it employs are explicitly EROTIC.
of Songs is a celebration of erotic desire
succeeds so well at this, that it actually awakens
and I an erotic response.
challenge, the real challenge,
Song of Songs for that novice sitting in choir
At in the
morning was not keeping straight
meaning of the symbols in the poem
that the symbols given such lively rendering awakened in him
memory of that girl in his Chaucer class at HunterCollege,
thought about her in years – suddenly there she was!
beautiful girl who came to class one morning
in that little wisp of a gold necklace
tiny pendant that contrasted so exquisitely with the black
all over her shoulders; that pendant bouncing and shimmering
that ineffable fuzz of her lavender colored angora sweater,
which a sweet scent arose that wafted all around me,
effect of the whole making her look at that moment just
Christ coming in glory.
erotic poetry was awakening in the novice
It is the
power of the Song of Songs as poetry
from us actual erotic feelings
makes this book of the bible a challenge
of us – a challenge especially if we seek
Cistercian fathers did to read the Song of Songs
pathway to contemplation.
erotic poetry this effective,
that awakens THESE kind of feelings in us . . .
pathway to contemplation?
are a garden enclosed, my sister, my bride,
park that puts forth pomegranates and all choice fruits
saffron and calamus and cinnamon,
kinds of incense Myrrh and Aloes
the finest spices!
north wind! Come south wind!
perfumes may spread abroad.
lover come to his garden
its choice fruits.”
You and I
believe that God has summoned us
with all His holy people
with Him a relationship of covenantal intimacy – forever . . .
destiny is to be in covenant and to be intimate with God.
other book in the bible helps you to know and think about
mystery of God summoning you to intimacy,
of Songs makes you FEEL that mystery;
God summoning you; feel it viscerally . . .
to this poem, We feel God’s summons
up from inside us; from the deepest darkest recesses
sexually differentiated human bodies.
of Songs is an invitation to respond to God
intelligence, your feelings, your spirit, and your body . . .
have a hunch some of you might be feeling tempted, at this
back a bit, from this somewhat provocative discussion. . .
to run up those back stairs; up into your brain,
warm, quiet and secure study: your intellect.
to me talk, you may be tempted to relocate from the heart,
into your head where you can regard this whole erotic
bit more detachment.
gone “upstairs”, into your head, you may, if you like,
reason with yourself:
of course Alberic – the divine “Ms. Angora . . .”
the beatific vision twenty five years ago,
you suppose she looks like now?
you are aware Alberic, a woman’s beauty is fleeting –
changes . . . Oh so quickly – think about that . . .”
you read and meditate on the Song of Songs this week-end,
this voice begin to speak to you . . .
– who you are.
You are a
professor sitting on a gargoyle.
what we agreed – right?
all going to spend the weekend sitting on that gargoyle.
just been forced out a window at gunpoint
watching the sun come up over the Cambridge campus
of beautiful forms just beginning to be defined
your wonderstruck eyes.
Be that Cambridge
professor sitting on a gargoyle,
Pomegranates – schmomogranates!
saffron, calamus, cinammon, myhrr and aloes . .
brother!What are all these, a
bunch of – weeds!
a while and gone – gone . . . Alberic
destined to wither and die and pass away,
too the goddess in the angora sweater”
Be the Cambridge
know how to answer this voice:
yes - I know her beauty will pass away,
And it is
precisely that thought which here and now
sight of her so enchanting as to be almost unbearable,
in defiance of reason; in defiance of time itself
cries out to her cherished image before me:
a while – please . . . please . . . you are so beautiful!”
to encourage you this weekend to be receptive
welcoming to the feelings awakened in you by the Song of Songs
peacefully and joyfully savor those feelings
at moments it allures you with a beauty
isn’t going to hurt you and, accompanied by faith,
It can be
an incentive to surrender – surrender to God.
I would suggest, is where erotic feelings
supposed to take you.
having invited you to enter deeply
feelings expressed in this erotic poem from the bible,
to invite you to surrender to these feelings
in contemplative wonder and with faith
will guide you in this sweet darkness.
* * *
guide that God has sent us
precisely this dark passage in our journey
mystic Denys the Areopagite,
you may not be familiar with.
suggests he may be the most inspired aesthetic theologian
history of Christianity,
Doctor of divine beauty par excellence.
writing, I now offer you an insight
go so far as to say that in the context of our week end
THE KEY INSIGHT; the key to the mystery of the Song of Songs,
guarantee of your efforts to make the Song of Songs,
remember nothing else I say this week-end
this insight of Denys Areopagite
joins us on our retreat,
accompany you in your reading and prayer
addresses you now very personally.
a spiritual master who understands so well
than just about anyone, the depth and intensity of the erotic
in you by this poetry and as a friend and guide
you across the ages:
EVER CONSIDERED THE POSSIBILITY THAT
DEEPEST DESIRES OF YOUR HEART
THEIR SOURCE IN THE HEART OF ANOTHER.
what the master of divine beauty is saying:
EVER CONSIDERED THE POSSIBILITY THAT
DEEPEST DESIRES OF YOUR HEART
THEIR SOURCE IN THE HEART OF ANOTHER?
erotic feelings of yours; so very deep, so secret,
intensely personal as to seem unutterable
sure they must be entirely your own – actually
seems more your own than these erotic stirrings in your flesh;
paradoxically, you never feel so alone as when experiencing
obscure erotic movements and you feel certain
feelings as nothing else ever could be
completely YOUR OWN. . .
they were not?
what Denys is asking you to consider.
these erotic feelings are yours as EXPERIENCED by you . . .
if you were to discover that these erotic feelings
source in the heart of One who is not you?
pointing to the possibility of a new ending
completely new ending to the story of the Cambridge Professor,
much better than the one Chesterton wrote.
your eyes and imagine this new ending to the story:
perched on that gargoyle watching the sun come up
to the man holding the gun “Let me come down. I can’t bear
just about to accommodate you when
powerful wind rises up out of nowhere and buffets you
precarious little perch; you wobble – oh no!
lost your balance and you begin to fall . . .
the story ends, you are falling
not to your death but into a new kind of life
were swept down into by that sudden rush of wind.
that just knocked you off your perch
you plummeting into an abyss of beauty and desire
amazing insight of Denys.
invite you now to be still and let this wind
you; Let that wind beat against you,
beats down all your powers of resistance:
just revealed to you how to make the Song of Songs,
of erotic desire, a pathway to contemplation.
consider the possibility, that:
DEEPEST DESIRES OF YOUR HEART
THESE EROTIC DESIRES AWAKENED IN YOU
THEIR SOURCE IN THE HEART OF ANOTHER.
* * *
appreciate fully what Denys is saying
to stop and consider that the word “Eros”,
before that term was appropriated by our culture
designate a cheap thrill,
term used by philosophers and had a very precise meaning.
and his followers, “Eros”
power inside us that draws us upward and out of ourselves
the name of our distinctively human capacity to be
outside ourselves toward another – ultimately, toward God.
coming of Christ into the world
inspiration of the Holy Spirit working in the saints,
possibility emerges and Denys is a spokesman for it.
Christianity is introduced the notion of “Divine Eros.”
desire for us.
capacity to be transported OUT OF HIMSELF
divine eros brings rapture,
allowing them who are touched by it to belong to themselves,
to the objects of their love . . .
hence, the great Paul, constrained by divine eros
having received a share in its ecstatic power,
inspired utterance: “I live – and yet no longer I,
Christ lives in me.”
the words of a true lover,
who, (as he himself states), WAS BESIDE HIMSELF
his senses and unto God;
possessing a life of his own
life of this Beloved;
surrounded on all sides by ardent love.
must dare to affirm, (for it is true),
creator of the universe himself,
beautiful and good eros towards the universe is
his excessive erotic goodness,
providential activities towards all things that have being,
overcome, (God is overcome!)
sweet spell of goodness and love and eros.
manner God is DRAWN FROM his transcendent throne
things, in accordance with his super-essential
ecstatic power whereby he nonetheless does not
believe is the revelation of what is going on in the Song of
TRANSPORTED OUT OF HIMSELF TOWARD US
SWEET EROTIC LOVE
IN US THE RESPONSE OF EROTIC LOVE
US TO BE TRANSPORTED OUT OF OURSELVES
ANOTHER AND ULTIMATELY TOWARD GOD.
all, at some time in our lives
“transported outside ourselves”.
seen a beauty that caused us for a moment
Or a day
to be “away from ourselves”
absorbed in the beauty and attractiveness of another
failed to take any thought of ourselves
self-interest or even well-being,
happy to repose completely in our
with the beloved other.
It is the
experience we call in our culture “falling in love”.
easy enough to recognize it in the poetry of the Song of
this man and this woman falling
each of them to the mysterious power
remember on a day took us away from ourselves
sweet intoxication in every minute detail of
physical presence of a beautiful human being.
of Songs speaks to us, because the experience
love, of being transported outside oneself
universal human experience.
makes the Song of Songs a place where we can meet other human
other places and epochs,
of that is wonderful . . .
are still, at this point, talking about a human mystery.
It is not
yet clear how this savoring of the power of erotic love
us out of ourselves toward another,
absorbtion in anything more than human experience.
And it is
not yet clear how immersion in the intoxication
distinctive human way of loving,
expression in the Song of Songs,
a pathway to contemplation of divine reality.
contribution of Denys is indispensable,
Denys, inspired by something more than human insight,
suggested that GOD’S LOVE IS EROTIC.
TRANSPORTED outside himself by erotic love,
realize what that means?
means God, as the source of our very being,
himself the origin of all OUR erotic feelings.
erotic attractions; in those seismic shifts deep in our human
GOD’S going out of himself, and returning through us to
through our very being like energy waves through matter,
erotic LOVE making its way into the world
through our sexually differentiated bodies,
returning to God.
look again at the erotic feelings awakened in you
suggesting these erotic feelings which seem to arise
depths of your being,
have their source in the heart of another.
erotic feelings, though experienced by you,
finally your own.
our methodology here:
communicating to us the content of divine revelelation:
transported out of himself in the incarnation
love “drawing God down” from his throne
himself in human flesh . . . to show us his body.
by revelation, we then revisit our own erotic experience
erotic responses awakened in us by the Song of Songs.
with revelation – and THEN reflect on our erotic experience.
We do not
begin with erotic experience
We do not
commence our search for God by promoting
and pursuing a more intense erotic experience
hopes that by this means we will somehow “ascend” to
and an experience of the transcendent God.
been said addiction is actually the desperate and misguided
for a spiritual experience an experience of the absolute . . .
erotic experience as a path to God
probably what the sex addict is doing.
doing theological aesthetics:
first the consideration of Christian revelation
inviting God to shed new light and meaning
revelation guiding our way, is eroticism
a gate to
believers sounding the depths of revealed truth
hope to “repose” or come to “rest” in erotic experience,
We do not
put erotic experience first as something to be sought
As a good
in itself, that would be to
to manipulate and force God’s free revelation of himself
anticipate God’s eros before it were actually revealed to us
in his Son.
in theological aesthetics, we dispose ourselves to receive the
in reverence before the unfathomable mystery
divine lover and allow ourselves to be allured; drawn into
shadow; into God’s embrace where at last we rest serene,
the Bride beneath the apple tree in the poem:
apple tree among the trees of the wood
So is my
lover among men.
to rest in his shadow,
fruit is sweet to my mouth.
me into the banquet hall
emblem over me is love.
Oh . .
strengthen me with raisin cakes,
me with apples – for I am faint with love.
hand is under my head
right arm embraces me.
you daughters of Jerusalem,
gazelles and hinds of the field,
arouse, do not stir up love -before
its own time.”
Saturday afternoon: THE EXPERIENCE OF GOD’S
SONG OF SONGS – IN OUR CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER . . .
bed at night I sought him whom my heart loves
him but I did not find him.
rise then and go about the city;
streets and crossings I will seek
my heart loves.
him but I did not find him.
watchmen came upon me
made their rounds of the city:
seen him whom my heart loves?”
of Songs is not a poem about unrequited love . . .
story with a happy ending – but like any good love story
an anxious moment or two when the happy ending
to be in doubt . . .
in most of the poem, the Bride is singing ecstatically
joy in possessing and physically enjoying the beloved of her
– she loses him, and we need to attend very thoughtfully
exactly is happening here;
what precise sense does the Bride “lose” the Bridegroom . . .
watchmen came upon me
made their rounds of the city:
seen him whom my heart loves?”
hardly left them when – I FOUND HIM whom my heart loves.
hold of him and would not let him go.
this scene parallels a much more famous scene
gospel of St. John:
Magdalen on Easter morning; stands weeping outside Jesus’ tomb
angels appear to her and ask her why she is crying:
they have taken away my Lord,
don’t know where they have laid him.”
had said this – she turned around
BEHELD JESUS STANDING THERE
DID NOT KNOW IT WAS JESUS.
is asked; “Woman, why are you weeping”.
replies to a man she thinks is the gardener,
you have removed him, tell me where you have laid him
will take him away.”
looking for someone who had gone away . . .
was THERE – he was standing right there beside her!
HER BELOVED WAS NOT AWAY but somehow
from her sight . . . . HE WAS . . . HIDDEN.
the Bride in the Song of Songs:
Bridegroom, it seems, is “HIDDEN” from her at moments.
suddenly she sees him again,
not word about where he was – where he went off too . . .
. . he didn’t go anywhere – he was there . . .
with her – and somehow hidden from her sight.
the Song of Songs as a whole,
difficulty of the Bride in finding the Bridegroom at moments,
belong to the ESSENCE OF THIS ROMANCE.
people entering into this poem as a path to contemplation,
to come to terms with this disconcerting aspect of the poem:
fact that, at moments, the Bride can’t see him –
a moment later, she sees him.
no minor matter.
context of an erotic and romantic relationship
OF THE SIGHT of the beloved is a crisis – am I right?
about the worse thing that can happen.
So - why,
in this otherwise blissfully happy poem of fulfillment . . .
there introduced into the poem this curious business
Bridegroom’s periodic invisibility?
question is related to one of the deepest questions any human
to God – a question as old as religion itself:
“My God –
where were you?”
It is one
of the deepest most anguishing questions of the human heart:
DOES GOD GO WHEN WE DON’T SEE HIM.
AND IF HE
IS THERE – IF HE WAS RIGHT THERE ALL ALONG,
IT SEEM HE HAD DISAPPEARED?
does God go, for days, for weeks, for months sometimes . . .
does God go, when we can’t find him?
assures us God does not go away,
experience teaches us again and again that
presence is quite concealed from us.
beginning our reflection on this question,
Bridegroom’s concealment with a simple affirmation:
we believe in, IS a hidden God.
not only seem to us hidden –
we worship IS hidden from us,
eternally transcendent; ever greater; ever more mysterious;
horizon ever receding before us.
seen Him whom my heart loves?”
mystery of God’s hiddenness, brothers and sisters, is a
mystery I believe,
baptized and believing Christian can fully enter into.
This is a
mystery whose fullness is realized with God’s incarnation in
wholly into the mystery of God’s hiddenness,
to believe; really believe fervently in the incarnation;
you will begin to understand that
It is IN
THE INCARNATION ITSELF: God’s coming in the flesh,
absolute hiddeness is given final, unsurpassable confirmation,
the most astonishing and unexpected way:
HIDDENESS IS REVEALED ULTIMATELY
APPEARING TO US.
a concealment darker than the darkest darkness:
that darkness experienced in the discovery that God is
right in front of you – in the person of a gardener
It is the
darkness entered into when
having come in the flesh, suffered our human death,
having been raised bodily from the dead,
visible before Mary’s eyes on Easter morning as a gardener.
NEVER MORE HIDDEN, brothers and sisters;
more hidden or more a mystery
that precise moment Mary will refer to later when she says:
seen Him – I have SEEN the Lord.”
HIM . . . saw God standing in the garden,
seeing him there knew as she had never known before
she worships IS A HIDDEN GOD.
This is a
mystery that can be fully grasped only by a believing
writes: “Every other religious project
certain that one has to leave all forms behind
to experience infinite light . . .
is the ONLY RELIGION
PERCEPTION OF FORM
OPPOSED TO THE EXPERIENCE OF INFINITE LIGHT
BECAUSE WE BELIEVE GOD, WHO IS INFINITE LIGHT
SHOWED HIMSELF TO US IN A FORM.
the implications of all this?
consequences does it have for our understanding
hiddeness in the Song of Songs
the practice of contemplative prayer?
that, we might need to revise or expand our notion
contemplative prayer only as an experience of formlessness.
to consider the possibility that, like the Bride of the Song,
called to respond to our Beloved
body and our senses as well as our intelligence;
of Songs does not begin as a story of Platonic love,
will not end as one.
is not interested in communing with her lover
Cloud of Unknowing,
true, she spends a few anxious moments in that cloud,
nothing but her desire driving her madly through the darkness
. . .
is not the slightest suggestion in the poem that she ever
in the darkness, resting there;
sightlessness as compensation for his absence.
bed at night she seeks him whom her heart loves
– and does not find him . . . .
turn over in bed and embrace the darkness?
darkness to be her lover?
have none of that.
rise”, she says, and walk all over the city;
streets and in the crossings I WILL SEEK HIM whom my heart
no ambiguity here, she is only passing through the darkness
effort to find someone; to enjoy again the sight of him
doesn’t look very long when she finds him
HOLD OF HIM AND WOULD NOT LET HIM GO.”
* * *
challenge of the Song of Songs for us as contemplatives, then,
celebration of God’s hiddeness in a form.
HIDDENESS IS REVEALED TO US ULTIMATELY
FORMLESSNESS AND EMPTINESS … BUT IN A FORM.
spiritual seekers living in North
is a novelty.
because of a widespread belief arising from various
That a “pure” experience of God;
“direct”, “true”, ultimate” experience of God
one unmediated by sensible forms;
seeking direct experience of God, sensible forms
“transcended” and finally, dispensed with.
investment in super sensible experience has been attested to
mutual friend Fr. Michael Casey,
recent years, has spoken of the importance indeed
central importance of that experience of God
by any sensible form: which he calls: “META-EXPERIENCE”.
is experience of reality, of ultimate reality – of God,
by sensible forms or thoughts about forms,
follows I’d like to examine this concept of “meta-experience”.
is useful, and I think this is why he has hit on it,
it is a very general term that can designate
wide range of super sensible experiences:
from that of the seasoned Asian mystic
of a person sitting outside on her deck one evening
the sunlight filter through the leaves overhead
having an experience of totality and goodness . . .
conviction that “meta-experience” is the purest, most direct
to put you in a bind in your efforts to make the Song of Songs
to contemplative prayer.
not do to say: “Oh – but, meditating on the
images in the poem could be a PREPARATION
more direct experience of God in the prayer of emptiness . . .
to succumb to a fundamentally un-Christian idea:
God’s manifestion of himself in the humanity of Christ
Is only A
PRELIMINARY MOVEMENT toward a more mystical and direct
with God which finally dispenses with Christ’s humanity.
Christians we believe that Christ HAS ASCENDED BODILY to
at the right hand of the Father adorned with his glorified
which he will remain for all eternity.
it is hard to see how, in preparation for prayer without
want to feed one’s imagination with
vivid and erotic images of love between a man and woman.
Pennington one of the best known teachers of C.P.
abbot for two years and I watched him direct C.P. workshops.
a participant would propose doing Lectio Divina
preparation for C.P.
consistently discouraged people from doing this.
insisted that Lectio and C.P. are two distinctly different
praying and you need to make up your mind to do one or the
prayer with images, C.P. prayer that lets go of all images.
C.P. is a
meditative practice which cultivates metaexperience
has as its aim not meta experience,
I am going to call “ARCHETYPAL EXPERIENCE”.
to propose that if we are to make the Song of Songs
A path to
contemplation we need to think of contemplative prayer
quest not of “meta-experiencne”
This is a
concept I’ve taken from the writing of Von Balthasar.
the difference between the two?
meta experience and archetypal experience GOD IS HIDDEN.
because the God we worship is a hidden God.
meta-experience God is hidden in formlessness.
archetypal experience, God is hidden in a form.
we mean by “archetypal?”
is that which is first, seminal and primary,
which determines everything that comes after it.
archetypal is so good, so true, so beautiful, so ultimate,
only valid response to it is imitation.
supreme archetypal experience
supreme experience of God’s hiddeness in a form,
Christ THE MAN’S experience of God,
Christ’s HUMAN experience of God.
moment and reflect about this:
think of all BIBLICAL EXPERIENCE as
governed by the fact that the essentially invisible
unapproachable God enters the sphere of visible creatures
by means of any intermediary being:
entire bible, Old and New Testaments, proclaims that
Ours is a
Hidden God – and yet, a God, who has freely and lovingly
to show himself to us.
the good news of the Old And New Testament taken together.
shown himself to us – first in signs
finally in shown us his very self unmediated
person of his Son: Jesus Christ who will say to Phillip:
has seen me has seen the Father.”
all this mean: it means -
not become flesh so that we can become divine
SECOND PROCESS that follows afterward.
incarnation is not merely preliminary to a second
“mystical” and direct encounter with God.
You and I
SHARE GOD’S DIVINE LIFE precisely IN
only process of God becoming flesh.
clear then that the world – THIS WORLD
unfolding before the eyes of our astonished Cambridge
last morning of his life;
WORLD is the stage on which God has ordained
encounter between the whole God and the whole human person.
Christ, our beloved Bridegroom, IS THE FORM;
SENSIBLE FORM . . .
encounter between God and human beings in THIS world;
as an individual human being living in the flesh.
Jesus, then, a human being like you and I,
ARCHETYPE and makes possible for you and I
encounter with God in his ARCHETYPAL EXPERIENCE
Of God as
experience of God’s hiddenness in a form.
archetypal experience of God has been made accessible to you
the testimony of EYE WITNESSES,
women who saw him, touched him, ate with him,
preach; saw him heal; work miracles and raise the dead.
witnesses’s SENSIBLE EXPERIENCE
incarnate word of God; their archetypal experience
communicated to us in the life of the church
sacraments in her doctrine and preaching
christian fellowship and in good works;
You and I
share in “archetypal experience” of the Apostles;
original human experience of God in sensible form.
Houselander, an English-born mystic of the last century
“The characteristic repression of our time,
repression of Christ in the hearts of men and women.”
Houselander is suggesting is that we today are people
to “REPRESS” archetypal experience:
experience of God become visible in the person of Jesus
appearance of Jesus in the world, changed everything
of our contemporaries live as though the Christ event
from polite conversation, Jesus Christ begins to fade
people’s consciousness and “disappears” –
not go away – HE IS THERE, but we don’t see him.
repress a reality, we do not eliminate it,
block it from consciousness and in so doing,
ten times more powerful influence in our life.
are a man repressing your sexuality,
in this world will so unglue you
sight of a pretty girl walking by in a summer dress.
modern people repressed the Christ event,
become “Christ haunted” – like sleepwalkers
the streets at night asking every passing stranger:
seen him whom my heart loves?
has not gone away, He is there.
and sisters, the God we worship IS a hidden God,
does not mean we are banished to a life lived in darkness.
like to suggest that contemplative prayer
by the poetry and images of the Song of Songs,
Is to the
prayer of emptiness what Spring is to Winter.
Song of Songs, our lover’s voice becomes audible:
Bridegroom of the poem is calling us not to meta-experience,
experience of God in formlessness and emptiness,
archetypal experience; to that original moment in history in
himself visible in the humanity and life circumstances
Christ and his apostles.
the first appearances of God on earth,
experience opens up to the contemplative
and flowering garden full of fascinating forms and textures,
colors, and sensations,
world unfolding before the eyes of our Cambridge professor
on his gargoyle.
is calling you to a renewed sense of wonder in
of forms and their capacity to reveal to you the living God.
this richly celebrated in the life of the church in her
liturgy and her sacraments.
voice of the Bridegroom enter your heart and allure you
back to the richness of an experience of contemplation that
your whole humanity in an erotic encounter with the whole God
may sing with the Bride:
lover, here he comes springing across the mountains,
across the hills
is like a gazelle or a young stag.
stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows
through the lattices,
speaks; he says to me,
beloved, my beautiful one and come!
the winter is passed; the rains are over and gone
flowers appear on the earth,
of pruning the vines has come,
song of the dove is heard in our land.
tree puts forth its figs,
vines in bloom give forth fragrance.
beloved, my beautiful one, and come!”
Sunday Morning:The Song
of Songs and the Ordinary.
talks you’ve had this weekend
presented at a fairly high EMOTIONAL PITCH:
with a dramatic story of a Cambridge professor’s
to forms” as he watched the sun come up
campus sitting on a gargoyle
gun pointed at his head.
from this reflection on the beauty of sensible forms in
unique beauty of a Florentine girl; Dante’s Beatrice
beauty he beheld a “vision of all worth.”
reflected on how Dante’s passion for Beatrice ultimately
him and turned him into a poet . . .
by way of entering into the passionate and erotic world
Song of Songs which we undertook to read
As a path
to contemplation of divine mysteries.
invited you repeatedly to allow yourself to be touched and
erotic poetry of the Song of Songs;
yourself revisit images and experiences from your past
were awakened your own capacity for erotic experience . . .
having encouraged you to revisit these powerful emotions,
introduced you to the prophetic utterances of
Areopagite – the great mystic and theologian of God’s beauty.
I offered you the notion of “archetypal experience”
alternative to “meta-experience” so that
the Song of Songs, you might enter deeply
contemplative prayer without necessarily turning away
world of forms, which would basically negate
intent of the author of the Song of Songs.
by sounding in your ears the voice of the divine lover
evocative and alluring – beckoning to you: “Come my beloved .
winter now has ended,
here and it is time for love.
this exercise of revisiting deep intense feelings;
opening ourselves to the erotic language of the Song of Songs
the possibility of a deeply contemplative and yet
human even sensual experience of God in contemplative prayer,
fruitful for you . . .
But I can
imagine one of you saying at this point:
poetry is gorgeous, Fr. Alberic, the eroticism is all very
prospect of our being romanced by the incarnate Word
reveling in “Gods’ desire for us” as with a lover in the
Spring time . . .
is quite thrilling as a possibility that might be realized in
frankly, the life most of us are leading, simply isn’t lived
pitch of emotional intensity.
real life in the real world, lived out day by day,
most of us, not exactly what you would call an erotic
plodding along, doing the best we can to perform well in our
children, deal with aging, and health issues . . .
general, trying to make a decent life for ourselves and our
time remaining to us in this world.
very fine to spend a week-end delving into
stirring erotic imagery of the Song of Songs,
not clear to us how the rapturous adventure imagined in the
Is to be
realized for ordinary people living ordinary lives.
It is a
challenge worth addressing on our last day together,
I propose is to look at one way in which
EROTIC passion for you and yours for God
actually be realized, and was in fact realized
context of a very regular and outwardly uneventful life.
talking about the life of St. Anthony the hermit,
granddaddy of Christian monasticism.
may say, St. Anthony was an altogether extraordinary man
an extraordinary life – and it’s true his heroic witness has
and imitators for many centuries . . .
I would venture to say, Anthony’s actual daily life,
manner in which he lived alone in the desert over the course
many long years, was quite routine, undramatic and mundane.
most certainly passion in Anthony’s life,
was Anthony’s singular overriding passion?
his almost superhuman commitment to and passion for
called: “THE DISCIPLINE.”
was in love with “the discipline”,
he meant the discipline of the monastic way of life.
we are told, in the early pages of St. Athanasius’
St. Anthony” that:
Anthony’s conversion and retreat to the desert:
DESIRE AND ALL THE ENERGY HE POSSESSED
THE EXERTION OF THE DISCIPLINE.”
– hear what Athanasius is saying:
talked a lot this week-end about DESIRE,
desire, “all the desire he possessed” was for the discipline.
of everything we’ve said this week-end concerning
power, and depth and intensity of erotic desire in us
important GOD’s overflowing erotic desire for us . . .
an amazing statement by Athanasius:
desire Anthony possessed was devoted to
exertion of the discipline.
has happened to Anthony’s human and erotic desire;
radical and transforming has taken place in this man.
happened to Anthony?
may know, Anthony was orphaned as a young man.
not told the exact circumstances but, it seems
both parents at once and quite suddenly
though this may not have happened to us
empathize with what must have been
feelings of insecurity, anxiety, and uncertainty
his future well-being.
likewise imagine what it might have been like
young man, recently orphaned whose world
suddenly become so dark and uncertain,
the words of scripture read in church one morning:
BE ANXIOUS ABOUT TOMORROW”,
from the gospel of Matthew that, according to Athanasius,
motion Anthony’s conversion.
possible that this devout young man
steeped in the practice of his faith,
devastated by the loss of both his parents
responsibility for a younger sister suddenly thrust upon him .
possible that when Anthony heard these words, they
VERY POINTEDLY THE EXISTENTIAL FEAR
HIM AT THAT CRUCIAL MOMENT IN HIS LIFE?
be anxious about tomorrow – Anthony. . .”
Anthony have seen in these words
a vision of God’s beauty in a super-abundant mercy
offered to him very personally?
This is a
little speculative – but also supported by the text . . .
hearing this scripture passage read,
SUDDENLY BEHELD A VISION OF GOD’S BEAUTY
BEAUTY OF A GRACIOUS GOD
PROVIDES FOR ALL ONE’S TOMORROWS
ONE’S HEART ONCE AN FOR ALL OF ANXIETY?
Anthony at such a moment have not been quite ‘POSSESSED”
experience of God’s SWEET EROS communicated to him
midst of this personal crisis?
heard Denys the Areopagite say that
TRANSPORTED out of Himself by His erotic love and desire for
reading of this scripture passage from Matthew
the occasion for Anthony’s being
DRAWN UP AND POSSESSED BY GOD’S DIVINE EROS;
the moment ANTHONY WAS VISITED
IN THROUGH THE LATTICE AND SAYING:
beloved – arise and come!
winter is ended.It is
If I am
right about interpreting Anthony’s experience this way;
famous hearing of Matthew’s gospel: “Do not be anxious about .
was the moment when he was siezed by the awareness,
transported out of himself by his good eros
moment, passing through him – then,
basis of all we’ve said about erotic love,
eros should have caused Anthony to be likewise
- transported out of himself
intense erotic response of his own.
at that moment, would have “fallen in love with God”
falling in love with God would ache with all his being
expression to his own erotic desire for God . . .
And so –
what does Anthony do
been possessed by God’s erotic love?
seek out the company of a woman?
like Dante, become an inspired poet?
NONE OF THESE THINGS.
BEGINS THE PRACTICE OF THE MONASTIC DISCIPLINE.
narrative is really striking at this point:
following the narration of his conversion
the reading of St. Matthew’s gospel
writes: “He devoted himself from then on to the discipline . .
again: “He disciplined himself in isolation . . .”
finally: “All the desire and all the energy he possessed
exertion of the discipline.”
without further adieu
foundation stones of the monastic way of life
know it today begin to appear one after the other in the
once, like the birth of a child the monastic way of life
a finished product:we read:
worked with his hands
what he made partly for bread and partly on those in need.
close attention to what he read in scripture.”
what’s being narrated here:
SIEZED BY THE SWEETNESS OF GOD’S EROTIC LOVE
BY THE COMMENCING THE PRACTICE
the point I want to stress,
the Grand-daddy of all Christian monks,
expression of an intense, overpowering experience
erotic love took the form of
commitment to a regular, disciplined life of
labor, almsgiving, regular prayer and lectio divina.
WEIGHT OF ANTHONY’S EROTIC RESPONSE
TAKES FORM IN HIS COMMITMENT TO A
MUNDANE REGULAR MONASTIC LIFESTYLE.
of all this,
return to the image of our traumatized Cambridge philosopher
imagine him climbing down from his gargoyle,
back in the window,
the police; making his report;
his assailant taken away in handcuffs;
to take a shower, have some breakfast,
sitting there quietly sipping coffee afterward . . .
on how he will live from now on?
has been changed in a moment,
will he make for himself in light of what has happened?
he’ll decide to become a monk!
decision would be a shock to everyone who knew him,
light of our reflections this weekend
be such a big surprise to us?
the trauma he suffered; the terrifying and rude awakening,
professor was quite truthfully, beside himself on that
his old self, he became a new man.
experience not remind you very much
described by Denys the Areopagite
text we looked at yesterday?
to the image of our friend sitting on the gargoyle,
the sun come up
aching with wonder at the newly discovered splendor
world all around him,
recall these words of Denys:
DIVINE EROS BRINGS RAPTURE
ALLOWING THEM WHO ARE TOUCHED BY IT
TO THE OBJECTS OF THEIR LOVE . . .”
love, God’s erotic desire for us - transports US out of
we belong no longer to ourselves but to THE OBJECTS of our
I want you to note especially Deny’s use
PLURAL “Objects” – touched by God’s erotic love,
ourselves drawn powerfully to many, many diverse objects:
clouds turning pink;
to shimmering rain puddles, to rags and sticks and bones,
gilt clock glimpsed in the space between the houses.
The Cambridge philosopher is becoming more
moment of whom Denys has said:
beside himself – out of his senses,
God; not possessing a life of his own,
life of the Beloved;
SURROUNDED ON ALL SIDES BY ARDENT LOVE.”
Chesterton’s narrative, the philosopher
profess belief in the Christian God,
But it is
clear, he was overwhelmingly drawn to the beauty
objects as though suddenly aware that
was surrounded on all sides by ardent love.
here, is that, the experience of Divine Eros touching his
THE PHILOSOPHER’S EXPERIENCE
WHOLE CREATED ORDER
relationship with the student was transformed,
his relationship with everything in existence had changed.
for a moment how changed is the philosopher’s experience
lamp and pencil and spoon he picks up.
come to every object with a renewed reverence and wonder
seeing objects this way will use them differently
relating to every object and every person he meets
these new eyes and heart full of wonder,
in subtle ways begin to transform those objects
transform those people he is meeting.
Eros having transformed him, will begin
and gently to transform everything and everyone
in contact with.
And so –
why should he not become a monk?
going to suggest that the question of
philosopher will live following his transforming
of God’s divine eros sitting on the gargoyle,
same question Anthony had to address
his encounter with Divine Eros
Matthew’s text: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow”.
Anthony order his life following such
ANSWER WAS – WITH THE DISCIPLINE.
life, from that moment forward,
concerned with the exertion of the monastic discipline,
having committed himself to this path,
really extraordinary begins to happen:
Anthony picks up and everyone Anthony meets
subtly transformed by their encounter with him.
transforming power of Divine Eros
found, in Anthony, an outlet and is now seeping into the world
everything it comes in contact with.
working with his hands, praying regularly,
alms to the poor,
reading and meditating on sacred scripture –
read a few lines later in Athanasius’ narrative:
THOSE, THEN, WHO WERE FROM HIS VILLAGE
GOOD PEOPLE WITH WHOM HE ASSOCIATED
HIM LIVING THUS,
CALL HIM “GOD LOVED”
HAILED HIM AS “SON”
hear what his neighbors are calling Anthony?
calling him the very same names given to JESUS CHRIST.
is becoming before their eyes another Christ,
everyone he comes in contact with him is being drawn
discipleship and new life in Christ.
And so –
why should the Cambridge philosopher not become a
a monk – become a tributary
people come to drink the sweet transforming waters
him – then . . . why not you?
up the opportunity to spend this weekend
yourselves with various diversions in the world
To make a
contemplative retreat spent sitting on top of a gargoyle.
grace, this was not a pointless exercise,
help open your eyes to the realization that
of Songs is a beautiful poem,
this world truly is a beautiful place – indescribably
place where God’s desire for us
actually seen, taking form in countless objects
beckoning to us to draw nearer to the Bridegroom
approaches us from all sides with ardent love.
I want to
say in conclusion that
before this week-end, your eyes were already opened
makes Cistercian Associates distinctive,
makes you very special people; people graced in a unique way
instinct all of you share;
intuition that God has spoken to you intimately
you emotionally, even erotically to draw nearer to Him,
an effective and loving way to do this
embrace greater discipline in your life;
your life more deliberately according to
and practices developed by monks over the centuries.
in other words, already living the romance.
into the mystery of the Song of Songs
As a path
to contemplation does not mean your life
become a dramatic erotic adventure,
days filled with intense emotion.
romance is playing itself out in your life already,
been for some time.
to God for his good gifts to each of you!
I have shared this week-end as encouragement
quickening you along the way you have already chosen,
the sweet company of your Beloved
that by these intimacies experienced
most secret recesses of your heart
affecting and changing the world around you
delight to God
winning the admiration of your Cistercian brothers and sisters
bless each of you!
ans Urs Von Balthasar has
said that the three traditional “transcendentals” of
Scholastic Theology: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, might
be thought of as three sisters.During
the past two hundred years or so, in the Catholic church,
these three sisters have been journeying together toward
Christ, but,– alas . . . one of them has been left behind.Beauty, somehow got left behind by
Catholic theology and she is screaming.Why?
Because, Von Balthasar says, “SHE WILL NOT BE
SEPARATED FROM HER SISTERS!”Truth,
Goodness, and Beauty are SISTERS.They
are intimately, permanently, irrevocably related.Sisters belong together, and if you try to
separate them – you will be sorry.There’s
going to be a scene.
In light of this evocative parable, and by way of disposing
yourselves for a deep encounter with the poetry of
the “Song of Songs”, reflect on the following questions:
MY OWN RELATIONSHIP with the “third sister”?
how do I ACKNOWLEDGE HER role: In my
reflection about my faith? In the
living of my life as a Christian and Associate Cistercian?
the last time I SEATED MYSELF AT HER FEET in all humility and
with rapt attention and invited her to teach me her secrets?
a WELCOME COMPANION on my journey?
Do I view
Beauty as a TRUSTWORTHY GUIDE, as I most assuredly do her
sisters Goodness and Truth?
he Divine Eros brings
rapture, not allowing them who are touched by it to belong to
themselves, but only to the objects of their love, and hence
the great Paul, constrained by Divine Eros, and having
received a share in its ecstatic power, says with inspired
utterance: “I live – and yet, no longer I, but Christ lives in
me. These are the words of a true lover, of one who, (as he
himself states), was beside himself – out of his senses and
unto God; not possessing a life of his own, but the life of
the Beloved; a life surrounded on all sides by ardent love.”
For we must dare to affirm, (for it is true), that the
Creator of the universe himself, in his beautiful and good
eros towards the universe is, through his excessive erotic
goodness, transported outside himself, in his providential
activities towards all things that have being, and is overcome
by the sweet spell of goodness and love and eros. In this
manner, God is drawn from His transcendent throne above all
things in accordance with his super-essential and his ecstatic
power whereby he nonetheless does not leave Himself behind.”