Note: We’re at the end of our time together. For now. But the epilogue ties it off nicely, I think. Again, thank you for your participation. We will do this again, sometime soon. —David
It’s a lifetime practice, one that can always grow deeper. Any effort to know God is success, even though we feel it is a flop, because God appreciates even the smallest consideration or thought much more than we can imagine.
—Fr. Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Healing Our Violence Through the Journey of Centering Prayer
O Love, ever burning, never extinguished, O Charity, my God, set me on fire!
—Augustine, The Confessions
AUGUSTINE WAS NO STRANGER TO THE FIRE OF GOD. BY A heat much greater than his own passions, he was changed forever. John of the Cross referred to it as “the living flame of God.” He said it is the tenderness of God that wounds the soul with its burning. “So deeply and profoundly does it wound it and fill it with tenderness that it causes it to melt in love . . . for this is the effect that the speaking [the voice] of God causes in the soul.”
When the soul says that the flame wounds it in its deepest center, it means that it wounds it in the farthest point attained by its own substance and virtue and power. This it says to indicate the copiousness and abundance of its glory and delight, which is the greater and the more tender when the soul is the more fervently and substantially transformed and centered in God.
The warm optimism you feel here at the end is not an illusion, nor is it merely a “feeling,” an inflation of sense. There is much more to it than that. What you feel is the result of a quickening of the interior. An ignition, an “enkindling,” as John of the Cross called it, an arousal of sorts. Jeremiah said, “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jer. 20:9). In another place he says, “From on high he sent fire, sent it down into my bones” (Lam. 1:13).
But even the best fire needs maintenance. To Jeremiah, the surest course was to emancipate it, to let it burn, as only the Word of God does, strong and true. Paul told Timothy as much. “Preach the Word,” he said, “be instant in season, out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). Keep it in circulation, he said. Give it movement and reach.
With Psalm 119 in mind, C. S. Lewis wrote, “The Order of the Divine mind, embodied in the Divine Law, is beautiful. What should a man do but try to reproduce it, so far as possible, in his daily life?” In response to this question, there are three things you can do. A habit, after all, must be fed regularly. It must be exercised. The instructions are simple, practical, self-explanatory, and they work effectively with a minimal investment of time.
1. Read some portion of Scripture every day. Read as much or as little as you wish, but do it daily, privately, out loud, and with great love.
2. Accept what you read as a form of prayer. God is listening.
3. If you begin to drift out of center, even slightly, or if your distractions seem to be getting the better of you, go back to Psalm 119, and reengage this strategy as a recourse.
Though I seem to vacillate between faith and doubt more than I would like to admit, I cannot deny that I was led by a divine and gentle hand. Nor can I deny the heat within me that at times left me mute and incapable of activity. I can only pray that this strategy will work as effectively for you. Here are the conclusions I made:
God is a tactician, a sublime strategist willing to share his intelligence on my behalf. His Word is like a deep gulf with a powerful center of attraction that draws me inward. God receives my silence as prayer. He receives my elation as praise,
my confidence as a sign of trust, my acts of charity as worship, my tongueless gaze toward heaven as a call to arms, my slightest turn toward the interior as a desire to meet with him on his own turf, to warm myself by his familiar fires. He loves the sound of my voice.
He doesn’t want me staring at any wall. He would rather I make noise instead, to circumnavigate that wall until it falls to the ground.
God is closer than we first suspected. He said we should not limit heaven to some remote paradise, but to look again and notice that paradise is as close as the next selfless act, the next pure moment and expression of love. He said being and becoming are bound together. And for all our rulemaking and our endless lists, he said there is only one rule. Granted, it is a single rule with many working parts, but a single rule nonetheless: “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself, that is, as I have loved you”. He said that divine citizenship is available for the seeking, for the asking, for the knocking at the door.
All that, to say, God loves me. Any other life would be unthinkable. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). He also said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33 KJV). If you follow the simple logic, or do the simple math, the truth is evident, as is the course you are to take. Turning toward the interior is not the mystery we make it out to be. Nor is it a path reserved only for the mystic or the desperate.
There is indeed a fire shut up in the bones. But if it torments, it also comforts; if it wounds, it also heals. It is a lamp that lights the way to the interior. It renovates. It reanimates. And it consumes all it touches. As a believer, I can’t think of a more delightful condition or a more bountiful hope than that.