20 August 2013

Bernard of Clairvaux (Reprised)

Often I get emails from folks which never show up on this blog. Sometimes they have personal questions about prayer, mysticism, contemplation, etc. Recently I received a series of emails which involved questions regarding experiences of God in contemplative prayer. While the person did not desire these experiences for their own sake, she did wonder if perhaps their absence indicated something was missing from her contemplative praxis. About a week or so after answering her questions in terms of listening for God's voice in a different way, I came across the following quotation from Bernard of Clairvaux. I share it not only because it speaks to this person's questions, but because it is appropriate on this, St Bernard's Feast Day:

[[I want to tell you how God's Word [Jesus] has come to me, and come often. As often as he would enter into me, I didn't perceive the different times when he came. Now and then I would be able to get a premonition of his coming, but never perceive it, nor sense when he left. When the Word entered into me from time to time, his coming was never made known by any signs --- by word, or appearance, or footstep. I was never made aware by any action on his part, nor by any kinds of motions sent down to my inmost parts. As I have said, it was only from the motion of my heart that I understood he was present.]] Sermon on the Song of Songs.

Sister Anne Marie signs her solemn vows
In the Gospel for today a young man is asked to go beyond externals, beyond law, beyond all the things he "owns" and/or clings to, and to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. He is asked, in other words, to make discipleship a matter of attending to the motion of his own heart --- a matter of being moved by Jesus' life and living similarly, of being motivated by Jesus' prayer and praying similarly with a kenotic faithfulness even when God seems absent, of loving as Jesus loves and emptying himself of anything but love of God and compassion for the other. Contemplatives live from the motion of their hearts. They are folks who have learned to attend to these because the human heart, by definition, is the place where God bears witness to himself in all of life's ordinariness. Jesus revealed it in the 1st century; Bernard affirmed it in the 11-12th centuries. It is as true today.

My very best wishes to all Cistercians, Trappists and Trappistines today, especially to the Sisters at Redwood Monastery (Abbey) in Northen California on this feast of one of their Order's founders.