What had I hoped? That I would have visions, I suppose.
October 3, 2023
I’m taking a class called Martyrs, Monks, and Mystics. We have a reading assignment each week and we submit a written response summarizing the reading and how it impacted us. This week’s was particularly impactful so I am sharing it here.
I reference “the daily office”. It is a spiritual practice I’ve adopted for this class where I read from a liturgical text four times a day. This is the book I’m using: The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime.
Mechthild of Magdeburg Selections from The Flowing Light of the Godhead
There are several characters for which Mechthild uses different names. I’m a bit confused on some of them, but I understood the Bridegroom, the Young Lover, and Lord to be Jesus. At times, both Mary and Mechthild were the Bride of Christ or the Wife of God or the Godhead. “Queen” encompassed Love and Soul. There was also conversation between Mechthild’s Senses, I assume her physical self, and her Soul. This is not a complete list of characters, but I must confess, trying to decipher which names represented which entities kind of wore me out. So, instead of focusing on that, I focused on the rhythm of the piece.
Mechthild uses language of intense longing to describe her embodied communion with God. God is the lover supreme, the one she relentlessly seeks after hungrily, thirstily, lustily. All the places she lacks due to her human limitations are filled up with God.
“…In her greatest strength she is overcome, in her blindness, she sees most clearly… The richer she becomes, the poorer she is… The more she labors, the more sweetly she rests…”
God meets her in totality, her desires are fully quenched — but only for a moment. She continues in her relentless pursuit of deep connection with the Divine, a connection that cannot be described in words — a connection that is so complete it has not words itself:
“…Thus God and the soul soar further to a blissful place of which neither can nor will say much…”
What touched me most about this piece is the depth of Mechtild’s longing. It triggered memories of unrequited love. Her passionate pleas for God to draw near were at times intensely painful to read. But just as in unrequited love, there is incredible pleasure in the act of loving, even though there is no “happy ending” when you love another who does not love you the same. And yet, being in love is its own reward in so many ways. It is when we fall into our human need for physical proximity to our beloved, and our innate desire for intellectual and physical connection, the pain of lack becomes intense. Acknowledgement of the destructive pain of such love is what necessitates we abandon it after a time.
Not all my love affairs have been unrequited, although I remain single. I have loved deeply and I have been loved deeply in return. I have experienced moments of pure, true, complete connection with another human being. I have also experienced such moments with Spirit, although not often. They do leave me longing for more, so like Mechthild, I also have a deep consuming desire for embodied communion with God. What causes me to persist is the knowing Spirit loves me more than I can ever fathom. She matches my devotion with infinite love. She will never leave me nor forsake me. And that is why although it is frustrating and at times maddening to feel so far apart from God, I don’t anticipate I’ll ever leave Her. As much mystery as there is, as much as we humans claim the right to be mad at God, knowing what I know, having experienced what I have, it’s not possible for me to turn away from Her.
In my spiritual practice of the daily office, I have not had a profound sense of the presence of God, nothing more than my usual connection — which I in no way minimize, as it is fulfilling. But I’ve had such a struggle to quiet my mind. I’ve fallen into that performance anxiety thing. Staying wholly focused on task is a skill that helped me succeed in business — but it can also be a mindset that steals my peace.
A couple days back, when I was chastising myself for my annoyance at having to say the Lord’s Prayer yet again, I realized the times I have had those embodied spiritual experiences were not times when I was trying to have them. They have always been spontaneous. My connection with the Divine has always been by grace, not works. That freed me up a bit to relax into the daily office. The practice is shaping me in ways that are very helpful, although they are not the ways I had hoped. What had I hoped? I’m laughing at myself because I don’t really know the answer to that. That I would have visions, I suppose. 😊