From Darkness to Gentle: Half 42 Mini-Course on Prayer


Editor’s observe:  David Torkington continues his sequence on prayer with the fourth and ultimate part, “From Meditation to Contemplation”.  Learn half 41 right here, and start with half one right here.

The Mystic Approach Half IV


The entire environment on the scholar home was refreshingly nice after the claustrophobic depth of the novitiate. There have been over forty different college students all vigorous and genuinely delighted to welcome the brand new consumption. Nonetheless, in time I observed that nobody stayed on after Compline for private prayer. The liturgy was paramount and so they ‘carried out’ it effectively, however nobody appeared too excited about non-public prayer. Maybe like me, that they had additionally skilled first fervor and when all of it disappeared they took the recommendation on supply and easily moved on with their lives.

Drawn, as if by Some Undefinable Magnetic Pressure

There was no change in any respect within the distress that I needed to endure inside prayer. Nonetheless, it must be stated that outdoors of prayer I used to be frequently drawn, as if by some undefinable magnetic pressure to solitude and to the prayer that was somewhat my hell than my heaven on earth because it had as soon as been. I remembered my brother and what my mom stated about him. ‘He has fallen in love with love.’ However you’d be as prone to meet a lady within the friary as a Martian, so it was not human romance for which I used to be craving. The church that remained empty for hours after Compline made me really feel I’d obtain no extra assist right here than I did on the novitiate, both from different college students or our lecturers. The results of Quietism had finished its work within the Franciscan order and, as I used to be later to find, in all the opposite orders and congregations, however I didn’t realize it on the time. How unhappy that the nicest neighborhood of males who I had, or would ever stay with, had been blissfully unaware that the consequences of a hideous heresy had been visited on them with out them even realizing it.  

One factor, nevertheless, was in my favor. There was a wonderful library that had not been denuded of the classical mystical writers, however they had been all both lined with mud or the older ones nonetheless had  ‘uncut pages’ making it plain that though that they had not been weeded out, neither had they been learn.

Introducing St. John of the Cross

I had no concept what books I ought to learn, however the very title of The Darkish Night time of the Soul appeared to explain what I skilled every time I went to hope, though the title “St. John of the Cross” meant little to me on the time. No different guide earlier than or since has had such a dramatic impact on me. This Spanish Carmelite who I had by no means heard of, who died 4 hundred years earlier than I used to be born, understood precisely what I used to be experiencing and detailed it with such precision that I may very well be in little doubt that I used to be on the best path.  It inspired me to press on come what could, though his phrases did nothing to alleviate the darkness that he insisted was God-given and even deserved the title contemplation, though it was a darkish type of contemplation that would not see by way of the gloom that enveloped me. I didn’t actually have a ‘kindly mild amidst the encircling gloom’ to steer me on, besides the religion of the saint whom I believed would in time lead me on ‘to see the distant scene’. 

The Sinner Beneath the Sweetness and Gentle 

Removed from cheering me up, the start of his guide made for miserable studying though I didn’t doubt a phrase of it. His rationalization of why the darkish night time had fallen on me did make sense, however it did nothing for the ego that was driving excessive earlier than my effectively ran dry. I used to be too busy having fun with the delights of first fervor and making ready for sainthood that I failed to note the sinner beneath the sweetness and lightweight that blinded my understanding. However now I understood. I didn’t like dealing with the reality: the self-centered younger man who so just lately believed he was about to scale the heights of Mount Carmel was in reality hardly within the foothills and would by no means make a lot headway on his ascent till he was relieved of all the baggage and baggage that had been weighing him down. 

With relentless accuracy St. John of the Cross detailed all my faults and failings, all of the sins and the selfishness that first fervor had finished nothing to purify away. In truth, it really inspired the most important sin of all: the satisfaction that led me to consider that I used to be about to succeed in the mystic heights and that levitation, bilocation and different esoteric presents had been solely a matter of months away. What he stated made sense, even when I didn’t prefer it on the time. How might a critically flawed human being like me be united with probably the most excellent human being who ever lived, in his reworked, transfigured and glorified physique, after which share with him in his pure and excellent loving of his Father in mystical contemplation?

Purgatory on Earth 

That the deep purification in what St. John of the Cross known as The Darkish Night time of the Senses and The Darkish Night time of the Spirit was obligatory couldn’t be doubted.  Whether or not or not I might make it – that might be doubted. One other guide that I used to be studying made it clear that this purification was merely the purgatory that all of us should undergo earlier than union with Christ would allow us to be united together with his Father to benefit from the delights of everlasting life and like to eternity. The query isn’t whether or not or not now we have to undergo it, however whether or not we undergo it on this life or within the subsequent, for excellent union is inconceivable for imperfect human beings. Those that undergo it on this life, even when they’re solely half or 1 / 4 method by way of it, will be capable of see, perceive and specific their religion so a lot better than anybody else, even when they’re no good with phrases. A saying attributed to St. Francis maintains that we should preach the Gospel always, and if obligatory use phrases. I had seen the reality of what I have to do and so I dedicated myself to present high quality house and time to God on this somewhat uninviting type of prayer though I had no concept what would possibly come subsequent if something. 

A Waste of Time

It will need to have been over six months together with my time within the novitiate earlier than I started to note a change. It was not something dramatic, removed from it. Even though there was no change within the day by day, dreary monotony of prayer,  I nonetheless felt drawn to it, however I grew to become conscious that I used to be receiving one thing from it that I couldn’t put into phrases. With out this darkness, the place I battled towards distractions and temptations, I someway felt diminished and morally weakened. It was as if by way of this darkish contemplation I used to be nonetheless receiving energy, though I felt nothing to verify that I used to be receiving something in any respect. 

Then three or 4 months later I started to concentrate on a presence. I knew the expertise as a result of I first skilled it for myself as a boy while gazing for hours on the kestrel looking for his supper on the Yorkshire Moors the place we had a summer time cottage. Typically this presence was there in prayer, typically it was not, however what was all the time there have been the temptations and the distractions, the strongest of which was to suppose that I used to be losing my time doing nothing and that I’d be higher employed attending to my research.

A New Starting

It was after about eighteen months of perseverance that one thing fairly dramatic occurred. To this point there had been an occasional sense of presence much like the pure mystical experiences I had on the moors and later in different places of bizarre scenic splendor. These had not solely enthralled my outer senses however my internal non secular senses too, in such a method that even after I closed my eyes the expertise of ‘the numinous’ remained with me. Nonetheless, this new and dramatic sense of presence was way more placing and arresting. It was not really of a distinct order to the somewhat light and capricious sense of the ‘numinous’ that I hitherto skilled. It was that have, however it was way more vibrant and way more highly effective. Not solely that however it was fairly evident to me that it was not the ‘numinous’ that I used to be experiencing, however it was God, no less than the expertise of his love that was enveloping me. Nor did it rely on any exterior occasion or scenic magnificence to induce it. It was fairly clearly a present that was in my energy to obtain however fairly out of my energy to supply, as a result of fairly other than the rest it got here and went when least anticipated, and I had no energy to generate it nor any energy to maintain it. 

After frequently experiencing the presence of God’s love on this method, one thing much more dramatic came about. It was basically the identical expertise, however after experiencing a lifting sensation within the larger a part of the pinnacle the lifting sensation abruptly spiraled upwards with such pressure that I knew if it continued I’d expertise oblivion, which mercifully I didn’t. If I by no means had such an expertise once more for the remainder of my life, which I did, then nothing would shake my conviction, not simply that God existed however that he was Love and that I had skilled that love in my life in such a method that I might by no means be the identical once more. 

Nonetheless, I wanted assist. I wanted affirmation and I wanted to be assured that every one was effectively and I used to be not being deceived. I discovered that assist in the library. The guide was known as The Inside Fortress by St. Teresa of Avila.    


David Torkington is the writer of Knowledge from the Western Isles and Knowledge from the Christian Mystics which counterpoint this sequence.

Photograph by Josh Applegate on Unsplash


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