19 November 2009

Transforming Union

Transforming Union or possessing the fullness of Christ is something most of us will never experience in this lifetime. But certainly we’re familiar with stories of saints and mystics who have been there. But what is this transforming union? Why do so few experience it? Is it available to everyone? A Carthusian writer tackles this subject. This is part one of what will likely be a two-part post.

“My Beloved is mine, and I am His” (Song of Songs 2:16).

Transforming union is the full development on earth of sanctifying grace, that is, the fullness of the life of Christ within us. Sadly, it is a state which is rarely reached, for it implies a plentitude of love. But, however far we may be from that state, we should know something about it, so as to be able to distinguish what is only transitory in the spiritual life, from that which pertains to its perfection.

There is one last trial, a testing of love, in which the soul, intensely drawn to the One it loves, aspires with its whole being to heavenly union. It is the desire to die, to break the chains of this life. If the Lord inspires this desire in the soul, it is in order to fulfill it, but in an unexpected way, by giving the grace of transforming union.

Sanctifying grace is the free gift of alliance contracted by God with each one of us, in the Church. It consists in the gift of the Holy Spirit Who communicates divine life to us: the knowledge and love which enable us to know and love God in an intimate exchange of personal friendship. He says to each of us, “I am calling you and you are My friend.” And His Creator Word establishes us in a sort of equality with Him, of friend to Friend (or, in other words, makes us share in the divine nature). The life of prayer is all about learning to live this friendship. We have to be gradually raised to this dignity, purified, and slowly transformed, until our will is one with the will of the Lord and our heart belongs totally to Him. Love is at the heart of transforming union, it is the substance of it. The phenomena which usually manifest this state are secondary, and in some cases are quite hidden, or even absent.

The life of grace becomes conscious. God is experienced not only as the objects of our acts of faith, hope and love, but as the interior source, the indwelling co-principle, of these acts. The sap of divine life flows in our faculties.

The term “spiritual marriage” is sometimes used to indicate this fusion of two lives: an intimate and stable union, based on the total, mutual gift of love between two persons, a gift with implications of rights and duties. “All that is Mine is yours, and all that is yours is Mine” (John 17:10).

The soul shares in the knowledge of God. It is given a mysterious knowledge, both luminous and obscure, by the love poured into it by the Holy Spirit. Love is itself a form of knowledge that goes further than any knowledge that can be formulated in images or ideas. It plunges into the infinite reality of divine life. The Spirit is the flame of love in the soul, a brightly burning flame.

There is no longer any distance. God communicates Himself to the soul by substantial touches, that is, directly, substance to substance, without passing by the faculties. Plunged into the divine fire, the soul becomes fire. Immersed in the vast sea, the drop of water becomes sea. Traversed by light, the pane of glass becomes light, without however ceasing to be what it is. No image can adequately express the reality. The saints and great mystics of all times have tried to speak of it, but this irruption of infinite life into the tiny space of a human soul is beyond words; do we not however, each one of us, recognize in this, in some obscure way, our deepest desire? How strange. But not so strange really, for our heart is made for You, Lord.

This union is the source of special insights on God and on the mysteries of the faith: sparks from the furnace at the center, that the intelligence receives by way of intuitive knowledge. The faculties no longer operate in their usual way, which is more or less discursive, but in the mode of the Holy Spirit acting through the gifts of intelligence and wisdom.

In this state, there is an habitual vision of the presence of God in the center of the soul, which is perceived, without mediation, as the dwelling of God. The higher faculties are drawn passively and imperiously towards the deep center of the soul where God dwells. They are plunged into this source of life, and emerge from it transformed, to act at the exterior. The activity of the soul flows from this deep center, the initiative comes from the interior and not from outside, from the Spirit and not from the world. This is why it is so important for the person of prayer to be able to enter into the interior depths of his or her soul, to remain there habitually, and to act from that center.

The soul often possesses habitually, but with differing degrees of intensity, the vision of the Holy Trinity, or of the divine nature. This is the highest point of spiritual illumination, but paradoxically is sometimes called “the Great Darkness,” for in drawing nearer, God reveals Himself to be supreme mystery, and totally different.

Whether this vision concerns the divine Persons or their unique nature, seems to depend on the religious sensitivity of the soul and the path followed. There is an Eastern tradition particularly directed towards experience of the divine nature, without however excluding, or regarding as secondary, loving intimacy with the Persons of the Holy Trinity. But at this level of mystical experience, however necessary the concepts of nature and person may be, they are very inadequate with regard to the incandescent reality of the union of God.