19 April 2010

The Interior Master

This beautiful reflection is excerpted from ‘The Call of Silent Love’, written by a Carthusian monk.

The Spiritual Life
What is the spiritual life? It is not the life of a disincarnate spirit. It is the life of the Spirit of God incarnated in the life of a human person, according to all the capacity of his or her being because ‘the body [also] is for the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 6:13). We are spiritual persons, in the Christian sense of the word, in the measure that we live according to the Spirit and that the Spirit lives in us. ‘Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not truly belong to Him (Romans 8:9). I will even say that we are according to how we live in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit enables us to live the life of God. And God is Reality: the one true reality and the whole of reality. To have a spiritual life does not restrict our field of vision to a part of reality. It enlarges it to embrace the whole of reality in all its dimensions.

More often, we are terribly myopic. We live at the most superficial level of our being. We act as if our ordinary conscious life were our only life. We reduce it even more to conscious life conceptualised by our cultural conventions, excluding everything that is not quantifiable or contained within a rationalist agenda. History, art, the wisdom of millennia of so many other civilisations, show us that there is infinitely more in the human person and in reality. To take one example, not the most important, but one that is familiar today, depth psychology has shown us that we also have in us a preconscious and unconscious life, more extensive than and as powerful as conscious life. Its structure, its law and logic, are completely different from those of conscious life. Similarly there is a spiritual life in us. Not constituted at another level below unconscious life, but encompassing the entire being of the person, conscious and unconscious. It is more extensive than everyday human life and it opens onto the immense spaces of divine life. It too has its structures and its laws, very mysterious to us. However, the experience of spiritual people across the centuries has given birth to a certain empirical knowledge of the laws of this life. And above all, the Spirit of Christ is our guide, and gives us some light.

The spiritual life ought to be the congenital milieu of the life of the monk – of every person, for that matter, because it is none other than the milieu of faith. This life ought to give us the perspective by which we establish priorities according to the rule of eternity. These judgments ought to be made in the light of the Spirit. Its logic ought to be the logic of the Spirit, that is to say, the logic of Love that directs the saints and sometimes makes them so disconcerting for us. Too often we judge according to the criteria of the short-sighted and self-absorbed world.

The Folly of Faith
Our eyes receive images of things reversed: the ceiling is on the bottom and the floor is on the top. It is thanks to a further operation that the image is put right and that we see the ceiling up and the floor down. In the same way, faith reverses the images of reality with which reason presents us. It is the poor who are happy. Death is the door to life. To lose life through love is to save it. We have to become used to making the constant readjustment. Otherwise we see the floor on top and the ceiling on the bottom. We are fooled by the collective illusion of an unbelieving, materialist world, centred on little me. ‘For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength’ (1 Corinthians 1:25). ‘We are fools for the sake of Christ’, says Saint Paul (1 Corinthians 4:10). Let us become fools with that sort of folly (1 Corinthians 3:18). All of our wisdom is based on the folly of the Cross which turns human wisdom upside down (1 Corinthians 1 and 2). Perhaps we talk too much about the wise equilibrium of our life. We forget that humanly speaking you have to be a fool to embrace it! ‘I came to bring fire to the earth’ (Luke 12:49).

Driven by the Spirit
Remember that the Spirit ‘drove’ Christ into the desert (Mark 1:12). ‘And the Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan’ (Luke 4:1-2). The Statutes tell us that it is with spiritual arms that He conquered the devil and his temptations (Statutes 0. 2. 10). It cannot be otherwise for us who must follow Him. The measure of testing in solitude is the work of the Spirit. The temptations of the desert can be overcome only with the arms of the Spirit (see Ephesians 6:10-17).

Certainly natural wisdom is inadequate at the beginning of a monastic vocation – and in the middle and at the end! Only the light of the Spirit can make faith penetrating enough. Only the Spirit of Love is able to sensitise us to the attraction of God and give to our love the necessary strength and intensity effectively to prefer Christ to everything, and to follow Him into the desert.

The Interior Master
‘Living in the school of the Holy Spirit’, our founding Fathers little by little discovered the form of our life. For ‘school’, read ‘master’. We have already recalled the necessity of being led by the Spirit – God alone knows where He will lead us to live and to ‘savour the things of the Spirit’ (Statutes 4. 33. 2).

The text of Saint Paul to which this phrase refers is in Romans 8:5: ‘Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit’. But it is the Vulgate that probably inspired the redactors of the Statutes: spiritualia sapiunt. They taste what is spiritual. Taste implies direct experience, a certain fruition of that which is spiritual, of that which comes from God through the Spirit. This Teacher does not teach through exterior words. He lives in us (2 Timothy 1:14), in the temple of our body (1 Corinthians 6:19), in our inmost heart (Galatians 4:6). From there He leads us into the fullness of truth (John 16:13), He guides us, consoles us, illumines us, sets us aflame with His love (Romans 5:5). ‘But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and all of you have knowledge (1 John 2:20).

We have come to the Charterhouse to seek God. But only the Spirit can search the ‘depths of God’ (1 Corinthians 2:10). It is the Spirit Who reveals the hidden and mysterious wisdom of God that Saint Paul promises to Christian adults, wisdom completely different from that of the world.

To enter into the depths of the heart signifies the way through which consciousness is freed from its idols, stripped of its layers of the dead skin of egotism, pride and illusion, and descends to the centre of its being in humility, truth and, finally, love, to find the place of God; the place where springs the pure water of the creative Love of God. ‘Here [in solitude and silence] is acquired that eye, by whose serene gaze the Spouse is wounded with love; that eye, pure and clean, by which God is seen . . . Here God rewards His athletes with the longed-for prize: peace that the world does not know, and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Statutes 1. 6. 16). The joy of love ‘has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:5).

‘Thus, with the Lord’s help, we may be enabled to attain to the perfection of love – which is the aim of our Profession and of the whole of monastic life – and through it, to obtain beatitude eternal’ (Statutes 0. 1. 4).