“Whatever struggles you have, transfer them to Me”

Sorry, fans, for the longest delay ever!  Travels, new jobs, new schools, hurricanes, bees, sin.

The conclusion of our series from John Amos Komensky. The pilgrim responds to Jesus’ welcoming words. He tells Jesus he will do whatever Jesus asks, to be nothing, so that Jesus will be everything.

Chapter 39

Their Betrothal

Jesus replies,

I accept this from you, my son.  Hold to this, become, call yourself, and remain my own. Mine, indeed, you were and are from all eternity, but you did not know it. I have long prepared for you that happiness to which I will now lead you; but you did not understand what I was doing. I have led you to yourself through strange paths and by round-about ways; you did not know this, nor what I, the ruler of all my chosen ones, intended. Neither did you perceive by what means I worked on you. But I was everywhere with you, and therefore somewhat guided you through these crooked paths, that I might at last bring you even closer to me.  Neither the world, your guides, nor even Solomon could teach you. There is no way that they could enrich you, content you, satisfy the desires of your heart, because they didn’t have what you were searching for. But I will teach you everything, enrich you, and content you.

“This only I demand of you: that whatever you have seen in the world, and whatever struggles you have witnessed among people, you should transfer it to me, and lay the burden of it on me. This as long as you live, shall be your work and your task; of that which men seek there in the world, but don’t find—that is, peace and joy—I will give you in abundance.”

From Komensky’s The Labyrinth of the World.  As with many of our selections this one is taken from The Protestant Mystics, selected and edited by Anne Fremantle, with an introduction by W. H. Auden. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1964. I have modernized some of the syntax and vocabulary for contemporary readers.

How to Find What You Have Always Wanted

Continuing from the previous installment and the vision of the 17th-century Moravian educator and bishop John Amos Komensky. Recall that shortly before these mystical experiences Komensky lost his wife and children while fleeing war. We can be sure that, as Frank Laubach expressed it, Komensky had “the heart of his heart cut by suffering.”  This passage continues his vision of Jesus Christ.

…Then He, seeing me overwhelmed with joy, spoke further to me: “Where, then, have you been, my son? Why have you tarried so long?  By what path have you come? What have you sought in the world? Joy! Where could you see it but in God; 

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and where could you seek God, but in His own temple, and what is the temple of the living God, but the living temple that He Himself has fashioned—your own heart? I saw, my son, that you went astray, but I want to see it no longer. I have brought you to your own self. I have led you into yourself. For here have I chosen my palace and my dwelling. If you want to dwell with me here, you will find here what you have vainly sought on earth:  rest, comfort, glory, and abundance of all things. This I promise you, my son, that you will not be deceived here as you were there in the world.” 

Christ’s words to Komensky confirm a concept often repeated in the New Testament letters, “Christ in you” (e.g., Col. 1:17). And it confirms many Old Testament verses too. That is because it may well be said that the entire aim of God as recounted in the Bible is to once again bring human beings into fellowship with Himself as it wasand perhaps even better than it wasbefore the Fall. 

As with many of our selections this one is taken from The Protestant Mystics, selected and edited by Anne Fremantle, with an introduction by W. H. Auden. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1964. I have modernized some of the syntax and vocabulary for contemporary readers.

Six-winged Angels of Fire

Sorry for the delay; I’ve been traveling and far too busy lately. We return to mystical experiences of the Old Testament. After Jesus, probably the most important and poetic of all the Biblical prophets is Isaiah. But, apparently, he was not always so willing or gifted. This is the famous story of his calling to a new life. It’s a prime example of several elements: 1) the fear that acknowledges God’s holiness, 2) God’s quick forgiveness that follows this recognition, and 3) the resulting eagerness to do God’s will.  And if that process reminds you of the New Testament gospel’s effect, it is no accident. 

Isaiah, chapter 6

The year King Uzziah died I saw the Lord! He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the Temple was filled with his glory. Hovering about him were mighty, six-winged angels of fire. With two of their wings they covered their faces, with two others they covered their feet, and with two they flew. In a great antiphonal chorus they sang, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is filled with his glory.” Such singing it was! It shook the Temple to its foundations, and suddenly the entire sanctuary was filled with smoke.

Then I said, “My doom is sealed, for I am a foul-mouthed sinner, a member of a sinful, foul-mouthed race; and I have looked upon the King, the Lord of heaven’s armies.”

Then one of the mighty angels flew over to the altar and with a pair of tongs picked out a burning coal. He touched my lips with it and said, “Now you are pronounced ‘not guilty’ because this coal has touched your lips. Your sins are all forgiven.”

Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom shall I send as a messenger to my people? Who will go?”

And I said, “Lord, I’ll go! Send me.”

–Translated from Hebrew to English in The Message, Eugene Peterson.

Jacob’s Stairway to Heaven

A whole week goes by. This is terrible!  I promise you this blog is not dying on the vine. I had a lot of travel and extra duties this past week.  Today we have, as promised at the start of this blog, mystical experience straight from the Bible itself.  You cannot buy this stairway to heaven.  This intermittent series will be published in chronological order and today’s is from Genesis.

My selections will naturally beg the question, “What is a mystical experience?”  Why, for example, am I starting with Jacob and not Abraham to whom God spoke?  Adam walked with God in the garden of Eden–what more amazing experience of God could there be?  My criteria are open to suggestions and adjustment at any time, but one of them is to choose those that include a deep emotional experience by the recipient. For like it or not, our emotions create motion; they move us and create change. 

Experiences like these are not merely ancient legends. God still sends life-changing visions to people when they are awake and when they are asleep. They have happened to me and many others. Have they ever happened to you? Write it to me and I may publish it here. You may be anonymous if you wish. 

The Bible: Genesis 28:10-22

Jacob left Beersheba and went to Haran. He came to a certain place and camped for the night since the sun had set. He took one of the stones there, set it under his head and lay down to sleep. And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground and it reached all the way to the sky; angels of God were going up and going down on it.

XIR162153Then God was right before him, saying, “I am God, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. I’m giving the ground on which you are sleeping to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will be as the dust of the Earth; they’ll stretch from west to east and from north to south. All the families of the Earth will bless themselves in you and your descendants. Yes. I’ll stay with you, I’ll protect you wherever you go, and I’ll bring you back to this very ground. I’ll stick with you until I’ve done everything I promised you.”

Jacob woke up from his sleep. He said, “God is in this place—truly. And I didn’t even know it!” He was terrified. He whispered in awe, “Incredible. Wonderful. Holy. This is God’s House. This is the Gate of Heaven.”

Jacob was up first thing in the morning. He took the stone he had used for his pillow and stood it up as a memorial pillar and poured oil over it. He christened the place Bethel (God’s House).  Jacob vowed a vow: “If God stands by me and protects me on this journey on which I’m setting out, keeps me in food and clothing, and brings me back in one piece to my father’s house, this God will be my God. This stone that I have set up as a memorial pillar will mark this as a place where God lives.”

The Message, translation and paraphrase by Eugene Peterson.  Painting: Circa 1490 (oil on panel) by the French School (15th century), Musee du Petit Palais, Avignon, France.

A Prison, A Paradise: Time Travel

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Finishing up our selection from Gay Taylor’s pseudonymous memoir. Not long after the previous events, she and a friend visit the ruins of an Abbey and have one of the most astonishing experiences anyone has ever had. 

January 5th, 1948. The highlight of my visit, and one of the occasions of our lives, came on New year’s Eve. Alison and I went by a variety of buses to Ripon, and set off on a cloudy winter afternoon, in a taxi to the gates of Fountains Abbey.  I had clamoured for years to revisit it, for I had loved it as a child and had never seen it since. Fountains2-49We dismissed the taxi at the gates, walked by frost-whitened paths between silvery evergreens, then down towards the roar of the Skell [river] and the dim lovely ruins.

Repair-work was going on and scaffolding towered above the Chapel of the Nine Altars. As dusk fell, we stood together on the south side of the cloister-garth, looking north, towards the cedar and the great grass-grown walls and the tower. As as we stood silently watching, they began to change. 

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A soft, silvery-amber and quite unearthly light like warm moonlight lay over them.  But there was no moon; it was not due to rise for hours yet. In utter silence—where was the roar of the Skell?—the whole ruin changed, rebuilt itself: the walls were intact, the church and the Chapel of the Nine Altars became roofed and perfect. The pinnacled tower stood out newly finished, a deeper amber than the rest. The entire structure was silver-gilt in colour, and this colour seemed to be struck out of it by the silvery light in which it was bathed. We both stood awestruck, wordless, not moving, for what seemed a long time. “There’s no scaffolding,” breathed Alison at last in a soft amazed tone. I didn’t answer, for I thought, “Why should there by scaffolding? We’re seeing it as it was about 1520, when Huby’s tower was finished, and they’ve only just removed the scaffolding.” But then I realized that we were both seeing the same thing. She said later that she had meant the scaffolding that showed above the Chapel of the Nine Altars, where (certainly from the time and place in which we now were) there was no scaffolding.

We saw no Cistercian monks, brought back no useful information whatever, we merely stood for a timeless moment, for eternities or for ten minutes, seeing Fountains as it was a few years before the Reformation.

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Last night, as usual, I sat and composed myself. It was about a quarter to eleven by my very wrong clock. And almost at once, something akin to the “sun flower” came back—that indescribably sense of the inflooding, enfolding, brimful-filling of God’s burning love, and the knowledge that the material universe, the atmosphere, world, body are screens of mercy, which in our fallen state are there as a protection. That God’s love meeting only foulness would destroy and disintegrate it; that the screen is our shelter and our opportunity. But it is no more than a screen; there is no least corner of the universe where God’s love is not.

And for the first time I began to understand this strange idea: the spatial location of the Heavenly Heart. It was like “the fifth month, when the child moves.” 

The universe contrasted with infinite personality

Continuing from Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love.

And He showed me more, a little thing, the size of a hazel-nut, on the palm of my hand; it was as round as a ball. I looked thoughtfully and wondered, “What could this be?” And the answer came: “It is all that is made.” I marveled that it continued to exist and did not disintegrate, because it was so small. And I was answered in my understanding: “It exists, both now and forever, because God loves it.” That is, everything owes its very existence to the love of God.

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In this Little Thing I saw three truths. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third, that God sustains it. But who is this maker, sustainer, and lover I cannot tell; for until I am completely one with Him, I can never be fully at peace or happy: that is to say, not until I am so joined with Him that there is absolutely no created thing between me and my God.

We have got to realize the smallness of all the universe, so that we can see it as nothing compared to God, in order to love and be one with God, Who is uncreated. This is why we don’t feel easy in our hearts and souls: We seek rest in those things that are so trivial they possess no peace at all, and not seeking to know God, who is almighty, all wisdom, all goodness. For He is our true rest. God wants us to know Him, and it pleases him when we rest in Him. Nothing less will satisfy us.

 

“It is all that is made.”

It may be the most well-known mystical vision in the western world: the entire universe, round as a ball and the size of a hazelnut, being held in the palm of the hand.  Julian of Norwich was born in 1342 and lived as an anchoress–sort of like an extreme nun.  On what seemed to be her deathbed she had a series of 16 visions. She was miraculously healed and spent the years afterward reflecting upon the meaning of the visions. She eventually composed them into a book, Revelations of Divine Love, written in the simple English of the day, not Latin.

That was Middle English, the language of Chaucer. I have used the public domain translation by Grace Warrack and updated the language for modern ears, with the help of Clifton Wolters’ 1966 translation. 

When I was thirty-one, God sent me a bodily sickness, in which I lay three days and three nights. On the fourth night the priest gave me the Last Rites, because those with me were certain that I would not to live till day. But after this I lingered for two more days and nights, and on the third night I was sure I was dying, and those with me were certain too…

My parish priest was sent for to be at my death. By the time he arrived, my eyes were fixed and could not move. I could not speak. He held the Cross before my face and said “I have brought thee the Image of thy Maker and Saviour: look upon it and be strengthened.”….

After this my sight began to fail, and room became dark about me, as if it were night, except in the Image of the Cross which somehow was giving off light; and I could not understand how that was happening. Except for the Cross everything else in the room was horror, as if it were filled with demons. After this the upper part of my body began to die, and I could hardly feel anything, and my breath became shorter and shorter. I was certain I was dying. And in this moment suddenly all my pain was taken from me, and I felt as fit and strong as ever…..

[The visions begin. She has a vision of Jesus dying on the cross, and she receives insight about the Trinity and then Mary, the mother of Jesus. Then this.]

….At this moment our Lord showed me a spiritual sight of how intimately he loves us. I saw that He is everything that we know to be good and helpful. In his love he clothes us, hugs us, holds us tight, because of his tender love, never to leave us. As I saw it he is everything that is good. 

And He showed me more, a little thing, the size of a hazel-nut, on the palm of my hand; it was as round as a ball. I looked thoughtfully and wondered, “What could this be?” And the answer came: “It is all that is made.” I marveled that it continued to exist and did not disintegrate, because it was so small. And I was answered in my understanding: “It exists, both now and forever, because God loves it.” That is, everything owes its very existence to the love of God.

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