HOW LOVE EFFECTS THE UNION OF THE SOUL WITH GOD IN PRAYER.
WE speak not here of the general union of the heart with its God, but of certain particular acts and movements which the soul, recollected in God, makes by way of prayer, to be more and more united and joined to his divine goodness: for there is truly a difference between joining or uniting one thing to another, and clasping or pressing one thing against or upon another; because to join or unite there is only required an application of one thing to the other, so that they may touch, and be together, as we join vines to elms, and jessamine to the trellis-work of the arbours which are made in gardens.
But to squeeze and press together, a strong application must be made, which increases and augments the union; so that to clasp together is to join strongly and closely, as we see ivy joined to trees, which is not united only, but pressed and clasped so hard to them that it even penetrates and enters into their bark. We must not drop the comparison of the love of little children towards their mothers, because of its innocence and purity.
Regard, then, that sweet little child, to whom the seated mother presents her breast. It casts itself into her arms, gathering and folding its little body in this bosom and on this beloved breast. And see the mother, reciprocally, how, receiving it she clasps it, and as it were glues it to her bosom, and joining her mouth to its mouth kisses it. But see again this little babe, allured with its mother’s caresses, how for its part it concurs in this union between its mother and itself: for it also, as much as it possibly can, squeezes and presses itself to its mother’s breast and face, as though it would wholly dive into, and hide itself in that beloved being from whom it came.
Now, Theotimus, in this moment union is perfect; which being but one, proceeds notwithstanding from the mother and the child, yet so, that it has its whole dependence upon the mother. For she drew the child to her, she first locked it in her arms, and pressed it to her breast; nor had the babe strength enough to clasp and keep itself so tight to its mother.
Yet the poor little one does for its part what it can, and joins itself with all its strength to its mother’s bosom, not consenting only to the delightful union which its mother makes, but contributing, with all its heart, its feeble endeavours: and I say its feeble endeavours, because they are so weak that they rather resemble efforts after union than actual union.
Thus then, Theotimus, our Saviour, showing the most delightful breast of his divine love to the devout soul, draws her wholly to himself, gathers her up, and as it were folds all her powers in the bosom of his more than motherly sweetness, and then burning with love, he clasps the soul, joins, presses and glues her on his lips of sweetness, and to his delicious breast, kissing her with the sacred kiss of his mouth, and making her relish his breasts more sweet than wine.
Then the soul, allured with the delights of these favours, not only consents, and yields herself to the union which God makes, but with all her power co-operates, forcing herself to join and clasp herself closer and closer to the divine goodness; yet in such a way that she fully acknowledges her union and attachment to this sovereign sweetness to be wholly dependent upon God’s operation, without which she could not make the least effort in the world to be united unto him.
When we see an exquisite beauty beheld with great ardour, or an excellent melody heard with great attention, or a rare discourse listened to with great satisfaction, we are wont to say that this beauty rivets the eyes of the spectators, this music takes the ears, and this discourse captivates the hearts, of the auditors. What does this mean—to rivet the eyes and ears, or to captivate the heart—save to unite and most closely join these senses and powers to their objects?
The soul then closely joins herself to, and presses herself upon, her object, when she exercises her affection towards it with great intensity; for pressure is nothing more than the progress and advancement of the union and conjunction. We make use of this word, according to our language, even in moral matters: he presses me to do this, or he presses me to stay, that is, he does not merely use his persuasion and prayer, but does it with earnestness and entreaty, as did the pilgrims in Emmaus, who not only petitioned our Saviour, but even pressed and forcibly urged him, and compelled him by a loving violence to remain in their lodging with them.
Now in prayer this union is often made by manner of little yet frequent flights and advancings of the soul towards God: and if you take notice of little children united and joined to their mothers’ breasts, you will see that ever and anon they press and clasp closer, with little movements which the pleasure they take in sucking makes them give: so the heart united to God in prayer often makes certain renewals of union, by movements which press and join it more closely to the divine sweetness.
As for example, the soul having long dwelt in the feeling of the union whereby she sweetly tastes how happy she is to belong to God, in fine, augmenting this union by an amorous pressing and moving forwards: Yea, Lord, will she say, I am thine, all, all, all, without reserve; or: Ah Lord! I am so indeed, and will be daily ever more; or, by way of prayer: O sweet Jesus! Ah! draw me still more deeply into thy heart, that thy love may devour me, and that I may be swallowed up in its sweetness.
But at other times the union is made not by repeated movements, but by way of a continued insensible pressing and advancing of the heart in the divine goodness. For as we see a great and heavy mass of lead, brass or stone, though not forced down, so work itself, sink down, and press itself, into the earth where it lies, that at length it is found buried, by reason of the effect of its weight, which makes it incessantly tend to the centre;—so our heart, being once joined to God, if without being drawn away it remain in this union, sinks still deeper by an insensible progress of union, till it is wholly in God, by reason of the sacred inclination given it by love to unite itself ever more and more to the sovereign goodness.
For as the great apostle of France says: “Love is a unitive virtue:” that is, it carries us to perfect union with the sovereign good. And since it is an undoubted truth that divine love, while we are in this life, is a movement, or at least a habit active and tending to movement; even after it has attained simple union, it ceases not to act, though imperceptibly, in order more and more to increase and perfect it.
So trees that require transplanting, as soon as they are moved spread their roots and lodge them deeply in the bosom of the earth, which is their element and their aliment, nor do any perceive it while it is doing, but only after it is done. And man’s heart, transplanted out of the world into God by celestial love, if it earnestly practise prayer, will certainly ever extend itself, and will fasten itself to the Divinity, uniting itself more and more to his goodness, but by imperceptible advances, whose progress one can hardly see while it is doing, but only when it is done.
If you drink any exquisite water, for instance, imperial water, the simple union of it with you is instantly made upon your receiving it; for the receiving and union is all one in this case; but afterwards by little and little this union is increased, by a progress imperceptibly sensible: for the virtue of this water penetrating to all parts, will strengthen the brain, invigorate the heart, and extend its influence through all your humours.
In like manner, a feeling of love—as for example: How good God is!—having got entrance into the heart, at first causes union with this goodness; but being entertained for some fairly long time, as a precious perfume it penetrates every part of the soul, pours out and dilates itself in our will, and as it were, incorporates itself with our spirit, joining and fastening itself on every side more and more closely to us, and uniting us to it.
And this is what the great David teaches us, when he compares the sacred words to honey; for who knows not that the sweetness of honey is united more and more to our sense by a continual increase of savour, when, keeping it a good while in our mouth, or swallowing it slowly, the relish thereof more deeply penetrates our sense of taste. In the same way that sentiment of the divine goodness, expressed in those words of S. Bruno: O Goodness! or those of S. Thomas: My Lord and my God! or those of S. Magdalen: Ah! my Master! or those of S. Francis: My God and my All!—this sentiment, I say, having been kept some while within a loving heart, dilates itself, spreads itself, and sinks into the spirit by an intimate penetration, and more and more steeps it all in its savour.
This is nothing else than to increase union; as does precious ointment or balm, which, falling upon cotton-wool, so sinks into it and unites itself to it more and more, little by little, that in the end one cannot easily say whether the wool is perfumed or perfume, or, whether the perfume is wool, or the wool perfume. Oh! how happy is the soul who in the tranquillity of her heart lovingly preserves the sacred feeling of God’s presence!
For her union with the divine goodness will have continual though imperceptible increase, and will thoroughly steep the spirit of such a one in infinite sweetness. Now when I speak here of the sacred sentiment of the presence of God, I do not mean to speak of a sensible feeling, but of that which resides in the summit and supreme point of the spirit, where heavenly love reigns and conducts its principal exercises.