December 6, 2013

Angels of Light

More and more life takes the form of prayer; a path at once obscure and beautiful, dark but on which the next step is usually clear enough, a journey somehow both inward and forward, a drilling down into the heart that is at the same time an ascent into the Mystery.

There are temptations on the path, angels of light that offer an easy illumination, cheap and seductive. But these false illuminations only turn out to be the real darkness. And it is through this that I come to trust the darkness of the path as the true light.

The angels of light take hold of the attention as a glow in the corner of my eye and they would be better left there, but I know this has not often been the case. So often my head has turned, my intention following my attention, and my progress on the path paused, my momentum lost.

Some of these false lights are younger moments of me, sitting in some comfortable-looking spot off the side of the path, hoping for company. These are patterns of thought and behavior once learned to manage, to survive, but which have now become maladaptive, at best distracting and at worst destructive. They seduce, they offer something familiar, something known, as a relief from the darkness and the occasional vertigo of the path. But if I let myself be tricked and leave the path for them, they and the me that offered them are revealed in their misery, and I realize that what was needed instead was to grab my former self out of his sickly light and bring him onto the path with me, including him in the journey. For God sees us from eternity, the whole person, not the consciousness made fragmented by time.

Others are like brightly colored guidebooks that promise to show me what ought to be enjoyed on the journey, as if I were a tourist on the path. If I pick one up and begin to peruse along the way, it tells me about the exciting things I ought to be feeling and experiencing. It reminds about the consolations of first fervor and of the 'honeymoon' stages of any number of new beginnings: religious life, profession of vows, priesthood. And in this the temptation is revealed for what is: nostalgia. It seems to me one of the most dangerous emotions for the spiritual life.

Still others are like scripts that lie printed on nice white paper, waiting to be picked up and tried on. There is a role for me to play, a mask to put on, a costume to wear, all for giving some content to this journey which can seem like no-thing. On a good day the path is a darkness that is trusted, a silence one knows to be Benevolent at the deepest level of one's being, but on a bad day it can like a void, a pointlessness, not a blessed No-thing but a nothing. The script gives some excitement, a role to play on the way, something to talk to oneself about. But it ends up being even more confusing than the silence; the mask makes the next step unsure and the costume is ill-fitting and cumbersome. Many times a script has been picked up and played without hardly knowing it. Then, sometimes only after something else has melted away in the fire of divine Love, do I realize I was wearing an encumbering costume. I suppose the last of the costumes will be burned off only in Purgatory, but that's good enough for me.


Anonymous said...

Ah, you've sent me back to read Bonaventure again: "this very darkness is the supreme illumination of our mind." (Itinerarium ch.5 para. 4).

Louis M said...