ON CONTEMPLATING GOD
William of Saint Thierry
Translated from the Latin by
Geoffrey Webb and Adrian Walker
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the soul which desires god complains of how it is burdened by the body
1. It is for this vision and complete enjoyment of Thee that my soul strives without resting and without sparing any effort; and in this striving it is purified all the while. The things which speak of Thy goodness and love give me so much help that it is as if they were my hands and feet, and even my very strength. With their help and through them I journey to Thee who art All-Love and All-Good. The trouble is that the more I strive after Thee and the more I long for Thee, I seem to be pushed even harder back to earth, back into myself so that once again I am completely subject to my whims and fancies. Looking at myself, I see that I am just a riddle, a sort of contradiction in terms. But Lord, my one comfort is this: Thy grace makes me sure that I really do desire to desire Thee. It makes me certain that I really do love to love Thee with all my heart and soul. Thy help has brought me to the point where I do both these things. But although I do love to love Thee, I am not at all clear about what I love. What do we mean when we talk about loving love and desiring desire? We say that it is through love that we love when we love something, and that we desire with desire when we desire something. Perhaps when I love love, I do not love the love which is the means of loving that which I wish to love, or already love—but that do I love myself as loving. When my soul rejoices in the Lord, and when I love my soul in Him, then it is true to say that I love myself, for if I were to find my soul elsewhere than in the Lord I would only loathe and detest it. Then there is the question of desire. If I say that I desire to desire I am obviously desiring already. Do I desire to desire Thee then, as if I did not already desire, or do I long for a desire much stronger than any I have yet experienced?
2. So I beg Thee to open the eyes of my soul quickly, when they fail and begin to go blind. But do not open them as Thou didst open Adam's eyes, with the result that he saw his own nakedness. Instead let me see Thy glory, Lord, and then I shall be able to forget all about my own smallness and uselessness. Then I shall rush into Thy embrace. I shall see Thee whom I have loved, and love Thee when I have seen Thee fully. I beg again that I may die to myself so that I may begin to live in Thee, for when I live in Thee all is well, but when I live only in myself all is lost. Come quickly Lord, and do not delay. There is no reason for Thee to be slow in coming, because the wisdom of Thy grace and the grace of Thy wisdom can take short cuts. We do not come upon that joy which is to be found in Thy love, as we come to the conclusion of a proof—that is by definite steps and stages. No, the man who seeks and knocks at the door without giving up easily, is often granted this special grace and brought quite suddenly to the joy of Thy love. Whenever this happens to me, albeit rarely, I cannot help crying out "Lord, it is well that we should be here; if it pleases Thee, let us make three arbours in this place" (Mt 17.4; Mk 9.5; Lk 9.33)—one for faith, one for hope, and one for love. Do I really know what I am saying when I cry "It is well that we should be here," for a little later I look up and see nothing. I am like one stricken down, sad at heart and troubled in my soul. How long will this go on, Lord? How long will I have to endure cares and worries, and sorrow by day and night? For low long will God's spirit be absent from man, who is but mortal clay? The Spirit comes and goes as It will. But when It does come and stay with us we will be as glad and as comforted as the children of Zion when the Lord brought them back from captivity. (Ps 126.1.) When they came back, there was laughter in every mouth, joy on every tongue. And it will be like that for us, too, when God's Spirit returns to us. Meanwhile I am still unhappy because I am still doomed to exile. In the tents of Kedar my heart is sick for home. (Ps 120.5-6.) And while I am sorrowful and brook over my plight, I hear within my heart the comforting of Thy truth, and the truth which is found in Thy consolation.
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