ON CONTEMPLATING GOD
William of Saint Thierry
Translated from the Latin by
Geoffrey Webb and Adrian Walker
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1. I have almost rotted away in this cheerless pit where the mire has settled deep. I am sunk in a deep morass with no ground under my feet. And out of the depths of my sad plight I cry to Thee, Lord. O Lord, hear my cry. Thou madest me like Thyself by creating me to Thine own image and likeness. And now Thou seemest to be punishing me for taking lightly the form in which Thou madest me, because Thou hast taken it away from me altogether, making me wretched and miserable. Evil presses me down, plunging me deeper into the bog of sin. The hand of Thy just and secret judgments presses down so that I cannot rise. Nowhere in the pit is there any foothold for me to stand on so as to struggle out; there is nothing to seize hold of by which to pull myself out. The pit of hell is as deep as despair. The more of this bog, which is the corruption of nature, always has something wherewith to suck me down, but it has nothing to help me struggle out. It holds me down and binds me low. The deep morass holds me in its grip by your condemnation: it is the love of the flesh which always seeks the worst in the depths which it never tires of fathoming.
2. But, Lord, deep calls unto deep. My deepest wretchedness calls to the unfathomable depth of Thy mercy. I search for some firm ground on which to stand, I look for something to catch hold of, and I find only Thee. Thou art the really firm foothold, for Thou dost subsist in Thyself and everything in turn, has its being from Thee. But why do I say “I find”? If I had found Thee I would indeed stand on firm ground. I am looking for the place where I may find the one my soul loves, and in my search I go round the whole of the great city of this life, “where the hardness of men’s hearts breeds in them an ignorance which estranges them from the divine life,” as the Apostle puts it (Eph 4.18). I search every alley-way and street of this life, but my whole body and soul call after me with the loud cries of sure proof, and they call me back to the things of the Spirit. It is on Thine authority that they tell me that the kingdom of God is within me. And so I look for Thee in my heart, because I can find Thee nowhere else. Now within myself, I can ask my innermost powers if they have seen the one I love. The memory replies, “He dwells with me.” “But whereabouts in you?” I ask, “because you are like a vast ocean stretching wide on every hand and peopled with living things past number, great creatures and small” (Ps 104.25). “You must not seek Him,” replies the memory, “where those creatures dwell, not even among men.” Where then? “In love, for that is where He lives. Now the disposition to love is natural to you, and the one you seek is within you if He is in your love. If He is not there, He is not within you at all. But you could not look for Him if you did not love, and so it follows that you have Him and that He dwells with you. But you cannot delight in Him unless I am with you.
3. “And so you must not give me over to other things which do not matter, and waste me on them. Keep me completely for Him. In this way,” concludes the memory, “your delight will be perfect, and you will proclaim His great goodness and praise His righteousness.” Yes, my memory and all my powers, let us go and enjoy the supreme goodness and all His perfections with the aid of memory, understanding and vision. He is indeed within me, for I find Him in my love. I love Him and love Him, and my great longing is to love with a complete love. Oh, let us run to Him and clasp Him in an embrace. O Lord, Thou art both sweet and meek, lovable and mighty. Thou didst take a share in my humanity, so receive my embrace. Thou didst join Thy nature to mine; kiss me then with Thy charity. We embrace Thee while our actions and our desires still long to enjoy Thee. Our kiss is the offering of pure love from a pure mind. Thine embrace is Thy consolation, and gifts of grace are Thy kisses. May Thy consolation help me always. May Thy left hand pillow my head, as the bride sings in the Canticle, and let Thy right hand clasp me in the embrace (S. of S. 2.6) of utter delight in Thee, for it soothes us and gives us a foretaste of the eternal joy which awaits the soul. In the peace which is found in the embrace of Thy charity, and in the kisses of Thy sweetness may my soul rest, for that is where Thou tellest me to repose in loving trust” (Ps 4.9).
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© Akenside Press and Matthew C. Dallman, 2016.
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