A Soul’s Quest
As travellers on this journey of life, we soon realize that no amount of material riches can lead to fulfilment. Our endless struggles have only led to further resentment, bitterness and discontent. Despite the hustle of everyday life, a certain sense of loneliness dwells in the heart of the disciple. When this awareness dawns on him, he sees life from a whole new dimension.
He then embarks upon an inner journey in search for answers to his spiritual quest. An iota of spiritual hunger has set in, a tiny flame has been ignited in his deep recesses and he longs to fulfil his soul’s desire. It is precisely at this time of his life that God mysteriously intervenes. The aspirant enters into a direct personal communion with a mentor, a spiritual director, one who will guide him on every step of his inner journey.
As a sincere seeker, he undergoes significant phases. Struggling with his mind, he keeps his faith steadfast, believing that he will someday penetrate the darkness within. He wakes up before the break of dawn, hoping to meet his Beloved, hoping to meet his Friend whom he has been told is always accessible, always ready to answer his call. He tries to still his mind and shrugs off every thought that stands in his way of spiritual progress. He experiences certain indications, though they may be subtle, of the existence of the higher consciousness and earnestly longs to deepen his communion.
However, there comes a time in each disciple’s life when he feels that he can no longer move on. Devotion to God seems to lose its gratifying value, contemplation becomes extremely difficult and totally unrewarding, the spiritual terrain has changed beyond recognition, and a sense of absence prevails. At such a time, what must the disciple do if he is experiencing darkness, if the shadows of doubt of God’s existence are creeping in, if his doubts are blurring his vision of faith? In The Cloud of Unknowing, the mystic reassures the soul:
Lift up your heart to God with a humble impulse of love and have Himself as your aim, not any of His goods … Set yourself to rest in this darkness, always crying out after Him whom you love. For if you are to experience Him or to see Him at all, insofar as it is possible here, it must always be in this cloud and in this darkness.
This spiritual journey is a loving courtship between God and the soul, and without this process of purification, the soul would never be able to fully experience the abundance of spiritual splendour that is awaiting it. Like gold that must be refined in a blazing fire in order to show its true purity, the soul is being refined in the flame of God’s love. The Lord’s purpose of concealing Himself is to rouse in the seeker a deeper yearning; it is His calling for the sincere aspirant to come deeper into His realm.
Therefore, O spiritual soul, when thou seest thy desire obscured, thy affections arid and constrained, and thy faculties bereft of their capacity for any interior exercise, be not afflicted by this, but rather consider it a great happiness, since God is freeing thee from thyself and taking the matter from thy hands.
Saint John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul
The Beloved is ever watchful and protective of the soul who is lost in the wilderness; and the soul should remain faithful and continue to persevere in the face of difficulties. Unless the disciple remains steadfast and harbours the deepest commitment to the path, and unless he sincerely yearns for his Beloved to be the sole inhabitant of his heart, he can never experience God’s presence and unfathomable love. When the Lord finds such a faithful soul, out of sheer grace He reaches out and takes it into His loving arms.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux herself endured great hardships in her inner quest, but expressed her rejoicing on obtaining her abode in His sanctuary. She encouraged all who despaired to rise above their disappointments and to persevere in their efforts.
By practising all the virtues, keep lifting your little foot to climb the stairs of sanctity and do not think that you will be able to get up even to the first step. At the top of these stairs, He (God) is looking at you lovingly. Soon conquered by your vain efforts, He will come down Himself, and, taking you in His arms, will carry you forever in His kingdom where you will not leave Him again.
My Vocation Is Love: Thérèse of Lisieux,as rendered by Jean LaFrance
The soul then realizes that it was the Lord’s grace that created the void in the first place and it was the Lord’s grace that cleared the void. It becomes aware of its own weaknesses and how little it would have progressed on this inward journey had the Lord truly forsaken it.
Having had first-hand encounter with the Beloved, the soul then longs for nothing more except the ‘burning of the heart’ to remain aflame. These words are echoed by Rumi, who expressed his yearning for the Lord’s presence and desire for his flame never to be extinguished:
It is a burning of the heart that I want; it is this burning that is everything, more precious than the empire of the world, because it calls God secretly in the night.
As quoted in Thinking Outside the Church: 110 Ways to Connect with your Spiritual Nature
The soul now realizes that this ‘burning of the heart’ was a necessary progression for the soul to attain spiritual bliss, as it now rests in the ecstasy of the Beloved’s warmth.