Rapt in Divine Love
Saint Francis began to speak of God so sweetly, so sublimely, and so wondrously, that the fullness of divine grace came down on them, and they were all rapt in God. And as they were thus rapt, with eyes and hands uplift to heaven, the folk of Assisi saw that the church was burning brightly. They ran thither in great haste to quench the flames – but coming close and finding no fire at all, they entered within and found Saint Francis and Saint Clara and all their company in contemplation rapt in God. Whereby of a truth they understood that this had been a heavenly flame, and no earthly one at all.
Adapted from Franciscan Chroniclers, Little Flowers
This story describes the feeling of being “rapt in”, and aflame with, the love of God – a state that seekers of God wish to experience. It tells of a divine vision, something not often talked about, but about which mystics have written. Through their writings we catch a glimpse of being “rapt in divine love”, and we may be inspired to do our meditation so that we too may find such blissful union with the Lord.
The story describes a moment when the people of Assisi run to the church of Saint Mary of the Angels to put out what they think is a dangerous fire. Then they realize it is the fire of love divine and, as they see this, they step out of their daily reality into an inexplicable vision of the sacred – a vision so powerful that it transfigures, elates and lifts them out of themselves.
It must have turned upside down the daily grind of their lives, thrusting them into a completely different relationship with God. They would never be the same again, because, at the church of Saint Mary of the Angels, each person was caught in something that went beyond themselves. As they were absorbed into the fire of divine love, radiating from Saint Clara and Saint Francis, they came face to face with the divine presence and were passionately imbued with their experience of the divine. They then had no choice but to begin a journey into the sacred, which Dante describes as:
… a journey that gathers light from a descent into darkness, a pilgrimage of knowledge that penetrating deeper seemingly turns away from the light, which yet reappears – and yet again vanishes.
The Inferno of Dante
After this they must no longer have simply had faith in the sacred, they would have known it to be real – in their bones.
Bulleh Shah, the seventeenth century mystic, wrote wonderful poems (published by RSSB in the book of the same name), describing his inner experiences of the divine, such as Ishq di navion navin bahar (Ever fresh spring of love):
When I grasped the hint of love,
I banished ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ from me.
I was cleansed within and without.
Now, wherever I look, the Beloved pervades.
Ever new, ever fresh, is the spring of love!
Writings such as this show how mystics experience a truth that is beyond the grasp of the mind. The mystic speaks with God and is in the direct presence of God. This is the inner truth found by those who practise a meditative path that leads through love to the inner vision of the Radiant Form of the Beloved. This makes the experience a very personal relationship: there is simply God and oneself.
A fourteenth century monk, Kallistos Kataphygiotis, said: “The most important thing that happens between God and the world is learning to love and be loved.” Mystics have come into the world to remind us that God is love, and that the only way to draw close to God is to learn to love and (which is often overlooked) to be loved.
In Christianity, God sent his son Jesus Christ to teach us to “love one another” and to know that God is love. In the teachings of Sant Mat, Masters have come into the world to guide us towards reuniting with God through love and devotion to the invisible life force, the Shabd, manifested through sound and light.
In search of divine love
Through all the ages people have sought to unite with God. The plethora of religions, philosophies and spiritual practices that exist in the world today are evidence of this. Those initiated into Sant Mat are asked to meditate for two and a half hours every day, to lead an ethical life, to refrain from eating animals, and not to take any habit forming abusive substances such as drugs or alcohol.
Sometimes we struggle to keep to the principles of our spiritual path. So how would it be, if each of us were able to find a little of the intensity of devotion revealed by the mystics? And what if we could identify those characteristics that connect them to the divine? Could we then hope to emulate them and become a little like Saint Francis and Saint Clara, who experienced the “fullness of divine grace” and “were all rapt in God”?
Those who have sat at the feet of a Master have glimpses of being wrapped up in divine love. When we sit below the dais at Dera or in a meeting hall, and experience his darshan or drishti (that intensity of divine love which flows from his eyes), within these moments we too are “rapt in God”. These are the diamonds that we treasure. We savour each connection with the external Master, trying to transform it into an internal experience that helps us in our journey towards God. We use these experiences to help us to focus during our daily meditation.
Meditation is quite simple: you sit down, close your eyes, do your simran, concentrate, look into the darkness, then look for the light and listen for the sound for two and a half hours! But we find that meditation demands a lot more preparation than at first we might think. The preparation is how well we follow the principles. The weaker we are in following them, the poorer the meditation; the more we follow them exactly, the stronger the meditation. Preparation relies on living the principles with integrity.
This is because the path to God is a path of love, and the four principles are the means through which we express and practise our love for the Master, for God and for the Shabd. Love demands many things of us, and one of the most important is commitment.
Making a commitment to love
Commitment means that you have promised to do something; that you have dedicated yourself to an activity or cause; that you are willing to do something that may restrict you from doing something else you might want to do. Commitment involves choice, and sacrifice, and sometimes suffering. The mystics show us this.
We often use the word ‘commitment’ when we talk about relationships and getting married. Marriage demands a lot of attention from us, a lot of concentration, as well as a certain amount of courage and perseverance to keep it going; but most of all it involves love and commitment – with all its dedication and promises of selflessness and sacrifice made at the marriage ceremony.
The spiritual path is very similar to marriage: it calls on us to practise love daily. It is a sacred practice for which we prepare ourselves, to which we commit ourselves and which we put into action in the way we live our lives, in order to learn how to love – to love ourselves, our families, our neighbours, the creation and its creator. This living experience of love wraps us up in the divine, and guides us towards spiritual maturity. This daily practice creates a flame of love, a fire that keeps us going and keeps the world alive.
But how can we, mere human beings, aspire to this? First, we look to the mystics to see how they do it – perhaps we are drawn to a living spiritual teacher – and then, step by step, we appropriately try to apply the methods they give us, the attributes they reveal to us, and practise these in our householders’ lives. We try to commit to those principles and actions that lead us towards, rather than away from, God.
But often we don’t see what is right under our noses. We easily take for granted those close to us, rather than cherishing their positive attributes and showing compassion for what we perceive as their faults. If we take a leaf out of the mystics’ book, we would teach ourselves to look for those qualities in others that we perceive ourselves to lack, and set about learning how to grow them for ourselves, rather than indulging in criticism.
Fostering spiritual independence
We can also fail to see clearly sometimes because of the habits of thought ingrained in us through our upbringing. It is an essential part of one’s journey to God realization to reexamine one’s culture in order to make up one’s mind about what is important for spiritual understanding. It is easy to believe unquestioningly what one has been taught by family, school, state or priest.
Emphasizing how important it is for disciples to stand on their own feet and think for themselves, Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest and author, describes in his story “Adulthood” what a master said to a disciple who was always praying to God for help:
“When will you stop leaning on God and stand on your own two feet?”
The disciple was astonished. “But you are the one who taught us to look on God as Father!”
“When will you learn that a father isn’t someone you can lean on but someone who rids you of your tendency to lean?”
As de Mello points out, God is a guide, a mentor who rids you of your tendency to throw everything into his lap saying, “You do it for me, God.” God does not create dependency! He directs us towards being independent, standing on our own two feet so that we can be mature and surrender to him through this maturity.
It is part of spiritual maturity to be able to grow from one’s experiences and to develop an awareness of what one is in life and where one is going. We need to prioritize our most important value. Do we truly seek God realization, or do we just want a benign heavenly father/mother to look after us?
Learning to know oneself
Facing this question puts us is in a better position to choose consciously to commit to and sort out what we truly believe, and to put in the effort in to make it happen. Then we are on the journey to being true to ourselves and to surrendering to the Master. In other words, as the wise and loving father Polonius said to his only son, who was leaving his family to make his way in the world:
This above all, – to thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
In this roundabout way one begins to realize that the striking aspect of mystics is their ability to be true to themselves – which, as Socrates observed, is only possible if one knows oneself!
Knowing oneself is not a new idea. Centuries earlier in India, the epitome of Vedic thought was (and it still is) that everyone should seek to know one thing, knowing which, all else is known. They say: seek to know the inner self. To be true to yourself is to seek the inner self.
Do the mystics know themselves? We can judge from their words.
When I sought within my body
I realized my true self;
… By knowing my self, I became lost
In the bliss of divine love.
Kabir, The Weaver of God’s Name
To have this kind of self knowledge is to be closely attuned to God. To be committed like a warrior, with steely determination to live the four principles, is to be in tune with the Shabd. Being in tune with the Shabd and the Shabd Master within and without is to be like Saint Francis and Saint Clara, who were so rapt in the divine. This is the purpose of all spiritual practice. As the mystics poignantly show us, attunement is brought about by complete surrender to the Beloved.
Faith as the fulfilment of life is really the same thing as trust.
And trust is one of the fundamental aspects of life for every human existence.…
Only trust allows the soul room to breathe.
Wolfhart Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed