Saint John and the Partridge
It is very easy to get the wrong impression of spiritual life, and to suffer a great deal as a consequence in the attempt to mould ourselves to our own ideas of what it means to be spiritual. The intensity of focus on the divine Beloved has to come naturally from within and cannot be forced. Decorating the kennel does not improve the character of the dog.
Often, we harbour inaccurate preconceptions of what a mystic or spiritual person should be like – perhaps sitting cross-legged on a couch making awesome pronouncements about the Infinite, or some other image from our imagination and cultural conditioning. But the reality is that truly spiritual people are normal – more normal than most of us, in fact, for they have brought their mind and emotions under control. They are not rigid, intolerant or dry, nor are they overbearing or even superior in their demeanour. They are perceptive, warm-hearted, human, approachable, and invariably have a great sense of humour. Their humility is not unctuous, self-conscious or an act, but natural. It comes from an accurate perception of their genuine insignificance before God. The story of Saint John and the Partridge, quoted here from The Apocryphal New Testament, illustrates this:
It is said that the most blessed evangelist John, when he was gently stroking a partridge with his hands, suddenly saw a man in the garb of a hunter coming towards him. The hunter, wondering how a man of such repute and fame could demean himself with such small and humble amusements, said, “Are you that John whose eminent and widespread fame has induced a great desire in me also to know you? Why then are you occupied with such simple amusements?
The blessed John said to him, “What are you carrying in your hands?”
“A bow,” said he.
“And why,” said John, “do you not carry it about always stretched?”
He answered him, “I must not, lest by constant bending, the strength of its vigour be dissipated, and it grow soft and useless. Then when there is need that the arrows be shot with great force at some beast, the strength being lost by excess of continual tension, a powerful blow cannot be dealt.”
“Just so,” said the blessed John, “let not this little and brief relaxation of my mind offend you, young man. For unless, by some diversion, it sometimes eases and relaxes the force of its tension, it will grow slack through unbroken rigour, and will not be able to obey the power of the Spirit.”
John points out that there is nothing wrong with the simple amusements of life. They are all a part of being truly human. In fact, they lend balance to a spiritual life, for the mind and body require some form of innocent relaxation from time to time. Spiritual life is not helped by going to extremes, in either direction. Moderation in everything lends grace to life.
John Davidson, The Prodigal Soul
With your irresistible glance,
you captured my heart and soul.
Having robbed me of those,
take away my name and accomplishments too.
If any trace of me remains in this world,
please, don’t delay – take that too.
‘Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani, Love’s Alchemy