A Mystic’s Journal: Meditation Class: The Desert Fathers: Thursday, September 17, 2009 by Laurie Conrad
September 17, 2009
We are reading the Desert Fathers again in meditation class (The Book of Mystical Chapters ;Shambala Publications; 2002; translator John Anthony McGuckin). Several of us have been aware of various supernatural fragrances: incense, roses, fruit. Often these fragrances have been during class, but more often I have been aware of them as the meditators arrive or leave - as though my students are being escorted to and from class by the Desert Fathers themselves.
We read only one poem this week in class:
If you seek after God with all your heart
and all your strength,
then the virtues of your soul and body
will turn you into a mirror
of the image of God within.
You will be so merged in God,
and God so merged in you,
that each will endlessly repose in the other.
Such are the riches of the gifts of the Spirit
that such a disciple will be, and be manifested as,
the very icon of divine blessedness,
a very god by adoption,
since God is the perfector of his own perfection.
Written by the Desert Father: Niketas Stethatos
This poem almost threw me into an ecstasy as Becky read: I fought the impulse and considered it progress that I managed to continue class even as the Light in me grew and radiated out into the universe.
First we spent a bit of time memorizing the poem as a class, as the monks were meant to do. This went surprisingly quickly, and perhaps we had a bit of Divine help. Then we went line by line, phrase by phrase, discussing the meaning of the poem.
If you seek after God with all your heart/and all your strength
Kerry said this reminded her of the saying: Thou shalt love God with Thy whole heart and mind and soul .... In this poem, the Desert Father includes : and all your strength. We took these words to mean that the intent and the wish to know God - and our Love for God - will bring us to our Goal. That we then can become a mirror of the Divine. I added that where we put our focus, our thoughts and desires, is of paramount importance - and we decide that every instant of every day, with our every thought. In short: we succeed at where we put our attention. For instance, I would not do well as an Olympic runner, I have no training and no desire to be one. But I am a fine pianist. I have practiced and studied the piano almost my entire life, spending many hours of each day playing and learning scores to perform. In other words, we must train ourselves to put God and the soul first and foremost in our lives, as we have done in our respective professions, if we wish to succeed on the spiritual Quest. We must learn to put our attention on the soul and God no matter what else we are doing. In fact, it will help us do our work better than we could ever do otherwise.
You will be so merged in God,
and God so merged in you,
These lines led to discussion about our experiences of God and the soul during our meditations and also in normal waking state consciousness; I mentioned that St. Teresa of Avila described this special experience as God seeking Himself in the Divine Light of our soul. In any case, these beautiful lines refer to mystical union, which happens either during the Dark Night of the soul preceding the third stage of the Interior Life, or at the beginning of the third stage. Although, we can have Glimpses of mystical union before then, even during our first meditation.
that each will endlessly repose in the other: i.e. here the mystical union is abiding (third stage of the Interior Life according to St Teresa of Avila). This is the goal of the spiritual life.
the very icon of divine blessedness
I asked what this phrase meant and Clayton said that “Icon” here meant the image of God, i.e. the person was leading the way for the rest of us - and also acting as a reminder of the Divine, the sacred life. Mariette pointed to the Russian icon (a painting of Our Lady and Her Son) hanging up on the wooden post she was leaning against in our living room. Yes, an icon is a sacred painting meant to remind us of God - and also to protect us and give inspiration and comfort, as well as radiate Divine energy into the world. And here the Desert Father is telling us that we should live as an icon for others - acting as a reminder of God and giving spiritual Inspiration, Grace and Protection to our fellow creatures.
After our discussion ended, we meditated again. I asked them to meditate on two things: the first was to repeat “I love God” or something similar, and I told them to Love until their Hearts were ready to burst, ready to break open. The second was to repeat the phrase “I am a mirror of the Divine “ and to image this as they meditated. ( My experience of this phrase was that I felt and saw fractions and dimensions of my being infinitely reflecting the Divine in the soul ... )
To illustrate integration, I said that we must be aware of the soul even as we speak and think and act, as I was focused on the soul even as I spoke to them. As an exercise I asked them to talk about their day, one at a time - still concentrated on the soul. This they did fairly easily. To help them further integrate the soul’s experience and our experience of the soul and God, this intermingling that the Desert Father Niketas Stethatos wrote of, I asked the meditators to go in the kitchen, hold conversations, wash the dishes, eat some of the butterscotch pudding; I asked Pam to feed the cats, Chris to bring me a glass of water. I told them to keep their attention on the soul and God even as they spoke together and did their tasks. We must integrate what we find in our meditations and other mystical experiences into our daily lives, or they are fairly useless - and in our life situations we cannot say: “Excuse me, just give me forty minutes, I need to meditate first ...”
Then I sent them outside, into the night. I told them to speak to each other, and look at the sky - and to at the same time repeat the phrases we had meditated on and send Healing to all the houses and streets as they walked. We must bring that awareness of the soul and the Divine with us always. Chris came back and said that looking at the sky as she walked: “It was all there ...” And so it is.
After all our exercises and second meditation the entire house was filled with Divine Light - which made me very happy and also soothed my poor clairvoyant eyes ...