We continue our studies of the Desert Fathers. Chris said she had experienced some supernatural fragrances at her home since our last class. Last week I was aware of a new fragrance as we meditated before class, and also during class; this week Chris said she was aware of the distinct fragrance of hyacinth. These mysterious Gifts from the Desert Fathers continue. The first poem we studied this week was written by the Desert Father, Makarios The Great.
Wednesday, November 18
We continue our studies of the Desert Fathers (The Book of Mystical Chapters; Shambhala; trans. John Anthony McGuckin.). Chris said she had experienced some supernatural fragrances at her home since our last class. Last week I was aware of a new fragrance as we meditated before class, and also during class; this week Chris said she was aware of the distinct fragrance of hyacinth. These mysterious Gifts from the Desert Fathers continue.
The first poem we studied this week was written by the Desert Father, Makarios The Great.
We spent quite a bit of time on comparing two lines of his beautiful poem: Sometimes the soul finds rest and the line, At other times the soul is stirred up by grace. At first my meditation students interpreted these lines to mean in waking state consciousness, i.e. sometimes the soul finds rest and other times it is stirred to action in waking state, in the world. Which is true . However, my interpretation of these two profound lines was the soul in deep repose or active during meditation or contemplation.
Kerry was not clear on the difference between meditation and contemplation; of course both these terms are human words, and each has more than one meaning depending on your spiritual background and method. In our class framework of spiritual practice, meditation means sitting down and clearing your mind of thoughts, save the one thought or prayer you are concentrating on; contemplation is the deeper state where all thoughts cease of their own accord and the soul finds the ineffably deep repose Makarios The Great speaks of in line five.
the soul stirred up by grace started a discussion on Saint Teresa of Avila’s description of meditation and prayer as our efforts to irrigate and water our fields and plants, whereas the infusion of grace was when God Himself sent the fields and plants rain. Chris said that both the soul in repose and the soul stirred by grace were forms of the infusion of Grace; one brought peace, the other Wisdom. In the end, we decided that both these forms of infusion of Grace, in this poem, referred to the soul in meditation or contemplation. And that the understanding and knowledge of the spirit given to the soul stirred by grace is a wordless understanding and knowledge, and a mystical one.
It is also possible that Makarios the Great was speaking of rapture or ecstasy.
However, aside from rapture or ecstasy, this stirring of the soul, this activity within the soul during meditation or contemplation, is the soul assimilating the infused grace given to it; or the transformation of the soul as the result of this infused grace. As I was speaking about this reaction in the soul to the infusion of grace, the image of “co-creating” came to my mind, i.e. the soul and the grace being given to it work together, are as one in this transformation of the soul and body during these experiences.
Chris mentioned that this stirring up of the soul could mean that we should put the soul to work, i.e. “Get to work - help the world.” However, in my view, this Wisdom given to the soul in deep contemplation or ecstasy is giving the soul the seeds of something to later achieve in the world. What Makarios the Great describes in this poem is more the mystical experience of the soul absorbing and assimilating the Light and Divinity being given to it during meditation or contemplation. Outwardly, when we are in deep contemplation, we appear lifeless, motionless; but in these times we can be more active, more alive, more aware than we ever could be in ordinary waking state consciousness. The wordlessly revealed Wisdom revealed to the soul during meditation or contemplation will unfold in its own way and in its own time.
When we first begin to meditate, the Light and Divinity given to us is like a wonderful rain after a very long drought, and so much is being both assimilated and transformed so quickly, that in a sense the soul is active even when in repose. Kerry asked: ‘How do we know what’s going on in our early meditations’ and I answered: “It doesn’t matter if we know or not.” We should never judge our meditations, evaluate them, because we cannot.
Manifold are the patterns of grace ... This exquisite line lent itself to further discussion. Grace comes to us in an infinitude of ways, this we all agreed was true . The phrase patterns of grace was more difficult to understand. Chris explained that the word patterns in this context meant that every meditation would be different; i.e. every gift of grace would have its own special imprint and activity in the soul. I thought this an excellent answer. The phrase patterns of grace also suggests that in spite of the manifold ways grace can act upon the soul, there is a Divine order to all that happens to the soul and to all that exists in our physical universe - whether it be the structure of an atom or the planets in their orbs, the unfolding of events in our physical universe, the patterns of grace given to the soul - or the unfolding of the Divinity embedded within the soul.