. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Thoughts rendered from J.P. de Caussade's Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Life gives work meaning ... not vice-versa

Book 2, Chapter 2
-Part 3 continued some more-
We have been discussing the work life, and how to make sense of it in light of the spirituality that comes to us from God through Christ.

It would be less than thorough for us to think about employment in a theoretical vacuum. On a realistic level, let us consider that work in the workaday world involves demanding supervisors, impossible co-workers, boring and needless staff meetings, a fair amount of drudgery, physical pain (if not harm), and brings about illnesses, stress-related disorders and exhaustion in its various forms.

Work was initially a blessing for Man – a way that Adam and Eve could participate to some extent as co-sustainers in the Creation that God had made: “The sign of man’s familiarity with God is that God places him in the garden. There he lives ‘to till it and keep it.’ Work is not yet a burden, but rather the collaboration of man and woman with God in perfecting the visible creation.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 378.)

The blessing of work was broken by the Fall, and God told Adam that his blessed relationship with work was now cursed. “By the sweat of your face you will earn your food” (Genesis 3:19).

American workers spend about 93,000 hours at their places of employment. The bulk of the workforce is dissatisfied with the job they now have. Sixty-three percent of the employed, says one survey, hope to find something better to do for a living in the near future. (Another survey says half that, about one-third, hope to change jobs in the near future. The trick is to find the survey that helps prove your point, I guess.)

It is no easy task to bring our spiritual life to bear on our work life. Even people who have church-related jobs are vulnerable to the same staleness, dissatisfaction and doldrums that the rest of us face.

In my last post, I mentioned that “work is intrinsically honorable and valuable.” I realize what a hard sell that is for today’s worker.

From the beginning, life was to give work meaning. It was Adam’s connection in fellowship with God that made tending the garden something enriching and beneficial for the man. Obviously, this has been overturned, and now, to many of us, work gives life meaning.

The unemployed are especially sensitive to this. I have received some unemployment benefits in my day, and can agree with others that the loss of income is a significant challenge, but so is the loss of identity. The unemployed struggle to find something useful to do as much as they struggle with finding something income-based to do. Difficulty in finding work creates a sense of powerlessness and defeat in an afflicted individual.

Possibly, we have looked to work for goodness in life, rather than God. We may have looked to work for our identity, rather than the sonship with which God identifies us. We have considered work to be that which provides for us, rather than acknowledging that it is God who is our ultimate provider. We have perhaps thought of achievement as work-related rather than the extent to which we have reflected the life of Christ to the world – especially to those around us.

If we are not careful, we could discover that we have abandoned ourselves to work rather than to divine providence.

While work was originally a blessing in the context of a life with God, it has now become the context in which life is lived (with or without God), and is a poor substitute as a context for life. This reversal is generations deep and is not easily changed in the heart of the Christian who is trying to attain a proper view of things.

In work, as in ministry, Caussade reminds us: “It is the voice of the Bridegroom that should awaken the spouse, who should act only in so far as she is animated by the Holy Spirit, for in acting apart from that influence, the soul accomplishes nothing” (Page 61).

Again we are encouraged to consider the “now” as sacred, and to accept our state of life as it is on this day so that we can better see and better engage in the greater context of our life, which is that we belong to Christ as His beloved, and that we embrace the attendant responsibilities from our belonging and belovedness.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Seven Dwrafs may have whistled; there should be a song about groaning while we work

Book 2, Chapter 2
-Part 3 more and more-

As an observer of the ways in which people put together their faith in God, I have to say that most of us tend to overstate our importance to God’s kingdom.

Once we realize that we belong with God and with His people, we will naturally want to find out what our role is as a new creature in Christ. This is referred to as our calling, our ministry or our apostolate. As we are wont to do, we will figure that our place among the saints is very close to the axis of everything.

For some reason there is immense pressure on the new believer to find some way to immediately start becoming a career Christian. The search begins by listing the kinds of jobs that are fostered by the faith. For example: Pastor, Pastor’s Wife, Missionary, Christian College Professor, Religious Education Specialist, Christian School Administrator, Teacher, Christian Author, Christian Recording Artist, Evangelist, Monk, Nun, Music Minister, Missionary Pilot, Military Chaplain, Christian Entertainer, Christian Bookstore Manager, etc.

In my experience, this pressure retains its felt presence throughout life. This pressure, not the faith careers themselves, has created a great deal of distortion about our theology of work, our notions about God’s will, and it makes harmful inroads into our ideas about a meaningful, purposeful life. When we allow misshapen views about work, about God’s will and about our sense of purpose, we have really messed up a massive portion of our lives.

We have a mindset problem when it comes to work and vocation. If we do not find some clarity and some simplicity here, we will soon find ourselves Christians adrift – living perhaps comfortably, but inaccurately.

As I write this, Apple founder Steve Jobs has just died of pancreatic cancer (technically, respiratory failure) on October 5, 2011. He was a beloved world-changer, innovator and, for a time, America’s Decent Guy.

Among the many televised tributes to Steve, there were included several of his statements made in his commencement address at Stanford University in June of 2005. I am going to disagree with some of the things Steve said about work – not to attack Steve, and certainly not to parse his words, but to demonstrate how favorable an erroneous view of work has become in our culture.

Steve: “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

My dad, for one, would not have dared look in the mirror and say such a thing. On the majority of his days, he went to work at a job he didn’t particularly care for. He didn’t go because he loved his work, or because the work he did was especially meaningful to him or to others. He had a sense of duty and responsibility to earn money to help support his family. His job was not personally fulfilling, but it met his duty and responsibility.

Day in and day out my father, and my grandfathers, and my great-grandfathers went to work, earned some money, and left absolutely no identifiable dent on their workplace.

Many are the guys my age who will remember their dads “going to work every day to a job they hated.”

Steve: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

It was my generation that first brought a noticeable change in work to the table. We wanted our actual jobs to be important, significant and meaningful. We were not the generation that would do anything for a good paycheck. We were looking for jobs that would make an impact. Work itself wasn’t good enough. The kind of work suddenly made a difference too.

I can’t help but imagine how quiet the world would be on the day that everyone who did not love what they did for a living elected to stay home. Job satisfaction polls are difficult to collate, but one poll suggests that 1 in 5 Americans “feels passionately about their job.” I would surmise that 4 in 5 would look in Steve’s mirror and stay home. In another survey, a full 60 percent of the American workforce said they “plan to change jobs as soon as the economy gets better.”

Somehow, we are forced to conclude that if we do not absolutely adore our jobs, we have failed significantly. We certainly didn’t lose our way because of Steve. We lost our way when the Christian world view lost its inertia in culture.

Work, from a Christian perspective, is intrinsically honorable and valuable. It is not made more so by how much we love it, how much we earn, or its impact on society. Our work is a manifestation of what Caussade has repeatedly referred to as our “state of life.” In this particular section, he refers to our role or status with regard to work and vocation as “His design” (Page 60.)

Over the years I have had jobs that were invigorating and challenging, and jobs that made my stomach hurt each morning. I have been made to feel like my contribution at work was significant and appreciated, and I have been poorly treated, threatened, degraded and demoralized. Once I even had a nervous breakdown and couldn’t bring myself to leave the house to go to my job. I got halfway to the front door at home and was suddenly stricken with an attack of anxiety. Such has been my stormy romance with work. Sometimes it is a dance, sometimes a dirge.

I could go on with bad example after bad example of how the current mindset about work and vocation is unrealistic and uncharacteristic of the Christian world view.

Instead, let me state that the proper Christian view perceives work as a natural and vital extension of our walk with God. As Creator, God worked. As Redeemer, He revitalizes. As Guide, He directs and illumines. Work – any work – is as much a part of our spiritual life as is prayer. In fact, The Rule of St. Benedict, which has been used in Western monasticism for more than 1,500 years, refers to daily prayer, seven times per day, as “the work of God.”

Up to this point I may have only demonstrated how cloudy the issue of work and vocation can be according to Modern Man with his secularized and striated perception. Next we will try to right the ship on the subject.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pursuing God's will without tripping over our own illusion

Book 2, Chapter 2
-Part 3 continued yet more-

It is always a risky thing to tell a believer that part of their life with God will involve responding to impressions and directions that are less concrete or objective, but are understood as suggestions and nudges from God.

Caussade brings up two avenues of submission upon which the believer may travel with relative safety. He states that “God makes use of our being in two ways: He either obliges us to perform certain actions, or he simply acts himself in us” (Page 59).

Saying the same in another way, he says, “There are therefore duties of precept that must be accomplished, and duties of necessity that must be accepted” (Page 60).

These two categories of “duties” certainly involve the will of the submissive soul in obedience and in acquiescence. A believer is quite far along when he or she has lived and loved in the light of these two undertakings. The guidelines for such responses are found in the precepts (and acting upon them in obedience) or the necessities (being acted upon by God) according to which the clear-minded believer can rightly discern a life in accord with the will of God.

It still takes some doing, but the mature believer who has trained himself to walk with God will be able to fathom out his required obedience and his requisite acquiescence while he is firmly present to God in his every step.

It is a bold step for any teacher of spiritual things to move from here to what Caussade would consider a Class 3 Duty: “The duties of inspiration to which the spirit of God inclines hearts that are submissive to him” (Page 60).

He goes on to say, “This third class of duties is quite beyond and outside any law, form or determined matter” (Page 60).

This kind of talk has a fascinating appeal to people who want a deep spiritual acumen but a minimal amount of guidance and a low tolerance for boundaries. In each of us there is a craving to express ourselves freely and push back limits. Any high school or college student who has served on the school newspaper will be able to recall the administration banning a story or stopping the presses or ceasing a publication altogether because “the students went too far.”

The universal pleasure that we all take in swearing bears out this craving as well. We push the boundaries of language and force it to go beyond its norms. Something in us enjoys this.

When God told Adam and Eve that they could eat anything in the garden except the fruit of one tree, it didn’t take long for the two, with the help of the Serpent, to force that boundary.

While there is a great deal of freedom to celebrate as spiritual beings made alive and restored by God, a little lack of structures is all we need to get crazy.

“One merely lets oneself go, and freely and simply obeys one’s impressions,” says Caussade (Page 60).

As you must know by now, one can get very weird very quickly when one removes spirituality from its context of sound theology and places it in the context of imagination. If this is the way in which someone is going to “let oneself go,” then there will be no end to the troubles ahead. Many times throughout history and to the present day, someone with charm or talent or gumption has veered away from orthodoxy and has developed theories that are radically off course from the truth. Such veering can result in a “new” religion, although most of those smack of regurgitated heresies which the church has condemned in the past, or they can result in just one person carrying around a very distorted, unsound and unreliable grasp of Christian spirituality.

So, if we are going to “obey our impressions” and call this the will of God, we are in a wilderness with no landmarks. It is certainly adventurous and sounds quite spiritual, but, as Caussade says, we are at risk of falling “under the influence of our own will and be exposed to illusion” (Page 60).

Without guidelines or limits, our chances of enfolding ourselves into a self-made illusion are very good. The chances that we have embarked on a path God has chosen, not so good.

To rightly involve oneself in a Class 3 Duty, Caussade gives us two forms of advice. 1. Receive clear guidance from a spiritual director. 2. Do not make a big deal out of hunting down the Class 3 Duties.

As to Point 1, Caussade says: “That souls may not be deceived in this way,” [self-made illusion] “God never fails to give them wise directors who point out the degree of liberty or reserve with which these inspirations should be utilized” (Page 60).

I needn’t point out that once we become endeared to an illusion, which we believe bears out our advanced spiritual condition, we will not be prone to ask someone of spiritual authority to check out our vision. Anyone who would dare point out our error would be considered an obstacle to the “truth” we have found. When we think ourselves visionaries, everyone else is considered blind.

Father C’s explanation of Point 2 is important enough that I want to give it a separate reflection.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Entire arsenal of spiritual life is needed to overcome pride's destructive force

Book 2, Chapter 2
-Part 3 continued more-

When we fail to perceive the merit or meaning that is ours at the hand of God, we will devise our own. This is a very troublesome aspect of those of us who seek to follow Christ. We can be ill-at-ease with our own status within the household of God. Probably, we are not aware enough of the gracious work of Jesus by which we have been elevated from “enemy of God,” to “child of God.”

Selfishness never looks good on a person, but, among spiritual people, self-centeredness is just plain weird. Augustine said “Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues.” If that is so, then pride must certainly be the mortar and pestle by which all other virtues are ground to powder.

The best disguise for spiritual pride is zeal. In the very name of seeking God with all our hearts we can jeopardize our true calling by making one up out of our own idea about what we think our service unto God should look like. It is perilously easy to become jealous of another person’s ministry. If he builds a vast network of buildings and people and equipment (and cash) in his work for the kingdom of God, then why shouldn’t I try to get a piece of that?

When I was 9 years old I sat by myself with the small congregation, while my mother sat with the choir, and I was perturbed at the minister, sitting in what appeared to be a throne padded in burgundy velvet, and him doing all the talking. It was a 9-year-old’s version of pride making itself known by spawning the spiteful question, “Who does he think he is?”

It doesn’t have to be strictly ministry that makes us envy others. It could just be their state of life, to use Caussade’s words. I notice, for example, that money comes very easily to some people. They are in situations where their earnings are very good. Myself, I have never been a grand earner of money. I have known men and women who could turn an idea into cash in ways that simply mystify me. My mother is a natural bookkeeper, but I neither inherited nor absorbed any of her monetary acumen. Possibly I am no more financially refined than I was when I was sitting in that church on that Sunday at age 9.

In some spiritual ways I am also no more refined than I was back in 1966, sitting in that red-brick small-town church with the floor tilted toward the front, and the windows stained with greens and blues.

At the root of many of our spiritual immaturities is the lifelong struggle with humility.

Science is prone to tell us, for example, that our bodies are always coming down with pneumonia. In healthy people, the body is strong enough and equipped enough to ward off the pending ailment. A weaker, less-equipped body might put up less of a fight, and pneumonia gets the best of it.

I was a fairly strong young man when I had a bout with walking pneumonia. Other than general exhaustion and my lungs feeling like they were filled with sand, the worst symptom was that of pleurisy. The lung lining is inflamed and hurts. Coughing or sneezing felt like someone was spearing me in the back with a rusty blade, then twisting. I remember running to walls and door jams to press my back against some external support so I could sneeze with less pain. I also remember wishing that something could be removed from my body to make walking pneumonia go away. Alas, there is no such procedure.

It is the same with pride. It cannot be removed. It has to be overcome. With what? In the same way that the overall health of the body wards off pneumonia, the life that God gives us and renews us to includes the gifts, the fruit and the character of spiritual life that will hold pride at bay.

In order to answer the problem of pride we have to engage the entire arsenal of our spiritual life.

It is possible that over the course of time we have fallen prey to the idea that we have to balance a certain amount of pride with anything spiritual in our lives. Purity of heart will not allow a percentage of pollution. Pride killed us in the garden, while humility made resurrection possible through the work of Christ on the cross. We cannot see the cross clearly and conclude that a little bit of pride will give us the balance that we suppose we need.

Having become Christians, we are not now immune to pride, but are rather more vulnerable to it in its most horrific form: Spiritual pride.

The presence of pride and the absence of humility are two sides of the same coin, but we must realize that the presence of pride undoes far more than humility. It contaminates every other aspect of the spiritual life. I can trace everything I have ever done wrong, and every right thing that I have avoided to a proud “me-first” spirit.

Pride won’t stop any of us from reading about self-abandonment to God’s providence, but it will most certainly stop us from actually abandoning ourselves to God’s providence.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The passive and the active work together in a balanced Christian life

Book 2, Chapter 2
-Part 3 continued-

Self-abandonment is “the complete donation of our being to God to be used according to his good pleasure.” ~Caussade

As Father C continues to weave together strands of spiritual insight to help us better delve into our own life with God, he brings us to a discussion of the active and the passive responses that a disciple might make to God. In light of our previous discussion, we might call these the active and passive forms of submission to God.

For just a moment we need to consider that over the years talk of the interior life etc., distressed the relationship between the inner life (the passive) and the exterior life (the active). Extremists in favor of passivity-only were called Quietists in 17th-Century France, although the roots for this are found earlier in Spain. This is considered an unbalanced bearing on the doctrines of the Christian life. Included among these are the views that the “perfect” among the Quietists can achieve sinless perfection; that their souls can be completely absorbed into God in this life; and that any dealings with the ordinary life in the world are to be strictly shunned.

The better-known of the writers from this movement are Jeanne Guyon (d. 1717) and Francois Fenelon (d. 1715). A Church Commission condemned the Quietist views of the two, for which Guyon apologized and Fenelon, an archbishop, submitted to papal authority on the matter.

Caussade carefully prefers the passive approach to God. “Although souls raised by God to the state of self-abandonment are much more passive than active, they cannot be dispensed from all action” (Page 59). Careful indeed, for Caussade wrote these notes just a dozen or so years after Guyon and Fenelon died, and in the same country. He gives something of a nod to the Quietists, but achieves more of a balance by adding, “they cannot be dispensed from all action.”

The institutional memory of the Catholic Church contains a movement toward passivity (or contemplation) and the equal and opposite reaction of movement away from passivity and toward faith in action.

While studying the contemplative lifestyle with a group of believers, I found it strange that we were warned by some of the members to avoid becoming otherwise active in the church. I believe this to be a “memory” from the debates of yesteryear.

I think it is easy for us today to see how an inner life of prayer and contemplation is needed to inform and energize an active life of faith. The two are complimentary to one another. However, it took our predecessors some time to reach this balance.

By 1907, Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard (France again!) wrote a pamphlet that later became the book The Soul of the Apostolate, which defends and prefers the interior life. You can tell that there is still strife in the air by this time, as two of Dom Chautard’s many sections of the book are: “Is the interior life lazy?” and, “Is the interior life selfish?” His conclusion is that action is made fruitful by the interior life – a fairly balanced reckoning.

Further still, we have to consider that solitary contemplation is as much of an action as spooning up mashed potatoes at a soup kitchen. A prayer warrior confined to his home or his bed is as much a part of the overall spiritual well-being of the church as is a brilliant evangelist or popular Christian author. We must see this, although we do so rather poorly, and then still balance isolation with community; the prayer closet with the marketplace.

Jesus managed to spend time alone and isolated in prayer as well as working and teaching among people. “In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there” (Mark 1:35). “… he would often go off to some deserted place and pray” (Luke 5:16). Matthew reports that, after Jesus healed the sick and fed the crowd of thousands with five loaves and two fish, he pressed the disciples to get into a boat and head for the other side of the Sea of Galilee, sent the crowd away, “and went up into the hills by himself to pray” (Matthew 14:23).

In passing I will point out that St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) (and France again!) was a great example of this balance. His contemporary, Geoffrey of Auxerre, reported of Bernard: “Contemplation and action so agreed together in him that the saint appeared to be at the same time entirely devoted to external works and yet completely absorbed in the presence and the love of his God.”

In his 12th sermon on the Song of Songs, Bernard speaks of three ointments that waft from the body of the Bride. They are, he says, “Contrition, devotion and lovingkindness.” What follows is his unsurpassed description of the external manifestation of the believer filled with mercy and charity:

“Who, in your opinion, is the good man who takes pity and lends, who is disposed to be compassionate, quick to render assistance, who believes that there is more happiness in giving than in receiving, who easily forgives but is not easily angered, who will never seek to be avenged, and will in all things take thought for his neighbor’s needs as if they were his own?

“Whoever you may be, if your soul is thus disposed, if you are saturated with the dew of mercy, overflowing with affectionate kindness, making yourself all things to all men yet pricing your deeds like something discarded in order to be ever and everywhere ready to supply to others what they need, in a word, so dead to yourself that you live only for others – if this be you, then you obviously possess the third and best of all ointments and your hands have dripped with liquid myrrh that is utterly enchanting.” (Vol. 1, On the Song of Songs, Sermon 12, Page 78.)

In light of the history of the church and of the Scriptures, we can safely say that self-abandonment is not something we do lying down. The donation of our life to God for his purposes will entail a life drawn away for prayer and a life lived in the service of others.

It sometimes happens in doctrinal development that things that are discussed separately become unnecessarily separated. Faith and works is the most glaring example. In the case of the interior and exterior life, it is the believer’s responsibility to respond to God in a way that integrates “pray without ceasing” (First Thessalonians 5:17), with “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

The separation of the two is needless, impractical and doctrinally unsound.

Why bother with this discussion? If it has been a problem in the history of the church, it could well be a difficulty in the life of the contemporary believer. Doctrinal history is nothing if it does not show us how to put together the forces that flow from our belief.

If prayer is your left hand, and action is your right, you must clasp them together for the Christian life. It is neither in the right, nor the left, but in the interlaced fingers that bring them together.

Monday, October 24, 2011

We kind of want God to manage our inner life ... sometimes

Book 2, Chapter 2
-Part 3-

God’s actions upon the soul are his alone.

I think this is often overlooked. The soul is in his domain only. Divine action upon the soul can only be authorized and completed by the movement of his Spirit, the operation of his mind, the production of his being.

What indeed would be the result if we were supposed to build and keep our own soul? Each of us may or may not be aware of the ruinous result and the incidental damage we do to our inner life when we believe ourselves to be the maintainers of the soul.

That life, the spiritual inner life of the person, is best kept in the exclusive care of God. Since he is the only one who divinely acts, and the soul exists to be divinely acted upon, it stands to reason that the best ground for us as the beloved of God is one of submission to him.

As was pointed out before, there is something instilled in us as creatures of God that makes it natural for us to give ourselves away. Obviously, mankind is faced with choices as to what or to whom he will give himself. The crucial theological fact of what we might here call “The Problem of Man,” is that we can abandon ourselves to destruction or to restoration; to death or to life; to denial of spiritual truth or acceptance of its reality in God. If we are in fact made to give ourselves away, then, for the sake of our position in eternity we ought to review our choices. As the Scriptures say, “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).

As it is, we do not know very much about our own inner life, and we do not know the mind and workings of the Holy Spirit who dwells in the midst of the inner life. So, I myself am not the best option as my own inner life manager, director, remodeler or repairer. Little spiritual growth can occur until we grasp this. Somewhere, at conversion or in the teachings of the faith, this concept has been lost while being central to spiritual well-being: My soul is in God’s domain, and only he will act upon it whenever and with whatever he wants. No one else gets to play.

We may never in our lives be comfortable with this, but we must face the utter and uncomfortable truth. Why are we so uneasy with this? Partly, because we can only trust God so much. As Christians, we believe our souls to be very precious. So precious in fact, that we are not at ease when we do not know or cannot see what God is doing with the soul. We are not sure if we want him to do all the directing.

We know that he can use anything terrible, painful or tragic and make it something good for the soul, but, who wants terror, pain and tragedy? With just that much mistrust, we will want just that much management control over the soul. This, beloved of God, is a rookie mistake.

So, to whatever extent we mistrust God and acquiesce to our entanglements, we place the soul in peril. Perhaps not peril of eternal damnation, but peril of inestimable damage.

While the life of the soul is entirely in God’s domain, we are to respond accordingly to the action of God upon us. His work, although beyond us, is not separated from us. He does not take our inner life to the laundry while we live our lives awaiting a pressed and folded spirit to be given to us at a later time. So, we need some guidance on what to do now that we know God as the first mover, director and owner of the soul.

As we shall see, our response is not nothing. This submission to God is not doing nothing.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Can we freely belong to God while held by entanglememts?

Book 2, Chapter 2
-Part 2 continued some more-

We are hard pressed by these pages to relinquish our grip on the snares that hold us fast; to allow their unwinding and loosening so that we can turn more fully and more willingly to the awesome condition that awaits us: “the state of pure love” (Page 58).

Already we have reviewed how much we love and enjoy our entanglements. We have seen enough of ourselves to wonder if it is really worth it to give these up in order to obtain something as admittedly nebulous as “the state of pure love.” After all, we can be saved and entangled, can’t we? That is surely a comment that the 21st Century Christian should mull.

Do we not, in fact, have plenty of God in salvation, such that the search for deeper and less-convenient spiritual domains is, well, kind of unnecessary?

It is not a strong faith, not a biblical faith and not a Christian faith that entertains such questions. There appears to be no doubt in Caussade’s mind that his hearers will want to proceed with this deeper walk with God. My readers are different. Our culture has provided us with many thinking options. God, if there is one, is accommodating, easy-going, and quite possibly a woman.

But here is where Caussade steps out of line. God, he says, is one of “loving severity.”

He answers how we go about getting ourselves disentangled: “It is only through a continual self-contradiction and a long series of all kinds of mortifications, trials and strippings that one can be established in the state of pure love. We have to arrive at the point at which the whole created universe no longer exists for us, and God is everything” (Page 58.)

Two opposing forces are at work in our faith: Our desire for “the state of pure love” with our God, and our recoil from this love’s severity in terms of “trials and strippings.”

Here we are at the heart of Christian mysticism. A wrong turn here could lead us down a weird and twisted path; a pretense that the world doesn’t quite exist or that physicality is an illusion.

No, we are still talking about the master that we will serve; the influence to which we will yield; the winds to which our sails will respond. We are here faced with the same two shepherds that are mentioned in the Psalms – the Lord, or Death. Truly, the world as our guide is in essence Death in a deceptive more acceptable form.

Christian mysticism does not ask us to live in pretense, but to choose entirely between God or Death (disguised as the world) as master. Once we are faced with this choice, God, indeed, is everything.

“A heart that thus lives for God is dead to everything else and everything is dead to it.” (Page 59)

Here is wording is nearly identical to Paul’s in his letter to the Galatians: “But as for me, it is out of the question that I should boast at all, except of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

In short, the key to freedom from entanglements and those things that hinder us is a true desire to get released from them.