June 3, 2011

The Super-abundant and Transforming Law of Prayer

St. John of the Cross, in his commentary on Living Flame of Love, refers to the perfect way the Trinity arranges and distributes blessings in prayer (see especially 3:28).  This divine order, or law of faith, operates in the spiritual life like the law of gravity in the visible world.  It is a force, only not that which is impersonally exerted among different bodies of physical mass, but rather that which is operative between spiritual beings who love one another.  Personal love has its specific spiritual gravity.  If unimpeded, it draws lovers into ever deeper union.  In the order of grace, we are drawn to the Bridegroom because He is drawn to us even more.

The law of divine friendship regulates beautiful moments of prayer so that by faith they always lead us into deeper union with Him.  In other words, God touches us with the truth in love or inspires us with noble affections which break forth in love for one great purpose: to draw us into a participation by grace in the very life of the Trinity.  Again, the specific dynamic of encountering Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit in prayer is divine union with God - a union where we are not annihilated or absorbed into some greater reality, but a real union of love - like that between lovers.  He achieves this by giving all kind of astonishing gifts, all of which are ordered to help us fall deeper and deeper in love with God.  This is true of all his gifts, especially the one's most difficult to receive, the kind we can only say yes to in prayer.  The reason these special graces of prayer have this one effect is that He has fallen in love with us first.

Such is the nature of divine eros or desire.  This movement in the heart of God produces the same kind of desires in hearts of his creatures.  The gifts He gives are for no less purpose.  He gives out of his desire that we might be one with Him in friendship. What kind of love characterizes this friendship?  It is not platonic or disinterested or altruistic - it is at once sacrificial and a burning passion, a total gift of self and the desire to possess the beloved's companionship forever.  Our tradition calls this agape - which because of the simplicity of God's nature is the same as his eros.  Because of the Almighty's infinite perfection, there is no limit to His love.  When we allow ourselves to be loved with this Divine Love, we can always fall deeper and deeper in love with Him because His love is inexhaustible.  We also discover the more we are in love Him, the more the power of eros and agape in us are brought together so that our love for Him expresses itself in the most wonderful ways in our love for one another.

On this point, St. John of the Cross describes this soul as overflowing with divine grace and virtue and becoming "like a well of living waters that flow impetuously ... the soul is flooded with divine waters, abounding in them like a plentiful fount on all sides!"  Living Flame of Love, 3:7-8 as translated by Kavanaugh and Rodriguez in Collected Works, Washington D.C., ICS (1991) 676.

The soul who generously loves God and does not refuse Hist manifold gifts becomes like the One whom it loves -- the One in whose image it was created!   That the Giver of all good things would so super-abundantly immerse a frail human being in such transforming love is astounding.  Yet, in those periods when my own heart has been parched, the Lord has often sent someone just like this to refresh me and encourage me on my way.   St. John of the Cross does not directly explore this idea, but it is implied in what he teaches.  Namely, the grace of deep friendship with Christ always overflows into the life of the Church.  Such holy people not only quench their own desire for the Living Water, but also help alleviate the thirst of fellow pilgrims so that we will not lose heart on our way into eternal friendship with the Lord.