I could call this post, "Even the desert is a place".
Several significant lines from Raissa's Journal seem to fit into the ongoing discussion on perfection.
The first entry relates to the post earlier on philosophy and the training of the intellect. Raissa makes it clear that now is the time (1919) for the Faith to be defended by the Intellect.
And, it is now.
Like the Benedictines, she makes the connection between the pursuit of the love of Truth, the love of God, and study.
Obedience to God in the Faith must be rational. Raissa quotes Pascal, "Submission and use of reason, in which true Christianity consists."
Who among Catholics know this, believe this? I hope my readers have come to this, if they did not know it already.
What we witnessed recently in the Synod were anti-intellectualism, the lack of reason, and the lack of obedience to Church teaching.
Here is Raissa in her own words: Truth is the rule of the intellect and of the will, it has an absolute and legitimate power over the whole man. Not to follow the truth which the intellect shows us is to disobey God; for the intellect is, in us, a certain similitude of the uncreated light. (St. Thomas).
Then, she writes something which I could have written if I were more intelligent, for this is my experience. God meets me in my intellect and always has.
I remember a day in Bristol, when I was studying and teaching at the University, when I was working on the poetry of David Jones. I can remember the moment as if it happened yesterday.
Sitting at my desk in Wills Hall, facing west, out the large latticed window, I was struck with Beauty and taken up into the Presence of God. The study of the beauty of the words of poetry brought me directly into contact with Beauty Himself. That the intellectual pursuit for Truth and Beauty leads to God has been known by many. Here is Raissa again....
I give thanks to God who put in my heart such an ardent love of truth when, ignorant of the divine Truth, I lived among skeptics and atheists. That desire which the physical sciences could not satisfy because they are partial, and which modern philosophies completely frustrated by their relativism, was fulfilled by the revelation of Catholic doctrine and of Thomistic philosophy.
Her way was through theology and philosophy. But, she had to endure great suffering as well.
As I sit in bed trying to get warm, because I cannot afford heat, suffering from aches and pains, tendinitis, caused by the cold and pain in old frostbite areas, which hurt in the cold, and having chilblains flare up from the cold, I am struck that Raissa had to suffer while being purified in her intellect and heart. I get headaches from the cold, and pains in my fingers. She experienced many severe illnesses. She was almost constantly ill some years.
Why? Look at the saints who have had to suffer both physical and existential pain. The list is long.
The connection cannot be denied. When I first read her so long ago, I was attracted to her because she suffered, like I do, from very painful sciatica and other illnesses. Today, I had an asthma attack from the cold as well. I was so disappointed, as my prayers for healing have not been answered. Raissa's illnesses were chronic and many days she had to spend in bed from weakness. Thankfully, I only need a "down day" here and there.
Her suffering was a part of her Dark Night. She admitted that she was in Purgatory for one year, 1918-1919, without consolation, with dryness in prayer, not being moved by sermons, with a shattered soul.
Why suffering must accompany this deep desire for Truth is explained by Raissa in one line.
"It is the sublime but everyday truth of Christianity that suffering united to love works salvation."
This is it....pure and simple. All metaphysical or existential suffering, physical or spiritual suffering, heart or head suffering, when coupled with love, becomes redemptive, not only for us, but for others.
In the past two weeks, when my active contemplation was a chore, dry and hard because I could not concentrate on God or His Attributes, it dawned on me, through a small moment of grace in the Adoration Chapel in Sliema, that this was exactly what God wanted--me to be in the driest of deserts before Him, trusting and loving without images, or any response from that Vulnerable God, who was before me under the Species of The Host.
This is my mortification-active contemplation without results. Raissa explains this as well, "Total abnegation is my path (so badly followed by me). All possible mortification, interior. In fact, it depends entirely on myself to create the 'desert'".
Several days ago, before I read this line as if I were reading it for the first time this morning, I came to the same realization in prayer at Adoration. I had to be content with the desert.
I had to create the desert interiorly, the nothingness of my own self, joined with the via negativa which has been my life. No permanent home, no companionship, no security, no family near me, very few things...which fit into two suitcases.
I knew this in 1985, so long ago, but I fought it over and over and over. To embrace the via negativa is to choose to be in the desert constantly, with aridity of soul and body. I wanted the via affimativa. but one does not choose the way God makes one holy. But, as a poet, a writer, I am plunged into the affirmation of life, of beauty, of symbols and images. That is another suffering, to be torn in one's gifts and ministry in the pursuit of contemplation. To go against one's natural instincts to find the nothing which is all.
But, now I know to rest in the desert. If there are no words, nothing but rocks and sands, I am content.
This is God's Will and once I really accepted it, the peace came like waves in the sea.
This is the peace which passes all understanding, not a peace because one is experiencing goodness, kindness or comfort, but a peace when one is suffering intensely on many fronts, including pain in the heart, including grief.
Create your own desert, in a way similar, to which you have been called by me through St. Catherine of Siena to create the cell in your soul. where you can go.
Now, I understand what was told to me at the beginning of this stay in Malta, that the Garden of Eden is the Garden of Gethsemane-only in pain and suffering can some of us find Love and perfection.
Raissa spoke to me so long ago, but I had to travel many paths to get to the place she found in 1921-the interior desert. She was 38.
Pray that God gives me stability in order to be able to rest in this desert, for even a desert is a place.
Let me close this post with Raissa's words from July 13th, 1921,
To love. To abandon oneself. Nothing else is necessary to sanctification. No, nothing, not even silence with God if that is rendered impossible by real obstacles, interior or exterior...Love God, love, love. That is the one thing necessary.
to be continued....