Monday, May 4, 2015

Late Have I Loved You



Late have I loved you,
Beauty so ancient and so new,
      late have I loved you!
Lo, you were within,
      but I outside, seeking there for you,
      and upon the shapely things you have made
            I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
      those things which would have no being,
      were they not in you.
You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
      you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
      you lavished your fragrance,
I gasped; and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
      you touched me, and I burned for your peace.[i]


Hymn:  O Beauty, Ever Ancient         Robert O’Connor, Pub. OCP

Oh late have I loved You,
Oh late have I turned;
turned from seeking you in creatures,
fleeing grief and pain within.

O Beauty, ever ancient,
O Beauty, ever new;
You the mirror of my life renewed,
Let me find my life in you.

(click on “Standing at the Threshold”

The Confessions of St. Augustine are written as one extensive prayer from the opening words, “‘Vast are you, Lord, and as vast should be your praise’—‘vast what you do; what you know is beyond assaying,’”[ii] to the final sentence, “Only to you can we pray, only from you can we hope, only at your door can we knock.  Be it granted, be it fulfilled, be it opened.”[iii] 

In preaching about the love of God Augustine moves seamlessly from theology to testimony to prayer. “Where we are then to abide and Whence we are to draw Life? Let Holy Scripture speak for us lest we should seem in mere conjecture to be saying things contrary to the teaching of the Word of God. Hear the words of one who knew: If God be for us who is against us? [Rom. 8:31] The Lord, he says, is the portion of my inheritance. [Ps. 16:5] He saith not: “Lord, what wilt Thou give me for mine inheritance? All that Thou canst give me is worthless! Be Thou mine inheritance! Thee do I love! Thee do I wholly love! With all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind do I love Thee! What, then, shall be my lot? What wilt Thou give me save Thyself?” This is to love God freely. This is to hope for God from God. This is to hasten to be filled with God, to be sated with Him. For He is sufficient for thee; apart from Him nought can suffice thee![iv] (Sermon, cccxxxiv. 3).

There is mingled sorrow, longing, and joy in his prayer, “Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you.”  Some indeed have never known at time in which they did not know Love Himself; others share with Augustine that sense of longing; the wish that they had known Love forever.  Many of us, who have walked some years with the Him still sense that feeling of lost opportunity, “If only… if only, if only I had known Love sooner,” and the yearning stretches into the future.

“Day by day, dear Lord,
of thee three things I pray:
to see thee more clearly,
love thee more nearly,
follow thee more nearly,
day by day.”[v] 

That yearning is what C. S. Lewis referred to as joy; for there is a joy in our longing for God that is the leading edge of the prayer of union; those fleeting moments when we are lost in the God whom we adore.  St. Teresa of Avila exclaims, “Oh, the greatness of God, that a soul should come out like this after having been hidden in the greatness of God, and be closely united with Him, for so short a time—never, I think, for so long as half an hour.” [vi]  The whole will of the soul is then “set on desiring to have ever increasing fruition of its Spouse; and His Majesty, knowing our weakness, continues to grant it the things it wants, and many more.[vii]

Augustine confesses that in his search for God he was looking in the wrong places.  He says, “Lo, you were within, but I outside, seeking there for you, and upon the shapely things you have made I rushed headlong—I, misshapen.”  Augustine’s search took him in many bypaths of sensuality, intellectual enquiry, and into the heresies of Manichaeism.  He says, “I had ‘gone down deviant paths’ with the help of a false and blaspheming religion.  I did not so much accept it as true—I simply preferred it to the one I was not virtuous enough to pursue but was viciously resisting.”[viii]

The problem, as it so often is, is the surrender of the will.  We want to will the right thing, but we are double-minded, and a double-minded man cannot receive anything from the Lord.[ix]   Augustine says, “For my willing was as halfhearted as my nilling.  I was a war within, was exiled from myself.  My exile was unwelcome to me, caused not by a second nature within me but by the cost of sin.”[x]  All the while he confesses that God was within him, seeking him, but he could not find him. 

His search among all the shapely things that God had made was a hindrance and he cries out, “They held me back far from you, those things which would have no being, were they not in you.’  But what are the shapely things of the world that hold us back from that surrender?  Is it the delight of knowing, or even the delight in not knowing?  Beware, contemporary Christians don’t always want to be intellectually challenged; and rather than stretch to understand they sometimes cry out, “Dumb it down, so that I can understand!”  Do we search through the shapely things that He has made; through the beauty of the world; through delights of the flesh; even through the lesser loves that can supplant the greatest Love when they are loved without that Love that redeems all things?

It is hard to let go and to cast our all upon the Lord of Love.  It ultimately means abandoning ourselves.  It reminds me of a Monty Python Sequence, 
Bring out your dead . . . bring out your dead… 
Here's one -- nine pence. 
I'm not dead!  
Nothing -- here's your nine pence.  
I'm not dead!   
Here -- he says he's not dead! 
Yes, he is. 
I'm not! 
He isn't. 
Well, he will be soon, he's very ill. 
I'm getting better![xi]

Right to the very end we struggle against death to the world and death to ourselves.  But the mercy of God is that He continues to pursue us, 

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
  I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
  Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him

  Halts by me that footfall;
  Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstreched caressingly?[xii]

Augustine cries out, “You called, shouted, broke through my deafness; you flared, blazed, banished my blindness; you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you; I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for your peace.” 

I remind you of something you should already know.  There are two forms of grace, Infused Grace, and Acquired Grace.  The distinction between Infused Grace and Acquired Grace is evident in St. Diodochus of Photiki in his discussion of Initiatory Grace.  Initiatory Grace is itself an Infused Grace.  There are moments of blessed, unsought, unexpected Infused Grace, but a common error of revivalism is the attempt to relive the experience of Initiatory Grace instead of humbly accepting the discipline of Acquired Grace.  St. Diodochus says,

 “If we fervently desire holiness, the Holy Spirit at the outset gives the soul a full conscious taste of God’s sweetness, so that the intellect will know exactly of what the final reward of spiritual life consists.  But later he often conceals this precious and life-creating gift.  He does this so that, even if we acquire other virtues, we should still regard ourselves as nothing because we have not acquired divine love in a lasting form . . . It is therefore necessary to work upon the soul forcefully for a while, so that we may come to taste divine love fully and consciously . . . Those who have advanced to perfection are able to taste this love continually, but no one can experience it completely until ‘what is mortal in us is swallowed up by life.” (2 Cor. 2:4)[xiii]

C. S. Lewis differentiates between longing and longing.  In a marvellous passage from Out of the Silent Planet there is a linguistic discussion between Ransom and the hrossa Hyoi who is one of the intelligent creatures inhabiting the planet Malacandra.  “There were two verbs which both, as far as he could see, meant to long or yearn; but the hrossa drew a sharp distinction, even an opposition, between them.  Hyoi seemed to him merely to be saying that every one would long for it (wonderlone) but no one in his senses could long for it (hluntheline).  That is to say that there is a longing that is grace-filled (wonderlone), and a longing (hluntheline) the end of which is only a satisfaction of the flesh.  I remember Martin Luther’s expression, junker fleisch, which means roughly, “little lord flesh,’ or perhaps, “squire flesh,” a term of self-mockery

The true longing of the soul is to see the face of God, not a longing that the flesh might be satisfied, but a longing of the spirit that ends in surrender and union with God, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail.”[xiv]  The Psalmist prays, “You have said, ‘“Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, LORD, do I seek.’  Hide not your face from me.’”[xv]  And again the Psalmist says, “Seek the LORD, and his strength: seek his face evermore.”[xvi] Our longing to see the face of God springs from the deepest desire of the human heart, freed by grace, for union with the Lord whom we love.  Augustine gives voice to this longing saying, “I gasped; and now I pant for you; I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst.” 

For me a reductionist interpretation is not adequate.  I do not want to avoid the obvious surface meaning.  With Moses I cry, “Show me Your Glory.”[xvii]  My Lord, show me Your face.  If it is not possible to see Your essence, the cry of my heart is at least let me see the “effulgence” of Your glory,[xviii] the outraying of Your Essence in the face of Jesus Christ.   May I see Your glory as the eye sees.  Let me see You with a ‘spiritual sensing’ even as Paul was caught up to heaven, whether in the body or out of the body he did not know.[xix]  Let me see You as John saw You walking among the golden menorah of the Churches.  Why? Because I love You?  Not a shadow of how You love me!  No!  Because You command it, and say “Seek My face,” and my seeking, which is commanded, will make Your heart glad even as it leaves me “rapt” in Your love.[xx]

Our experience of God is uneven because we are uneven. Apart from grace we have no freedom of will, but like Augustine in his struggle towards surrender, we are driven by the nature and nurture that we have inherited from Adam and we do not always wish to be freed from the old Adam.   Augustine tells us, that “We can, however, ourselves do nothing to effect good works of piety without Him either working that we may will, or co-working when we will.”[xxi]  It is grace that sets us free, free to will, free to choose, free to act.  But we must will, choose, and act, all by our own choice.  You will recognize that as an instance of truth in tension; the human mind is not expansive enough to incorporate even a fraction of the mysteries of God.  That is why we pray:

O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.[xxii]

[i]   St. Augustine, The Confessions, Book 10, III, 38
[ii]   Garry Wills, trans. St. Augustine, The Confessions.(New York: Penguin, 2006), p. 3
[iii] Ibid. p. 353
[iv] Augustine: Sermon, cccxxxiv. 3
[v]   St. Richard of Chichester, 1197-1253, Hymnal 1982, Hymn 654
[vi]              Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, trans. ed.(E. Allison Peers, New York: Doubleday, 1989), p. 106
[vii]             Augustine. p. 148
[viii]             Ibid. p. 174
[ix]              James 1:7-8
[x]   Augustine, p. 177
[xi] Monty Python and the Holy Grail
[xii]             Francis Thompson (1859-1907) The Hound of Heaven
[xiii]             Kallistos Ware, trans. “St. Diodochus of Photiki,” The Philokalia, (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), Vol. 1, p. 289.
[xiv] John 6:63
[xv]  Psalm 27:8-9, ESV
[xvi] Psalm 105:4, KJV.  The Hebrew word panyim. Is accurately translated as face in the KJV, while other translations paraphrase it as presence.
[xvii] Exodus 33:18
[xviii] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews 1:1-3
[xix] 2 Corinthians 12:2
[xx]  Richard Rolle, The Fire of Love
[xxi]   St. Augustine, De gratia et libero arbitrio, 17: PL 44, 901
[xxii]            Proper 5 The Sunday closest to June 8