…though truth and love
can never really differ, when they seem to,
the subaltern should be truth.
Auden, The Common Life
In all the spiritual exercises that follow we bring the intellect into action in order to think and the will [heart] in order to stir the deeper affections. We should therefore note that the activity of the will [response of the heart], when we are speaking vocally or mentally with God Our Lord or with His saints, requires greater reverence on our part than when we are using the intellect to understand.
Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius, Annotation 3
There are many places in the Spiritual Exercises when I struggle to know what Ignatius meant. [Michael Ivens, SJ says, “Here, as frequently in the Spiritual Exercises and in classical spiritual literature in general, the word ‘heart’ can be substituted for will”.] One way I like to think about Annotation 3 is that we can be as hard-nosed as we like when doing theology – we must think and question all we can – but there comes a point at which thinking must give way to loving. Thinking about God is a strategy to defend against being with God.
By love he may be touched and embraced, never by thought.
The Cloud of Unknowing, Ch.6
To me, the ultimate example of this is Elie Wiesel‘s story of rabbis in Auschwitz who decided to put God on trial. They found him guilty of crimes against creation and humankind. Then after an “infinity of silence” they recited evening prayer.
We are left with an aporia. We want God and we cannot know God.
That is the dilemma: John [of the Cross] has an absolute need for a God who transcends absolutely. The impasse accounts for most of the deviations in human living – trying to fill the need with something else, or trivialising God so that I can grasp him.
Iain Matthew, The Impact of God, p.97
Is this like those who say “just have faith”? Certainly not. Love is a choice.
You know what it is to love, for example when your heart spontaneously opens, when you fall in love, when a little child holds out its arms for a hug, when a dear friend phones. Remember that feeling in this body, quite likely in your chest. You can choose to remember, evoke and cultivate that sensation with anyone and anything.
I don’t think Jesus exists now in the world. I shall not meet him on the street one day. Yet I can choose to meet him as the essence of everyone I meet. I can choose to meet him as my essence. To talk to him and pray with him as if he is present is to be blessed.
The imagination is the God-given natural human power that carries us into relationship and love and trust. Why do you prize your rationality over your imagination when it comes to God? Without imagination, no Heiliger Dankgesang, no Theory of Relativity, no Madame George, no Horae Canonicae, no Lilith.
Reading his words in the Gospels, or gazing at a picture or an icon of him can help with this. Don’t just read the words or look at the image, though: read and look with “deeper affection”. Give it time. Let yourself relax and open up.
I am no poster boy for marriage; but it seems to me that after the honeymoon, the disappointment. We are so distant from the hope of each other. Who is this person so relentlessly in my life, in my bed, opposite me at the breakfast table, playing with the kids? Who are you? It’s a real question: in the end you can never get to the bottom of it. You can never know me. And so, it is a choice to love, day after day. This is the work and the opportunity of relationship. It is also the work of prayer.
God disappoints. The world is not as you wish. Put aside your quibbles and doubts and rationalist sophistication so you can meet the one/One in front of you.
Believing, hoping, loving […] are the means by which a person is directly ‘united’ with God.
Iain Matthew, The Impact of God, p.98
Give me the grace to love you, for that is enough for me.
Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius, Para 234