Discalced Carmelite Friars

Province of St. Therese

Poet and Contemplative

“From the abundance of his spirit [the poet] pours out secrets and mysteries rather than rational explanation” (Prologue, The Spiritual Canticle).

“In contemplation God teaches the soul very quietly and secretly, without its knowing how, without the sound of words” (Chapter 39, The Spiritual Canticle).

In the spirit of St. John of the Cross, this blog reflects on the contemplative experience and the poetic experience, sometimes separately and distinctly, sometimes in common, as mutually enlightening.

I will also post to this blog, from time to time, my own poetry, with a short interpretive note attached.

~ Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD

God's Mercy, and Beauty – Part 1 of 2

  Mercy and beauty have this much in common, they are both ecstatic.  By "ecstatic" I mean a movement of mind or heart that goes out from the self towards the other.
  Ecstasy, while nothing like rapture, does entail, like rapture, a certain measure of self-forgetfulness.  Either I am drawn out of my usual self-absorption by an absorption or fixity upon another person or thing (beauty), or I am moved out of my usual self-absorption by feelings of empathy, sympathy, or compassion welling up in me and turning my attention towards another (mercy).
  Beauty, for its part, is ecstatic and draws me out of myself by virtue of that mysterious quality we call "the beautiful"—the wondrousness or mysteriousness of another person, object, experience, or moment, and the sense of intimacy or communion with it that this wondrousness affords.  Beauty, therefore, is ecstatic in the sense that it is about the experience of playfulness, not about doing work, about the presence of concrete meaningfulness, not abstraction, about human togetherness, not self-assertion.
  Mercy, of course, seems to be different than beauty.  But it, too, is surely ecstatic.  In an act of mercy I am drawn out of myself by the unifying bonds of human feeling, by the stirring up within me of a common, shared nature.
  This similarly ecstatic character of both beauty and mercy is, from within our human experience, pretty easy to understand.  But what about divine mercy?  And what about divine beauty, however we might understand this second expression?
  By the term "divine beauty" I want to suggest not an attribute of God, as if we might experience God as somehow being beautiful, which is, of course, entirely possible.  But I want to think of divine beauty as a beauty that, like mercy, comes from God and then goes out, ecstatically, to creatures.  It is a beauty God imparts or bestows upon creatures, just as he imparts or bestows mercy upon them.  It is a beauty, in other words, that flows from God as, having said of his handiwork, "It is good," he then adds, "It is beautiful."
  Is God ecstatic in these two ways—by being merciful towards us and by being, let us say, "beauty-bestowing" towards us?  And are these two ecstatic movements of God towards creatures more or less the same movement?


  That God is ecstatic in his very nature seems to me very clear.  It lies at the heart of what we Christians say about God.  Indeed, we believe that God is ecstatic in himself, independently of his being ecstatic towards creatures as their Creator.

  The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is God from all eternity not as some static, fixed being, bottled up in himself.  This eternal God is the Father ecstatically going out of Himself and begetting the Son, God from God.  And it is the Son ecstatically going out of Himself by returning to the Father this gift of divine being in an act of ecstatic love and adoration.  And in this mutual exchange there is stirred up between the two a kind of ecstatic breathing forth, which breathing forth becomes one breath, the Holy Spirit, who is Love Itself, eternally given and received.
  But this ecstatic essence of God applies equally well to God in his act of creation.  Creation, as we Christians understand it, is not a mere extension or jutting out of the divine beyond itself.  It is an ecstatic gift of being to that which has no being in and of itself, but which nonetheless has come to possess an existence in its own right and according to its own nature.  In the case of angels and humans, this created being can even employ its own being over against God, acting so as to thwart or oppose or stifle God's righteousness and reject God's offer of love.
  Thus, God is of his very nature both as God and as Creator ecstatic.  And two manifestations, among many others, of this ecstatic nature of God, in this case exercised specifically towards creatures, are (1) his mercy and (2) his "beauty-bestowing-ness," so to speak.

To be continued...

Written by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD
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