For the Feast of St. John of the Cross, I’d like to look at a common error in counterfeit contemplation such as Centering Prayer. New Age theologies do not see any separation between God and the soul. In fact, to many New Agers, God and the soul are the same thing. This error pops up in nearly every conversation I have with Centering Prayer practitioners. Here is a comment from a practitioner from an exchange on Leila Miller’s blog, Little Catholic Bubble:
“God is omnipresent. We cannot, not be in God’s presence. We are human and in our fallen nature we have difficulty having an awareness of God’s presence.”
The need for moral conversion
This is true, but misleading. One can be present in different ways. God is present in all that exists, yet morally speaking we can be separated from Him due to sin. In fact, since Adam’s sin, we are all (with two exceptions!) born this way, morally separated from God. Acknowledging that God is present everywhere is not enough for union with Him. We need a moral conversion, not just an awareness or consciousness.
Thankfully, both Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross address this issue.
We must draw near to God
Here is St. John’s doctrine on “Seeking the Hidden God.” This long quote comes from Union with God According to St. John of the Cross by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD. Unfortunately, this wonderful book is now out of print. If you can find one secondhand, pick it up!
“For the soul desirous of union, it is not enough to know where one ought to go to seek God; it also wants to find Him. The soul responds to the Spirit with a new question:
“‘Granted that He whom I love is within me, why do I not feel Him and do not find Him?’
“There is a great difference between having God and being introduced into His company, and thus living with Him.
“‘God is in me,’ the soul says, ‘why does He not reveal His presence to me?’
“To this the Saint will reply by explaining to us a whole plan of conquest. Listen to why the soul enamored of God and in whom He dwells does not feel Him:
“‘The reason for this is that He is hidden, and you do not hide yourself as He does so that you may find Him and feel Him. He who is looking for a hidden thing should secretly penetrate its hiding place, and when he finds it, he too is hidden as it is.’ (Spiritual Canticle I, 9)
“Yes, it is true, God is within us, but He is hidden, concealed under the cumulation of our too human preoccupations, all the obstacles to the fulfillment of personal plans for our own profit and gain, plans that we want to carry out without taking sufficient account of the divine will and of the rights of others. In our interior there is too often a whole world of tendencies, of influences, of very lively passions, that thrust us toward creatures and make us give them our heart. They make us place our hope in them and seek our comfort in the remembrance of them. So we live in this superficial world, which occupies us to such a point that it makes us forget that more profound life that we could live but do not live, that truly interior life where the soul could be in relation with its God, and could end by finding Him. The Lord waits for us, so to speak, in the depth of our soul, but we do not enter this depth, taken up as we are by ‘our affairs’ to which we give all our concern…
“‘Since therefore thy beloved Spouse (God) is the treasure hidden in the vineyard of your soul… it is necessary that you too, forgetting everything and withdrawing from all creatures, hide yourself, until you find Him in the intimate seclusion of your spirit. Here, with the door shut behind you, namely the will closed to everything, pray in secret to your Father, and then… in secret you will hear Him and love Him and enjoy Him… above all that the tongue and sense can understand.’ (Spiritual Canticle I, 9)”
God’s will or ours?
So there you have it. To find God in our souls, we must close our will to everything but Him. We must set aside our own plans and follow His plan. This is what it truly means to go into our room and close the door.
Silence is not enough. Awareness is not enough. Being physically alone is not enough. Setting aside all our thoughts and feelings during prayer gains us nothing.
What we need to set aside is our will, in so far as it is different from God’s will. If God wills for us is to meditate on Scripture, that’s what we should do. He will show us that His will for us has changed when He Himself begins to change our prayer. And this change will only take place when we have truly abandoned our will for God’s.
Have a blessed feast day!