Hopefully the preceding chapters have begun to outline an instrument with which we can examine some of the problems of the life of prayer today. This instrument consists of both Jung and St. John, individuation and the journey to contemplation. In this chapter, after a few remarks on spiritual direction, I will examine the state of beginners and contemplatives, and in the next that of those who are neither beginners or contemplatives but live in the strange land in-between.
Spiritual direction here means explicit guidance in how to progress in the life of prayer, and today it is difficult to talk about a viable science of spiritual direction actually existing. Among clergy and members of religious communities the possibility still exists of finding a spiritual director, though the quality of this direction will vary greatly. But in regards to the vast majority of Churchgoing people, there is simply no spiritual direction either offered or sought.
Whatever may have been the state of development of spiritual direction in past ages, the renewal of it today is more than a matter of reviving the past. Its intimate nature is linked not only to an understanding of prayer itself, but the psychology of the people who are attempting to pray. On the practical plane, the most promising avenue of development appears to be under the guidance of St. John with the help of Jung's psychology.
SPECULATIVE AND PRACTICAL SCIENCE
St. John did not take a speculative approach in writing about the life of prayer. He was not interested in knowing things in themselves without any reference to the goals to be attained. He left us no treatises on dogmatic or moral theology, but he embraced aspects of both, and employed them in what Maritain called a "practically practical science".(1) St. John's science of spiritual direction was not simply a part of moral theology which views in a speculative way what ought to be done, but rather, it occupied a position midway between moral theology and the choices of the unique individual which will never be repeated and never become the object of science. The very formulation of the concepts St. John used and the intimate texture of his thought were shaped by his goal of leading a person to union with God. No matter how pregnant with ontological values his writings are, they are geared to this specific end. They fill the gap between the more general exhortations of moral theology and the actual concrete decisions of the individual.
But St. John's practical science of prayer needs to be complemented by an equally practical psychological science. Spiritual directors in the past could draw on a philosophical psychology that talks about human nature in general, and some rules of thumb imperfectly abstracted from individual experience, but they had no practically practical science, no science standing in the middle and geared for action, and this lack is one of the chief reasons for the decline of spiritual direction.
We have only to look at Jung's psychology, especially his typology, to be struck at how well it fills this gap. Typology explores those traits which stand between the universal characteristics common to us all and those that are uniquely our own. If employed as a visible manifestation of the whole process of individuation, it could provide the missing psychological instrument for the renewal of spiritual direction. It opens the possibility of beginning to explore the characteristic ways in which people experience the spiritual life, and this kind of knowledge, in its turn, can shed light on what can be, called the typical problems of religious communities in which the mixture of various psychological types lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.
TYPE AND COMMUNITY
The early history of the Discalced Carmelites provides us with an example of difficulties of this sort. The early days of the Reform at Duruelo with their poverty and tiny community delighted St. John, but such a daring and literal interpretation of the Gospel has always been attractive. Crowds of recruits ranging from young students to old hermits flocked to join the new Reform. They naturally possessed a wide range of psychological types and spiritual inclinations, and this indiscriminate recruitment bore the seeds of later dissension. Parties arose both for and against the missions, and for and against active apostolic work and preaching. St. John's voice was sometimes lost amidst the chorus of more active, extraverted personalities whose capacity and talent for organization made them thirst to get their hands on the reins of government and exercise power. The tension that grew up between St. John and Doria is by no means unique. We have only to look at the problems between St. Francis of Assisi and Brother Elias, or between the early hermits and a St. Basil to realize that there are archetypal patterns that constantly reappear in the history of religious communities.
These same kinds of human differences show themselves within the daily life of religious communities. In traditional communities there were regulations that covered all the details of ordinary existence. They delineated the time that could be given to sleep, the kinds and quantities of food, the type and length of prayers, the variety of penances that were permissible. Unfortunately, even though such laws were often framed with the idea in mind that they in some way embodied the will of God, they did not and could not eliminate legitimate human differences. Is it possible to apply such uniform laws to different types without this becoming a form of discrimination?
The importance of these differences goes beyond the give-and-take of daily community life, and has an effect on the pursuit of holiness of the individual members. There are, no doubt, distinctive modalities of holiness that rest on typological foundations, and they give rise to different paths of development. Individual aptitudes and weaknesses could play a vital role in the selection of ascetical practices, and the emphasis placed on the practice of the different virtues.
AN INTEGRATED TYPOLOGY
One of the most extensive attempts to create such a differentiated ascetics was made by the Spanish Jesuit Alexander Roldán. Basing himself on William Sheldon's body and temperament types, Roldán attempted to erect corresponding types of holiness, and to illustrate them from the lives of the saints.(2) In view of the probable relationship between Sheldon's work and Jung's typology, Roldán's work could be extended and transformed by being brought into relationship with the attempts currently being made to apply Jung's typology to the spiritual life.(3) If this could be carried out successfully, it would lead to the creation of a much more complete typological instrument suitable for application in spiritual direction. Sheldon extends Jung's type downward to the realm of physical and biochemical realities, while Jung brings Sheldon's typology into the psyche itself, and places the emphasis on therapeutic and developmental questions that Sheldon left in the background.
The refinement of psychological tools to be used in revitalizing the practical science of spiritual direction represents the solution to only one of the two major obstacles to such a renewal. The other must be the strengthening of the life of prayer itself by bringing it into relationship with St. John's writings, even when actual contemplative experience is not in question. The context of mystical experience provides the setting in which the inner nature and impulses towards development of all states of prayer are best examined.
The use of St. John and Jung in the spiritual life is not without dangers. People charged with the office of spiritual directors must be aware of the epistemological problems discussed in Chapter Two, and also resist the temptation to employ this psychological tool in a purely psychological way. Jung's psychology cannot be used to fill the vacuum caused by the impotence of our religious past. Individuation is not identical with spiritual transformation.
From the spiritual side of things an appreciation of St. John of the Cross which has been gaining momentum in recent years poses its own kind of difficulties. Here the temptation is to discover contemplation in many different interior states and in many people where it does not, in fact, exist, and this temptation, far from being a new one, has existed perennially.
St. John devoted a fair amount of time to the state of beginners principally because it was the point of departure for the contemplative life. Chapter Three and Four touched on his doctrine, which can be summed up as follows: though this state has an important positive role to play at the beginning of the spiritual life, it is riddled with weaknesses which must be overcome in order to progress. These beginners mistake the strength of their emotions for a depth of spiritual experience.
But is this really a critical contemporary problem for spiritual direction, or simply a phenomenon of the cloister, a fervor of novices that has little to do with the majority of people who practice the life of prayer? Perhaps a brief excursion into the past will give us the necessary perspective to answer this question.
In 1601 and 1607 two works appeared by the Benedictine Leandro de Granada, and the Discalced Carmelite Francisco de Santa Maria. The first was a Spanish version of the revelations of St. Gertrude with commentary, and the second a separate and expanded version of those commentaries.(4) In these works Leandro and Francisco developed a spirituality in which the obscure loving knowledge of St. John was replaced at the summit of the spiritual life by clear and distinct supernatural apprehensions. These visions and revelations formed a miraculous science of the intellect by which the saints were brought closer to God and enabled to draw great numbers of people to Him. They were, according to our authors, charismatic graces not given simply to the early Church, but throughout its history. It was a mysticism that bases itself on a light higher than faith and led to a kind of intellectual vision. And how were the saints to prepare themselves to receive these high revelations9 It was by the practice of contemplation, which can be either affirmative or negative. The negative contemplation leads to a very special grace by which God is known with unspeakable clarity and simplicity, and the soul receives clear and distinct knowledge.
This sounds, of course, like our old friend Thomas of Jesus, and Francisco, in fact, studied with Thomas at Salamanca and co-founded the Desert of Las Batuecas. His teaching, therefore, can be seen as an "echo of the original teaching that Thomas of Jesus dispensed to the hermits of the reform of St. Teresa".(5)
The crux of the difficulty with this point of view is that it misunderstands what St. John is saying about faith and contemplation. An active negative contemplation, which Thomas patterns on the metaphysical doctrine of the way names are predicated of God, is very different than St. John's negative contemplation which proceeds by faith animated by charity. Thomas' negative contemplation goes by simple negation, while St. John's negativity is born out of a positive experience of divine union. Since Thomas' contemplation has no object of fruition and experience, he adds a superstructure to St. John's contemplation in the form of a supereminent degree operating beyond the realm of faith and the gift of wisdom. In this way he attempts to capture the immediacy of mystical experience, never realizing that he has previously emptied it out by transforming St. John's night into the practice of acquired contemplation. Leandro and Francisco cast their own spirituality in a similar mode.
In a basic sense, then, we can define the state of beginners as a state in which the thirst for clear and distinct knowledge is in the forefront. St. John recognized the role that natural apprehensions played in the beginning of the life of prayer, but clear and distinct supernatural kinds of knowledge, far from being an advance over these natural perceptions, still less a culmination of the spiritual life, can be a serious danger to it precisely because they distract the spirit from faith.
If Leandro and Francisco could place this attraction for clear knowledge at the summit of the spiritual life right after St. John's death, it should occasion no surprise if we feel the same inclination to do so today. Whether we have come to the life of prayer from the novitiate or charismatic movement or Cursillo, etc., our beginnings often have much in common because they work through the natural faculties. But the message of St. John is that faith transcends what can be known in this way and can become luminous and experiential. But if the spirit in its thirst for experience focuses on these distinct kinds of knowledge, then it blinds itself to faith and the contemplation that can come through faith.
BEGINNERS AND PSYCHOLOGICAL KNOWLEDGE
If we were to imagine Dr. Jung attending a charismatic prayer meeting or a large assembly gathered for the purpose of healing, we can be sure he would follow the proceedings with great interest and respect. He would not be constantly muttering to himself, "Why, this is only psychological", for in his mind the psyche was the very arena through which God acted, and to this extent he would agree with St. John who upheld the important role that this state of beginners played in the economy of the spiritual life. But at the same time he would be sorely puzzled if one of the participants were to tell him that this is the direct working of the Holy Spirit and has nothing to do with the psyche at all. The psychological dimension of things is clear enough in the phenomena of tongue speaking or the procedures followed by large gatherings for the purpose of healing or the dynamics of a Cursillo weekend.
The central issue is, again, the interaction between psychological and spiritual processes. The question is not simply whether God is working, but how is He working. The state of beginners is that of a genuine conversion and true progress in the interior life, but it comes through the medium of the psyche. The psychologist will not be surprised to find that the consolation that St. John talks about employs maternal imagery in describing this state of sensible fervor:
"With no effort on the soul's part, this grace causes it to taste sweet and delectable milk and to experience intense satisfaction in the performance of spiritual exercises, because God is handing the breast of His tender love to the soul, just as if it were a delicate child."(6)
And it is precisely because the life of prayer is working through the psyche that the state of beginners is at once limited and dangerous. St. John would say that the natural working of the faculties is not adequate to attain to union with God, and the beginner is drawn to spiritual exercises as much by the satisfaction as by any purely spiritual motives. For the psychologist, even while he is refraining from making any judgment about the religious object, is often painfully aware that if interior experiences are viewed as if they had nothing to do with the overall dynamics of the psyche, then their recipient runs the risk of damaging his psychic balance. If temptations must be seen only as the direct working of the devil and inspirations and revelations the direct working of the Holy Spirit, then the totality of the psyche and the flow of its energy will be misunderstood.
The biggest danger to the beginner experiencing sensible fervor, or any other tangible phenomenon, is that they will equate their experience purely and simply with union with God. The very combination of genuine spiritual gifts and how these graces work through the psyche creates a sense of conviction that this, indeed, is the work of God, but this conviction is often extended to deny the human dimension as if any participation by the psyche is a denial of divine origin. The beginner, then, can become impervious to psychological and spiritual advice. The sense of consolation, the feeling of completion, the visions seen, or the voices heard, the tongue spoken, or the healings witnessed, are all identified with the exclusive direct action of God as if there were no psyche that received and conditioned these inspirations. This same attitude is then carried over into daily life and how God's action is viewed in this world. If God is so immediately present, miracles must be taking place daily. God must be intervening day-by-day, even in the minor mundane affairs of the recipients of His Spirit. This does not mean that genuine miracles do not take place, nor that genuine inspirations do not play a role in daily life, but rather, if we believe that they are conceptually distinguishable from the ordinary working of consciousness, we run the risk of identifying God's action with our own perceptions, feelings and emotions. The initial conversion state, precisely because of the degree of emotional energy it is charged with, is often clung to as if the intensity of this energy is a guarantee of its spiritual character.
As beginners under the vital force of these tangible experiences we take up an attitude of inner expectancy. We look to a realm beyond the arena of the ego and assume that what transpires there is supernatural. We reach and grasp for interior messages. Thus arises a real danger of misinterpreting what we perceive. What Jung says about the inability to discern between God and the unconscious at the level of empirical experience is verified here. We run the risk of confusing the spiritual with the psychic, our own perceptions with God Himself. An even greater danger is that we will erect this kind of knowledge into a whole theology of the spiritual life, and thus judge our progress by the presence of these phenomena.
The same problem can arise in a completely different context, which could be called a pseudo-Jungian Christianity. In it the realities of the psyche which Jung described are identified with the Christian faith. Thus, at one stroke a vivid sense of experience, even mysticism, if you will, arises. The numinous experience of the unconscious becomes equivalent to the workings of the Holy Spirit. Dreams and the psychological events that take place during the process of individuation are taken for the stages of the life of prayer and the ascent of the soul to God by faith. But this mysticism is no more to be identified with St. John's than the previous one of visions and revelations.
TWO PATHS OF INNER DEVELOPMENT
Even when sensible fervor is not intense, the discernment between psychological and spiritual processes can be vital. If, for example, someone has been converted to the spiritual life, and their devotion to the Blessed Virgin has played an important role in this process, they could very well feel a lively sense of her protection and guidance. This experience of consolation can be developed in two different directions and be the entranceway to two different worlds, for it contains both spiritual and psychological dimensions. The concern of the spiritual director will be to see that these interior feelings lead to the practices of the spiritual life, that is, the exercise of the virtues, mortification, etc., in order that its outcome will be a greater union with God. He will try to help this person to realize that these feelings are not identical with true interior devotion and will probably diminish while the interior devotion to the Blessed Virgin and through her to God can continue to grow. But it would be presumptuous for the spiritual director to deny the repercussions and psychological ramifications of this interior devotion or, while admitting them, ignore the effect they can have on the interior life. From a psychological point of view, the same experience can be seen as a manifestation of the anima, and while the psychologist cannot address himself to the question of whether it has been brought about by some spiritual reality, he can fruitfully explore its nuances which express the actual state of psychic integration. The experience pursued from the point of view of the anima will lead further into the psyche to the underlying archetypal configurations that are connected with it. In this way the psyche conditions the kind of Marian devotion that will appear. The principle danger for the person experiencing this devotion is that as the palpable and sensible feelings diminish, they will seek to prolong them and pursue them irregardless of the direction of genuine spiritual development. They will unconsciously identify psychic aspects with spiritual, and this is detrimental to both psychological and spiritual growth.
THE INTUITION TYPE AND CONTEMPLATION
If the two processes cannot be identified, neither can they be separated as if psyche and soul were two separate realities. An example from a typological point of view can illustrate the difficulties brought about by this kind of separation. The introverted intuition type could be called a natural contemplative. He or she has a special capacity for being attracted by the goal that St. John describes. Their intuition inwardly leaps over any obstacle in a search for their deepest center. They pick up the inner rhythms of St. John's writings and thrill to the idea of letting go of everything in order to reach the supreme goal.
But if we recall the tensions that can develop between spiritual aspirations and the sensible man, these tensions exist in a special way in this type. Their consciousness is dominated by a spiritualizing tendency which wants to avoid extraverted sensation. In practical terms, this can mean difficulties with living in the everyday world of work and family obligations. It can also entail hypersensitivity to sexuality, ambivalence about eating, etc., and out of these problems can arise the provisional life. The intuition is always seeking something better, while unconsciously it is avoiding being pinned down in space and time. Many of the characteristics of what Jungian psychologists have described under the heading of the puer aeternus syndrome are operative here.(7)
These natural tendencies of the introverted intuition type can become suffused with spiritual meanings. Since a person of this type is often at a loss in the world, they can take readily to a conversion process. They can feel that the sacrifices that it entails are not weighty, especially if they hinge on giving up external goods and are in the form of restrictions on worldly activities. All these things have already been undervalued, or negatively valued. In the fervor of conversion this type feels that for the first time they have found their true home, and they expect and hope to fly off into a completely spiritual kingdom where material considerations do not enter. They have only to hear of the mystics and begin to read them to become converted to their way of thinking.
Because the introverted intuition type is using his primary function in order to perceive spiritual values and the innate hierarchy among them, his perceptions can be very valuable. He is exercising a gift he truly possesses. Yet, from a psychological point of view, this tendency to be a spiritual flyer, that is, to be constantly striving to reach a spiritual state of existence, is often coupled with a flight from the unconscious and instinctual realities. The natural inclination of the introverted intuition type to lead a life of prayer can lead to the accumulation of psychic energy around the instinctual centers in the unconscious and produce phenomena similar to those that St. John so carefully describes.
The difficulty in spiritual direction lies in being able to discern the genuine from the spurious on both the spiritual and psychological levels. The director who appreciated the spiritual enthusiasm of this type and neglected the psychological ramifications would be no more adequate than the director who deduces from the psychological difficulties the conclusion that the inner spiritual perceptions are erroneous. Genuine spiritual intuitions can bring in their train unfortunate psychological consequences. The introverted intuition type can fortify himself with an arsenal of theological knowledge and examples and counsels drawn from ascetical and mystical writings. The often genuine insight at the root of his convictions blinds him to the limitations of his position and makes him impervious to advice that appears to be in direct opposition to his conscious position, e.g., get his feet on the ground, find a good job and settle down, etc. This kind of approach is analogous to the psychologist attempting to develop the inferior function directly without the mediation of the second and third functions. However, if the spiritual director can slowly show how the interior attitude of consciousness is producing a counter effect in the form of sensual difficulties, which difficulties are hindering genuine spiritual growth, then he is making an appeal to the strongest motivating force in this kind of personality, which is the desire for spiritual progress. Further, the introverted intuition type has to apply St. John's discussions of the incapacity of sense and intellect, in short, all the natural faculties, to act as proximate means of divine union, to the faculty of intuition itself. His goal is beyond the intuitive faculty despite its natural spiritual and contemplative nature.
Each psychological type possesses its own strengths and weaknesses in living out the spiritual life. The elaboration of detailed descriptions of how these distinctive psychological pathways interact with the stages of the interior life would be the raw material for creating a renewed science of spiritual direction.
We have already seen in Chapter Seven some of the dynamics of psychic energy that surround the beginning of contemplation. The same dual perspective is valuable in understanding the relationship between St. John's teaching about visions and revelations and contemplation. In the Ascent of Mount Carmel he devotes a group of chapters to exploring this topic. He starts with an explanation of how even genuine visions can mislead their recipients, and points to the difference between God's interior communication of union and these more palpable phenomena. Then he asks the difficult question, "If we are not to understand or meddle with them, why does God communicate them?" (8) He answers this question as best he can, pointing to various possibilities as, for instance, God's condescension to the weakness of the person involved and the possible intervention of the devil, but his explanations never entirely match the vehemence with which he rejects these things. This is clearly a case where St. John could have used a psychology that would have allowed a choice of origin that was neither God nor devil nor ego.
Karl Rahner developed a fuller explanation of the nature of these visions and why they can mislead and harm the soul. He asserts that the genuine imaginative vision takes place only in the presence of infused contemplation and "is only the radiation and reflex of contemplation in the sphere of the senses, the incarnation of the mystical process of the spirit".(9) Thus, the imaginative vision is only indirectly caused by God as an effect on the psyche of this interior communication.
"If the actual "point" at which God first affects the soul lies deeper, behind the faculties of sense- perception, if it leads primarily to a contact and union of man's spirit with God and thus to the scene of the real work of grace, then it becomes understandable and natural that the echo in man's sensibility of this interior and pivotal process will not be governed exclusively by the process itself, but will also be influenced by all the other dispositions of the visionary which are unconnected with this divine influence, such as elements of fantasy, patterns of perception, selective attitudes of expectation due to religious training, or the historical situation, or aesthetic taste, etc."(10)
Rahner illustrates this process from the lives of the saints who were convinced that they had received a real experience of God and mistakenly extended the certitude of this experience to the visions that it brought forth. If the saints could make this kind of error, it is easier to understand why St. John is so adamant in advising that these kinds of communications be refused. Even if they are refused, the inner grace will be communicated, while if they are accepted, it is very easy to be attracted to their tangible aspects to the detriment of the spiritual.
There are also other possible interactions between psychic processes and contemplative experiences that can become stumbling blocks to further progress. If one temptation of the contemplative at the beginning of this infused prayer is to attempt to continue working with the faculties, another is that having taken up an attitude of receptivity to this new experience, he maintains this attitude even when the contemplation itself disappears. St. John, in the first book of the Ascent of Mount Carmel, discusses how meditation and contemplation can be mixed at the beginning of the contemplative life.(11) Thus, the attitude of receptivity to this experience should not be extended when the experience has disappeared. Further, it is not only during the time of prayer when these problems can appear. A contemplative who was actually experiencing the dark night of sense in the strict sense, that is, the actual beginning of contemplation, could, at the same time, be experiencing this dark night mixed with psychological difficulties. If the contemplation is intermittent, then the dark night of sense will diminish, but the psychological problems that were intermixed with it can continue and give the appearance that the dark night itself is still operative, leading the person to maintain a passivity which is no longer warranted.
An accurate delineation of the variety of problems that contemplatives face must be developed from the actual experience of modern contemplatives. The collection of this kind of empirical material would be much more difficult than examining the state of beginners. With the art of spiritual direction in disarray, contemplatives cannot only live in an atmosphere of incomprehension, but they can misunderstand themselves. Yet the actual contemplatives in the Church, no matter how small their number might be, have an important role to play in the re-creation of a better climate for the contemplative life. They hold within themselves the answers to many of the delicate and difficult questions that have to be dealt with in order to develop a renewed science of spiritual direction.
THE NORMALCY OF CONTEMPLATION
Just how normal or common is it to be a contemplative in the explicit sense that St. John gives it? The answer lies in understanding what is meant by normal or ordinary. There can be two very different meanings which can be characterized as essential and existential. From the first point of view contemplation is ordinary and normal in the sense that it flows from the basic structure of the spiritual life. It is a normal flowering of the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and this is how St. John and St. Teresa describe it. On the other hand, if we take normal in the existential sense, which means, are people ordinarily and commonly experiencing contemplation as their spiritual lives develop, the answer is probably no. There are many devout people who do not appear to be going by the way of contemplation. In other words, infused contemplation is probably rare.
How can these two different perspectives be reconciled? Perhaps the most developed answer was given by Maritain who, while maintaining that contemplation was the normal development of the life of grace, wanted to avoid two difficulties:
"... that the perfection of charity (even ordinary and common) is reserved to those souls alone who enjoy infused contemplation under its typical and normal form, and if a soul does not arrive at this contemplation which can be called manifest (in its luminous and obscure form) it is always its own fault."(12)
The first part of this solution distinguishes charity from contemplation. The essence of perfection or holiness or union with God is based on love which causes the union and transformation in God that St. John described. Contemplation does not come through the intellect by means of concepts, but it is a knowledge through love. It is the effect, as it were, on the intelligence of the union that already exists through love. It is the expression in terms of knowledge of the love that exists in what the mystics call the center of the soul. Contemplation is an integral part of the life of love without being the essence of it. It is also a tremendous aid in pursuing this union with God because it helps engage the whole personality by giving the person who loves a better understanding of whom they are loving. Even when it is a question of formal canonization, the issue is not the degree of contemplation that has been attained, but the perfection of charity.
If contemplation is an integral and important part of spiritual development, why is it relatively rare? Here we come to the second element in Maritain's answer which deals with the question of generosity. A simple reading of St. John's description of the dark nights suffices to show to what heights self-denial and suffering is carried. Though generosity is a very real problem it would be a mistake to understand it in a completely personal way, that is, a certain individual faced with a clear choice of whether to make the sacrifices necessary to proceed in the contemplative life, refuses. The concrete reality is much more complex. Generosity is linked to knowledge about the spiritual life, and adequate spiritual direction, and the failure to reach contemplation embraces a much wider perspective than simply the interior forum of the individual. Our failures to love are interwoven with the whole fabric of a world that groans for redemption. This fallen-redeemed world that exists both within and outside of us prevents the natural unfolding of the life of charity. Without becoming definitively aware of a decisive moment of choice for or against the contemplative life, and thus for reasons that cannot be ascribed to a want of generosity in a narrow sense, many people are not fitted for the experience of contemplation that St. John describes. The factors that impede contemplation may include both the physical and psychological constitution, upbringing, and even the very vocation they are meant to carry out because this vocation must be carried out in a world that is at odds with the qualities that are necessary for the reception of contemplation. Charity can overcome all obstacles and can increase from moment to moment despite the circumstances of life, but this does not necessarily mean that it will transform the personality in whom it is growing to the degree that is necessary for the experience of contemplation.
Here we enter the mysterious realm of God's actual calls and gifts. In one sense everyone is called to contemplation, since contemplation represents a fore-taste of the life to come. The goal is there to attract us all, and this, in itself, is important because without a clear view of the goal, our own path will be much more obscure. At the same time, it would be a mistake to read St. John in such a way as if he is advocating one path, for this goes against his explicit statements and it can create a rigorism that discourages people from making their own progress in their own way in spiritual life. If we turn St. John's writings into a rigid schema where all the steps are clearly delineated, then we make the assumption that God is calling people the same way, and those who do not progress up the staircase have personally done something that has caused them to fail. This kind of attitude overlooks the legitimate diversities of type, the variety of different gifts in the Church, and the freedom that God has to call people in different ways. A sense of this freedom is extremely important, for without it, people who seriously take up the way of prayer fill their heads with expectations and later with feelings of failure that deflect them from the positive things they can do to progress in the spiritual life.
The very language that St. John uses has an existential sense, that is, it grows out of the concrete situation and deals above all with our inner choices of heart. When he says: "All the being of creation when compared with the infinite being of God is nothing", he is certainly not making an ontological statement that will deny the existence of creatures or the reality of the being they possess. Rather, he is saying all the beings of creation, when desired as if they were greater than the infinite being of God, are nothing, that is, will not get us to our ultimate goal. Yet, even when this is said, there is a deeper sense to this kind of language. We do not live in a world where moral choices are simple and obvious and flow easily as conclusions to rational judgments about what is good and what is better. The dark nights of St. John were his expressions of the fallen state of the world and the need of traveling the way of the Cross. The extreme nature of these nights indicate the degree not of evil as a constitutive or essential element in man's make-up, but of how evil in the form of disordered desires is woven into the very fabric of our world and in the depths of ourselves. The more the life of grace we are called to approaches, the more it shows how unsuited we are to receive it.
The call to contemplation is a call for everyone, yet on the individual level we cannot presume to spell out in advance what this call will look like. We can only try to correspond with the opportunities that actually exist. All the major notions that St. John uses in order to create his view of the life of prayer, that is, contemplation itself, the dark nights, faith as the proximate means of union, are all things that must be applied analogously to each individual situation. To return to Maritain's solution, he distinguishes between people who are in the mystical state where the gifts of the Holy Spirit predominate from those who are not, but among the former, not all are contemplatives in St. John's sense. In some, active gifts predominate so that they do not arrive at the experience of contemplation, or it appears in a masked form, while for others the gift of intelligence and wisdom lead to the contemplative life as St. John has described it. But undoubtedly there are many, many people who, while not being beginners, are not contemplatives and cannot be called contemplatives without radically altering the meaning of the word. Where are they, then?
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