April 18, 2005

The literature on the contemplative life does in fact hold out the promise of some substantial breakthrough after one has been banged around long enough. It suggests that one will enter into a wonderful interior freedom where God is within reach at every moment. The experiences of some mystics do in fact lead one to believe that this has really happened to them. But we have to understand in what sense this is so. Otherwise we may conclude naively that, if only we stick it out, we will turn into a kind of superman or woman towards the last five or ten years of our lives, at which point, nothing will be able to hurt us anymore.

But the longer we live, the more we realize that these wonderful experiences of the mystics only lasted a short time and that in between they were very much like ourselves. Perhaps the first time we read St. Teresa of Avila we do not pay much attention to the fact that her ecstasies lasted only half an hour...There is a great difference between one half hour and the other twenty-three and a half that have to be lived as an ordinary day...If for a few moments, even a half hour, some great graces come our way, they will make the other twenty-three and a half more burdensome. The great monastic fathers never held out a panacea for our spiritual ills in this life. The Christian life, they said, is perfect only in heaven. Anybody who seeks his or her reward in this life is not only going to be disappointed but is on the wrong road.

--Thomas Keating, Trappist monk and author of Crisis of Faith, Crisis of Love

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