In Guidelines for Mystical Prayer, Carmelite Ruth Burrows quotes a friend named Petra who, after decades of struggle and darkness, abides in a state of mystical union. Petra, outwardly unremarkable, writes:

“No, no I never expected that there is a short-cut that bypasses the drudgery of human experience. I don’t want one, I want to drink to the chalice of my Lord. In my case (and isn’t this the common, ordinary state?) how non-glamorous, how ignoble this chalice! What does it amount to me with me? A sense of inner fragility and faintness which taps, knocks at the wall of my body too. I seem unable to face up to any pressure. I feel faced with an immense ‘trial’ utterly beyond myself, and yet when I look, where is the trial? What have I to suffer compared to so many people? I have good health, am surrounded with love, have everything I need, and yet life itself seems more than I can bear—the unutterable loneliness and emptiness, the mystery and obscurity. Yesterday, I heard of a poor woman enduring humiliating helplessness for ten years, and now, faced with new symptoms, her splendid spirit is breaking and she can take no more. Just one of millions similarly suffering from seemingly unbearable afflictions. And what relation has my life to hers? By comparison I have nothing to suffer. It is my hope that this ‘suffering’ of mine which is nameless, which really has no right to be called suffering, this inner ‘dissolution’ should be a way through which Jesus comes to others in grief and pain. I feel overwhelmed with everything: with the beauty of the world, with its terrible pain, with its evil and ugliness, the devilish brutality of man to man–with the word of God so mighty and so obscure. I could weep my eyes out with–I don’t know what! Oh, how fragile I am, without achievement; no human victory, no human beauty, only that which is he, who experienced in all its raw bitterness the human condition.”

7 Replies to “ASH WEDNESDAY”

  1. this says it all ! Do many people suffer this same kind of anonymous sadness, the kind that you dont/cant go to the doctor for a pill to take away the pain?

  2. Anonymous says: Reply

    Love this and love your article in Magnificat today. You're such a beautiful writer. I loved your article last year about zaccheus grace!

  3. Bernard of Clairvaux on
    Theme of Compunction
    from Sermons on the Song of Songs)

    "I am not ashamed to admit that very often I myself, especially in the early days of my conversion, experienced coldness and hardness of heart, while deep in my being I sought for him whom I longed to love. I could not love him since I had not really found him; at best my love was less than it should have been, and for that reason I sought to increase it, for I would not have sought him if I did not already love him in some degree. I sought him, therefore, that in him my numbed and languid spirit might find warmth and repose , for nowhere could I find a friend to help me, whose love would thaw the wintry cold that chilled my inward being, and bring back again the feeling of spring-like bliss and spiritual delight. But my languor and weariness only increased, my soul melted away for sorrow, even to the verge of despair. All I could do was repeat softly to myself: 'Who can stand before his cold?' Then, at times when I least expected it, at the word or even the sight of a good and holy man, at the memory of a dead or absent friend, he set his wind blowing and the waters flowing, and my tears were my food day and night."

  4. Melster, I am encouraged by this last quote. Am reading Brother Schmidt's "All is Grace" about St Therese of Lisieux. These words of Bernard of Clairvaux, and St Therese's similar insights, remind me that no coldness, no inadequacy, no sense of distance, need be an obstacle to receiving His grace. It seems so clear at times (yet a continual stumbling block) that receiving can be done at any time, by anyone, in any circumstance, with a small shift in attitude, or awareness, or whatever. Bless you, thanks!

  5. Thank you for the reminder of this book which I read many years ago when all around me the accepted view seemed to be that we were triumphant "overcomers through Christ!" I was much relieved at the time that I wasn't the only queeer fish, and that others too had overwhelming sensitivities to suffering and to joy.

    I can still empathise with every word, but now have more peace in kowing that just as I am I can be an offering.

  6. I should probably read: "…I never expected that there is a shortcut that bypasses the drudgery of human experience. I don’t want one…" with admiration and a desire to think in the same way, yet I find myself thinking of Petra as pious (assuming you'll agree with me that 'pious has a negative connotation) and almost condescending. I understand that Christ suffered and died for us without complaint or a "shortcut" but is it really wrong for me, in all my fleshly brokenness, to wish for relief for my pain? I find myself bothered by this statement, and also when Petra says "And what relation has my life to hers? By comparison I have nothing to suffer." Why, because another's suffering is recognized as more immense should Petra deny his/her own pain? Yes, there are those in this world who are experiencing things more tragic than anything I have ever experienced, but it seems unhealthy to minimize my own hurtful experiences. Perhaps I am getting the wrong message here? Perhaps I am reading this wrong? I only know this quote rubs me the wrong way!


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