THE CANTICLES OF CHRISTMAS AND THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY: AWAKENING, PURGATION, ILLUMINATION & UNION – PART 3
(PREFACE) There are three classic songs or “Canticles” of Christmas: The Magnificat (Mary’s Song), The Benedictus (Zechariah’s Song), and The Nunc Dimittus (Simeon’s Song). We usually add a fourth with the Song of the Angels to the shepherds. Lakeland is walking through these four Canticles this Advent Season. Go towww.lakelandcommunitychurch.org for more about our resources for celebrating Advent at home.
Coincidentally, there are four classic stages to the spiritual journey: 1) Awakening 2) Purgation 3) Illumination and 4) Union. For a nice presentation of these four stages consult M. Robert Mulholland Jr.’s Invitation To A Journey, Formatio IVP, 1993. This is the third week of Advent. We come to Simeon’s Song, Nunc Dimittus, found in Luke 2:25-35.
28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised.
30 I have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared for all people.
32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
It is difficult to place Simeon’s Song (Nunc Dimittus) within the classic four stages of the spiritual life. Simeon certainly belongs to the later stages, Illumination and/or Union. But which one is he? Is he both? He is supposedly old since he is near the end of life. In the stages, Union is the last. I planned to save Union for the Angels (Gloria in Excelsis Deo). But Simeon shows affinity for Union perhaps more than Illumination – except for one feature: Simeon seems to be “experiencing” g-d and this is not a part of Union.
Janet Hagberg and Robert Guliech’s The Critical Journey, divide the spiritual stages into six, subdividing Purgation into Discipleship and Productivity, and subdividing Illumination into the Inward Journey (with its famous “Wall”) and the Outward Journey. The Inward Journey is a dark journey, self-indulgent, introspection filled with doubt and questions. One can get stuck and caged at The Wall within the Inward Journey and never make it out. The Wall results in no longer attending church, cynicism, or even no longer believing in God. The way through The Wall is to own up to the fact that your old God is not the real unbidden, unknown and uncontrollable g-d. The inability to make this major repositioning kills the spiritual journey and I believe it also kills one’s soul or life.
The Outward Journey then is summed up in one word: Acceptance. A joy comes from accepting that we do not know the g-d but we are surprisingly overwhelmingly loved by this g-d we cannot control. Acceptance means a loss of control. As Richard Rohr puts it ‘we jump off our tower we built during our entire productive adult life.’ We must jump into the unknown mystical fog of an uncontrollable g-d. All our previous convictions and certainties no longer apply. The Bible looks like a brand new book. Yes, the words on the pages look and sound familiar but now we read them for the first time in the light of a new g-d. The church is redefined in mystical terms. But mostly the Outward Journey is about finding and accepting our true self, our true identity. We no longer “rob” g-d of providing us with our identity by DOING things for g-d and others for OUR benefit, affirmation and self-worth. Now in Illumination (Outward Journey) we embrace the Subjective “I” – an identity that is only defined in terms of g-d’s love for us. Our old Objective “I” based on information, doctrine, beliefs, dogma and certitudes no longer seems valuable. Our old beliefs are not “wrong” but rather just outdated and trivial compared to the love of the Lover.
Union however is a different stage than Illumination or the Outward Journey. Union is a deep settled peace and confidence. Union is NOT filled with emotions and feelings, as much as we are now engulfed inside of g-d. We are fully seduced. We are complete. We no longer desire to go to heaven because we already in heaven here on earth. We no longer think about praying because our subconsciousness is submerged in unceasing prayer. This is why Union doesn’t “experience” g-d as though g-d is external from us. But rather g-d is within us or more accurately, we are within g-d. In Union Teresa of Avila says we no longer experience the consolations of the Spirit – we cease sensing, and become simply divine (theosis). In Union we serve others out of our Being, our Identity within g-d. We no longer serve others for personal gain or satisfaction. Everything we “do” is prayer, and prayer is doing. Tirelessly serving, Mother Teresa said for the last forty years of her life she did not feel g-d. The Press thought this meant she did not believe in g-d. What an absurd Western modern materialist response! That response is couched entirely within a world of belief-control. But I think every old monk who heard those words of Mother Teresa smiled wryly and just nodded slowly, Knowing.
Where is Simeon? Illumination or Union? Actually any guess is pure fiction. I don’t know. This entire spiritual journey overlay on top of the Canticles is just an idea. But I do like the idea of saving Union for the Angels who sing before the shepherds. No doubt the Angels are in Union with g-d. And it is even feeble of me to think of Angels “progressing” toward g-d. They are g-d’s messengers. They are completely submitted. The can’t progress – and they envy us because we can and cannot progress(1 Peter 2:10).
But don’t be surprised someday if you a) hit The Wall, b) feel all alone in your joy of Acceptance, giddy and in love with your Maker, c) finally quietly fall into a deep unknown mystery, a divine BEING or state (instead of “knowing” as we think of it in the West). Don’t be surprised if someday you can joyously say, “Now you can dismiss your servant because I have seen the salvation of all the people of the earth…” And those are you last words.