Monday, February 8, 2010
Soaring and Sinking
Beguinage Antwerp Belgium
The Beguines model for us an excellent balance of solitude with the Lord and serving those in need. The two must always go hand-in-hand. Mechthild of Magdeburg describes these two dynamics of the Christian life in terms of “soaring” to God in intimacy and then “sinking” to the most humble of duties as we minister to others.
During intimate times of solitude, we soar to God in spiritual ecstasy, writes Mechthild. “Ah, kind Father, God in heaven, draw my ever-flowing soul unimpeded into yourself and flow toward [me], Lord, with all the delightful things you have within yourself. . . . Ah, and give me, Lord, the rapture of your Holy Trinity in the sweet soaring of love, Lord, so that I may enjoy with honor all your generous gifts and so that, sweet Lord, I may never ask you for something, Lord, which you do not want to give me for your glory. Amen.”(1)
Such soaring is followed by a time of “sinking down.” In service to others and in our patient endurance of suffering, we lower ourselves in humility. Soaring ecstasy and sinking humility must be kept together in the life of a believer. Indeed, the lower we are willing to sink, the more we are able to soar. As Mechthild phrases it, “The deeper I sink, the sweeter I drink.”(2)
In another passage Mechthild describes the flowing out in service and back in intimacy with the Lord by describing our soul’s climbing a mountain and descending the other side. We ascend the mountain to connect intimately with the Lord: this is our mountain-top experience of love. However, we must climb down again, bringing the power of that encounter to minister to others.
When the soul in her pursuit of love and the great longing of her God-stalking heart has ascended the lofty mountain of powerful love and beautiful knowledge, she acts like the pilgrim who has climbed the mountains with great zest. Once we have been with the Lord, we begin to cool off and sink down in profound humility, says Mechthild.
From there the soul withdraws from the intimate moment with the Lord in order to serve others for God’s glory. In fact, the soul is humbly willing to go to the lowest place possible to serve God. When the soul has therefore “ascended to those heights possible for her while she is still attached to the body and has sunk to the deepest point that she can find, then she is full gown in virtues and holiness.”(3) This is Mechthild’s ultimate concern, that through intimacy and suffering service—soaring and sinking—we would become mature in Christ-like character and holiness.
1 Mechthild of Magdeburg, The Flowing Light of the Godhead, trans. Frank Tobin, in The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1998), 217.
2 Ibid., 156.
3 Ibid., 184.
2010 © Glenn E. Myers