Illumination is conventionally regarded as a form of mental life, a state of consciousness exclusive to the mystic. It is his awakening to the Absolute, an esprit de corps with the Absolute. He now sees God in nature, he now gains a radiant consciousness of the otherness of natural things and two thirsts become abundant. The first is a thirst for the admiration and love of nature. He wants to become a parent to nature to safeguard and comfort all humans, animals and plants against cruelty and destruction. The second thirst grows out of the first one and is a thirst for more of God.
In his new adoration for nature, he touches a tree trunk and knows he attained a new friend. He admires a leaf and knows that the universe would have been poorer if the leaf never existed. He does not pick flowers in his garden anymore, for he feels the pain of a flower when picked, and when cutting a dead leaf from a pot-plant, it causes him anguish for the death of something so admirable. And sooner or later he hears the voice of a tree or a plant or an animal talking to him. It is not a voice like that of a human being, but rather a childlike and gentle awareness of the other's existence that trails down the innermost self as an evanescent sensation. It is a knowing of the other's most intimate needs, a knowing of the unknown in the purest and most authentic way.
Like St. Francis of Assisi, he regards every living creature as a theophany of God, and humbly he becomes grateful for sharing life with all creatures of the Absolute. It was also St. Francis who made the sign of the cross so a very aggressive wolf would shut his jaw and calm down. The wolf then came gently closer to St. Francis and rested at his feet. The saint stretched out his hand and the wolf put his paw on the saint's hand. According to legend, St. Francis then said: “Brother wolf, I bid thee in the name of Jesus Christ, come now with me, nothing doubting, and let us go establish this peace in God's name”. The wolf followed him obediently and lived with him for two years before it died of old age.
St. Francis was also one of a handful of holy people who received the Stigmata of Christ. The Stigmata in Christianity, is the resemblance of the scars that Christ suffered during his crucifixion which in this life, are inflicted on a person, probably by a supernatural deputation. It includes the scars of the hands, the feet, the side as well as the scars impressed by the crown of thorns. According to deliverance, some cases have been reported in which the stigmata was only subjectively experienced and not seen by others. However, these cases are not the norm and the stigmata can usually be observed by others. St. Francis was the first and most remarkable example of the stigmata.
Then there was the sensitive Rose of Lima, who befriended a little bird who perched on a tree just outside her window, every evening at sunset. Evening after evening the two would sing a duet that Rose of Lima composed for this purpose. “Begin little bird” she would say, “let thy throat so full of sweet melodies, pour them forth, that together we may praise the Lord”, and together they then sang.
Of these attentive mystics Ruysbroeck says: “Here begins an eternal hunger which shall never more be satisfied. It is the inward craving and hankering of the affective power and created spirit after an uncreated good. And as the spirit longs for fruition and is invited and urged thereto by God, she must always desire to attain it”.
Another characteristic, which is probably the most constant characteristic of Illumination, is the distinct awareness of the Divine Presence. Of this Presence, the 17th century Carmelite monk, Brother Lawrence, says: “We should establish in ourselves the sense of God's Holy Presence by continually conversing with Him”. For the mystic, it is an enjoyment and comfort state of the most profound kind. The spirit reaching out to God, utters that he has touched Him, and from there on, he is joyously conscious of the Divine Presence on an existential level. “How that presence is felt, may better be known by experience than by writing” says Walter Hilton, “for it is the life and the love, the might and the light, the joy and the rest of a chosen soul...... He cometh privily sometimes when thou art least aware of Him, but thou shalt well know Him or He go; for wonderfully He stirreth and mightily He turneth thy heart into beholding of His goodness, and doth thine heart melt delectably as wax against the fire into softness of His love”.
The pedagogy that comes by virtue of illumination is acquired at an eminent price, as illumination continually exposes the individual spirit to the atrocity and barbarity towards nature that perdures in the world at large. The agony and hardship that inevitably follow cruelty, dwells in the soul of the mystic and he endlessly endures pain on behalf of his fellowmen and fellow creatures. It is the kismet of every mystic.
When he reaches this stage of intense appreciation and awareness of nature and of the Presence of the Divine, he had already gone through his first purification of the soul, also called a “dark night of the soul”. The first dark night of the soul is called the “night of the senses” – see “Purification” below. After the first purification, the mystic usually feels complete and convinced that his crusade is now fulfilled. He has gone through his inauguration and has a solid certitude about God. However, although he is now virtuous, he is not yet perfect, and more purifications awaits him after which he will discover that the celestial food of illumination, cannot satisfy his hunger for communion with the Absolute. All bona fide mystics and artists are sharers of the illuminated life.
Mystics are not less interested in normal life than others. We are in agreement with Merton who once said: “The true contemplative........... is more interested and more concerned. The fact that he or she is a contemplative, makes him or her capable of a greater interest and a deeper concern. The contemplative has the fathomless gift of appreciating at their real worth values that are permanent, authentically deep, human, truly spiritual and even divine”.
Illumination is not a claim to supreme communion with God, but rather the soul’s awakening to God’s creation in general. This makes it a symptom of growth, and growth never ceases, it is with us always.
FROM “THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS” – Nymph Kellerman
ABOUT the author:
Nymph completed her L.T.C.L. in music and drama, and obtained a B.A. Psychology and Philosophy a few years later. She trained as formal singer under various renowned vocal advisers and performed in numerous concerts, recitals, and oratorios. After a car accident that lead to a few neuro surgeries, she began investigating the benefits of deep relaxation and wrote a few books and numerous articles on the subject.
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