Purification of the soul
by Nymph Kellerman
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St John of the Cross, (San Juan de la Cruz) refers to three stages on the road to perfection, also known as the spiritual marriage. These three stages are the purgative for the beginner, illuminative for the advanced and unitive for the perfect. It is primarily agreed amongst mystics that the “spiritual marriage” is the highest possible state of perfection in this life, for in the “spiritual marriage” the human spirit is united and enlightened through love in Christ, and the spirit wants to do only the will of God - “its movement may be that of the will of God alone”. Plotinus named it “the flight of the alone to the ALONE”.
The mystical life is a consummation of endless oscillations between states of pain and states of pleasure, and for the true mystic the only way of living. He knows no other life and does not wish for any other life. These experiences of rapid oscillations between pain and pleasure he calls the “Game of Love” between himself and God.
After the first purification, the new freshman stands before God, curious and aghast in adoration, for the first time aware of his own acquiescent existence in the Bosom of the Almighty. In response to the arcane movements of this new love that stirs in the abyss of his spirit, he finds himself eager and enthusiastic to depart on this mission of transcendence, eager and enthusiastic to rebuild his character, a rebuilding through which he will gain a new freedom away from the concerns of the outside world.
What will thus be the point of departure of his journey? Meister Eckhart says that we need to be free from the world in order to live in the City of God. That we need to become strangers to the world and that our conversation must be with God alone. Our lives must be lives of holy separateness.
The beginner has to get rid of all components of normal life experiences that are not in harmony with his new life. The defective self who's activities are limited and centered around the material world alone, has to die. The defective self as it exists in St. Paul's “old Adam”, incapable of super high-minded adventure, has to die, and the new purified Adam has to emerge from his cocoon. He has to inhale the dainty morning breath that fondles his face so very delicately for the first time. He has to open his wings to perceive the soft spring zephyr, dancing coquettishly underneath. He has to look up to the heavens and smile with God and take off in full flight, knowing that the turbulence underneath bears no jeopardy, but will carry him forth to his new resting place.
When he answers this call, his spirit becomes instantly aware of his disabilities and his need to discard of them in order to live in closeness with the Alone, the Absolute Truth. Patmore said: “God is the only Reality and we are real only as far as we are in His order and He is in us”. The transcendental consciousness thus takes over and the spirit enters the first purification in which he leaves behind him the desires or “appetites”, as St. John of the cross calls it. A purification that will lead him to the destined ultimate reality of a life fully in the presence of God.
This is the first dark night of the soul and it is always preceded by a painful period of wrestling with the inner self, an unwillingness to abandon these well-known “appetites” and desires for the old world, but eventually a thirst for the unknown breaks the barrier of resistance and purification becomes a privilege of the highest order. A joy that caused St. Teresa to cry out “let me suffer or die!”
St. John of the cross affirms so beautifully when he says: “In order to overcome our desires, and to renounce all those things,....... we require a more ardent fire and a nobler love, that of the Bridegroom. Finding her delight and strength in Him, the soul gains the vigor and confidence that enable her easily to abandon all other affections. It was necessary, in her struggle with the attractive force of her sensual desires, not only to have this love for the Bridegroom, but also to be filled with a burning fervor, full of anguish..... if our spiritual nature were not on fire with other and nobler passions we should never cast off the yoke of the senses, nor be able to enter on their night, neither should we have the courage to remain in the darkness of all things, and in denial of every desire”.
We must indeed be filled with a burning fever through which we free ourselves of all unwanted desires until our eyes are fixed only on the One and on Eternity with Him.
The mystic experiences several purifications during his pilgrimage, as purification is an abiding process. It can never end, not as long as we live in this life. When we speak of the Way of Purgation, we think of purification as an everlasting process of conversion. Purification is honorable suffering and the spirit stretches out to God in suffering and in thanksgiving.
The purification that precedes the “mystical marriage”, is a spiritual purification and is probably the most painful of all. Before entering this particular dark fire, the mystic thinks of himself as fully established in his spiritual life, perfectly content, believing that he has arrived at his goal within his love and consciousness of God, sharing everything with God while forgetting and forsaking the world at large. Then the state of pleasure begins to break up again, this time more intense than ever before during a purification, and he enters a period of utmost fatigue and lassitude while feelings of hopelessness and helplessness cascades his spirit. He feels as if God has forsaken him and the pain is immense. He leaves the light, knowing that it is only by the transmutation of the whole man that God will cultivate a complete spirit.
Of this soul, St. John of the Cross says: “that which this anguished soul feels most deeply, is the conviction that God has abandoned it......., that He has cast it away into darkness as an abominable thing..... it is one of the most bitter sufferings of this purgation”.
This night may last for a long time before the soul suddenly one day, understands it all and steps back into the Light as an inaugurated spirit.
From a Psychological point of view, this period of purification is an example of the law of reaction to stress. A period of mystical activity will always be followed by a period of lethargy and depression. Starbuck says: “It is one of the best established laws of the nervous system, that it has periods of exhaustion if exercised continuously in one direction, and can only recuperate by having a period of rest”. After intense periods of spiritual activity in which the mystic overworks his mental apparatus, his periods of exhaustion follow and he thus relies deeply on a strong nervous- and cerebral system.
There is nothing glamorous about these dark nights of the soul. It is about wrestling against concealed feelings and traditional belief systems. It is about pain and depression. It is about loneliness and survival. It is about having enough inner strength to travel on regardless...... And for those baptized with the dark fire of purification, it is always about the crucible.....
“Be kind and tenderhearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ”. Ephesians 4:32 (GOOD NEWS BIBLE)
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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