When a monastic contemplative persists in seeking and obeying God they will make progress in many ways. This progress includes character traits such as humility, detachment from self interest, service, Holy indifference, and love. The advanced contemplative also experiences time with God in the “eternal now” that can be full of beauty and consolation, bringing transformation to the individual.
One aspect of the progressive change that occurs is summed up by the word illumination. There are many aspects to illumination and it is a difficult concept to describe. The “light that shines in the heart” is far more than mental understanding. The term that comes closer to describing the situation is wisdom.
Paul says in first Corinthians 8 that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”. Mere mental understanding without the wisdom to hear and see things the way that God sees them is not illumination. He goes on to say that “If any man thinks that he knows anything he doesn’t know anything the way that he ought to know, but if any man love God he is known of Him”.
An enlightened person is a humble, grateful, awestruck, gentle, and available person. The light that he/she has seen is a personal transformation that results from contact with God. Such illumination does not completely and automatically appear at conversion, but comes through prayer and subsequent touches from God. This is why Paul prays that the Colossians “who have (already) heard the word of truth of the gospel, who have known the grace of God in truth, and who show love in the Spirit…..might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding”.
When a person sits before God, in silence and solitude, as a discipline, and connects his/her prayer with a life style that leads to purification, then that person will sooner or later see things clearly. They will see themselves both outside of Christ and in Him. They will see that “in themselves dwells no good thing” and that unless they are inside of God, and He is inside of them, that they are lost. They will be struck by their hopeless state outside of God. They will come to distrust their own unenlightened thinking and will see their need to draw near to God. Such a person becomes dependent, abandoned to knowing God and following Him. This person can be said to be illuminated.