REVELATION OF SELF THAT OCCURS WHEN WE SEE GOD
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.
2 Corinthians 3:18
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
As I see it, we shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God: let us think of His greatness and then come back to our own baseness; by looking at His purity we shall see our foulness; by meditating upon His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble. (From: “The Interior Castle” by Teresa of Avila).
The monastic journey is often divided into 3 stages: purification, illumination and union. We have been looking at stage one of monastic purification and stage two of monastic purification. In essence stage one of monastic purification consists primarily of purification through the use of the will, and stage two consists primarily of a supernatural transformation that occurs by encountering God personally in contemplation. Illumination occurs, again often divided into 2 stages, first as knowledge gained by the effort of study and meditation, and second, as wisdom gained supernaturally in contemplation.
There is a considerable overlap between the later stages of purification and the early reception of wisdom. That is, in contemplation, as a person “gazes” upon God they also end up seeing themselves in His light. They see God and they see themselves in contrast to God. As Job said (Job 40) when he finally saw God personally: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
People are simultaneously “purified” and “illuminated” when they see God. Therefore we must look at the supernatural revelations and transformations that occur in contemplation. Every Bible reference to a person meeting God includes these 2 elements of purification and illumination. When the apostle John met Jesus on the island of Patmos (Revelation Chapter one) he was overwhelmed by what he saw: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: ‘Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.’ I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”
Likewise, when Isaiah was taken to heaven and saw God (Isaiah chapter 6) he was illuminated and purified: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.”
“‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’”
Similarly, when in contemplation people see God, and are illuminated, they often at the same time see themselves and are stricken. It is one thing to know from scripture, and from personal failings, that “in me dwells no good thing” and it is quite another to “see” by revelation that “in me dwells no good thing”. The experience of seeing our “flesh” as by a sudden flash of lightening, in all of its horror, in stark relief compared to the beauty and holiness of God, is “devastating”.
Fortunately this experience of seeing our sin nature, in all of its hopeless, deceptive and unrepentant finality, does not bring condemnation or destruction, but instead it brings hope and a personal experience of being loved and accepted by God. The “devastating” nature of the experience does aid greatly in subsequent improvement of our ability to make right choices, but this occurs because along with the revelation of who we are outside of Christ comes a simultaneous revelation of who we are inside of Christ. Thus when people encounter the beauty and holiness of God they receive a simultaneous revelation that they themselves (that is as “new creatures” in Christ) are beautiful and holy. They see that they are “partakers of the divine nature” and that they can “reckon” themselves dead to sin. This allows a person to “put off the old man” and “put on the new man”.
It should be understood that normally these “supernatural revelations of who we are” are encountered repeatedly in a relatively mild form compared to the Bible sections quoted above. Purification and illumination are both processes. The regular practice of the discipline of contemplative prayer opens the door to these experiences but generally speaking the transformation that occurs is incremental and slow.
We now regress, and return to some earlier methods of being purified, by looking at the teaching of John of the Cross on hidden sins in religious persons, in which he describes common areas of blindness in believers.