To the Reverend—
My life wouldn’t fit in any book, even though I have no problem with it, but for greater security, I’d like to know your take on it.
I had a conversation a few days ago with a pious person who told me the spiritual life was a life of grace, which begins with servile fear, grows with hope of eternal life, and eventually ends in pure love. Each state has its own stages, before you get to that blessed consummation. I have not followed all these methods. On the contrary, I found they discouraged me—for reasons I don’t understand. I did this because, when I entered religion, I promised myself I would give myself up to GOD as a best return for His love and renounce everything else for that love.
For the first year, I often gave myself over to death, judgment, heaven, and hell during the time set apart for devotion. I applied my mind carefully throughout the day, and even during my business, to the presence of GOD, whom I considered always with me, often as in me. In the end I found myself doing the same thing during my prayer time, which made me happy and felt comforting. The practice made me so devoted to GOD that faith was all I needed to satisfy me at that point.
I suppose that this was my beginning; and yet I must tell you for the first ten years I suffered: The fear that I was not as devoted to GOD as I wanted to be, my past sins always present in my mind, and the wonderful unmerited favors I received from GOD, were the causes and sources of my suffering. I fell a lot during this time, but I got back up. I felt like all the creatures, the reason, and even God Himself were against me; and faith alone was for me. There were times when I got troubled with the thought that to think I got such favors was the result of my arrogance, which suggested I could arrive at once where others struggled; at others, I thought it was a willful delusion, and that I couldn’t be saved.
Having thought only about ending my days in such troubles (which did not diminish the trust I had in GOD but only served to increase that faith), I found myself changed all at once; and my soul, which had been in distress, felt a deep sense of inner peace, as if she was at peace. My walk with GOD since then has always been simple, faith-filled, with humility, and with love; and I apply myself diligently to do nothing that will displease Him. Hopefully, when I’ve done what I can, He will do what He pleases with me.
It’s hard to describe what’s going on inside of me right now. In my current state I have no pain or difficulty because my only want is the will of GOD, which I endeavor to fulfill in everything I do, and which I am so resigned to that I wouldn’t even pick up a straw from the ground against His will or out of any other motive than pure love for Him.
I have stopped doing all forms of devotion and only pray for what my state requires of me. Secondly, I make it my business only to persevere in His holy presence, with which I maintain myself through a simple attention, and a general fond regard for GOD, which I may call an actual presence of GOD; or, another way to put it, a regular, quiet, and secret conversation between the soul and GOD, which sometimes causes me such joys and raptures inwardly, and sometimes also outwardly, so great that I am forced to use means to moderate them and prevent their appearance.
The truth is, I’m convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that my soul has been with God for the past 30 years. There are a lot of things I pass over that you may not find tedious, but I thought it appropriate to let you know how I see myself before GOD, whom I consider to be my King.
I consider myself to be the most depraved of men, full of sores and corruption, and who has committed all kinds of crimes against my King. Touched by guilt, I confess all my wrongdoings to Him, I ask for His forgiveness, I leave myself in His hands to do whatever He pleases. The King, full of mercy and goodness, instead of chastising me, embraces me with love, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the key to His treasures; He converses and delights Himself with me ceaselessly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me as His favorite in every respect. So, from time to time, I consider myself in His holy presence.
This simple attention and this kind of passionate adoration for GOD is the most helpful method for me. I often find myself attached with more sweetness and delight than an infant at the breast. If I were to use the expression, I would call this state the abode of GOD, because of the inexpressible sweetness it possesses.
Whenever I wander away from it, whether out of necessity or infirmity, I am brought back by inward motions so wonderful and scrumptious I can’t stand to mention them. I wish your reverence to reflect more upon my wretchedness, of which you are aware, than upon the great favors that GOD offers me, since I am so unworthy and ungrateful. In terms of my set hours of prayer, it’s just the same thing. Having compared myself so often to a stone before a carver, from which a statue will be made; presenting myself thus before God, I beg of Him to form His perfect image in my soul, and make me exactly like Him.
Sometimes, when I pray, I feel my whole spirit lift itself up without any assistance from me, and it stays suspended and firmly fixed in GOD, as in its center and resting place. I know that some people associate inactivity, delusion, and self-love with this state. This is a holy inactivity, and would be a happy self-love if the soul in that state were capable of it; because, in fact, when she is in this state, she can not be disturbed by activities that she was accustomed to and that helped her previously, but which would hinder her now.
I can’t imagine calling this delusion, because the soul that enjoys GOD in this way wants nothing else. If this be delusion in me, it belongs to GOD to remedy it. Let Him do what He pleases with me; I desire only Him, and to be wholly devoted to Him. You will, however, oblige me in sending me your opinion, to which I always pay a great deference, for I have a singular esteem for your reverence, and am in our LORD,