Catching up to the fourteenth century

May 4, 2015


Only the most jaded cynics dismiss all religious experience as neurosis. Most view the history of the human race and get it: Sure, there are charlatans, but they’re piggy-backing on something valid and real.  They’re counterfeits of bona-fide seers, prophets, and miracle-workers.  The lame have walked; the deaf have heard; and the blind have seen.  And there’s the so-Catherine of Siena.jpgcalled “numinous experience” explored by Rudolph Otto in The Idea of the Holy: a “non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self.”

I’ve had such experiences. They can be both wonderful and terrifying: We see our unworthiness and God’s grace wrapped in a single vision.  We’re convicted and comforted all at once — and we want more.  Much more — even after our thirst is quenched.

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) was one such bona fide seer and she wrote of her experience in the form of a prayer in Divine Providence.  Notice the key line: “what I receive will ever leave me desiring more.”

Read this “doctor of the church” and ponder what she says to us:

Eternal God, eternal Trinity, you have made the blood of Christ so precious through his sharing in your divine nature. You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.

I have tasted and seen the depth of your mystery and the beauty of your creation with the light of my understanding. I have clothed myself with your likeness and have seen what I shall be. Eternal Father, you have given me a share in your power and the wisdom that Christ claims as his own, and your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love you. You are my Creator, eternal Trinity, and I am your creature. You have made of me a new creation in the blood of your Son, and I know that you are moved with love at the beauty of your creation, for you have enlightened me.

Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, you could give me no greater gift than the gift of yourself. For you are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being. Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness, illuminates the mind with its light and causes me to know your truth. By this light, reflected as it were in a mirror, I recognize that you are the highest good, one we can neither comprehend nor fathom. And I know that you are beauty and wisdom itself. The food of angels, you gave yourself to man in the fire of your love.

You are the garment which covers our nakedness, and in our hunger you are a satisfying food, for you are sweetness and in you there is no taste of bitterness, O triune God!

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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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