He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Dark Night of the Soul: Bread from Heaven

As I continue to ruminate upon the wisdom of St. John of the Cross in Dark Night of the Soul, I find that my understanding of the Eucharist and my relationship to Christ in the Eucharistic feast grows.  The following passage is one I have come back to several times in the past few months.

"These souls whom God is beginning to lead through these solitary places of wilderness are like to the children of Israel, to whom in the wilderness God began to give food from Heaven, containing within itself all sweetness, and, as is there said, it turned to the savour which each one of them desired.  But withal the children of Israel felt the lack of the pleasures and delights of the flesh and the onions which they had eaten aforetime in Egypt., the more so because their palate was accustomed to these and took delight in them, rather than in the delicate sweetness of the angelic manna; and they wept and sighed for the fleshpots even in the midst of the food of Heaven. To such depths does the vileness of our desires descend that it makes us to long for our own wretched food and to be nauseated by the indescribable blessings of Heaven."

This is such an apt description of us weary sinners aware of our sinfulness in the self-indulgent world of contemporary Cyrenaic hedonism; we are sudden pilgrims who have long been fed upon the immediate gratification of our fleshly desires.  We often long for the cheap and easy pleasures while the greater food awaits.  We accept the endorphin release of sex as a substitute for the real intimacy that takes a lifetime to cultivate.  We accept the quick pleasures of drug-induced highs as a substitute for the deep, steady happiness of a life in which we become the best version of ourselves.  We accept celebrity worship and gossip as a substitute for the deity we rightly worship and the true story of the Gospel.

We long for those pleasures because we know them and we have come to expect them as our due.  We often look upon the Bread of Heaven as just another food in a long list of nutrients and treats with which we shower our stomachs; we can easily see it as a Sunday nothing, a mere bit of crust that does not have the sweet taste of the sugar-saturated food we enjoy so much of our days.

But if we begin to turn away from the flimsy, insubstantial substitutes that always fail to bring deep and lasting joy, then we can begin to appreciate the simplicity of the Bread of Heaven in our profound poverty, our spectacular lack of love for the one who loved us unto death.  If we begin to see the vision of Heaven given to us in the ancient liturgy, we can learn to love that substantial simplicity of the Bread that comes down from Heaven, forgoing the sickly sweet morsel of the flesh here in this temporal life for the feast of love in the eternal life of the divine in the House of the Lord.

If we let the ancient liturgy in its strangeness and wonder take us out of our everyday experience of satisfying our flesh and then receive us into the sacred timeless space of the Holiest of Holies, then we have the chance to embrace Him before the table He has prepared for us with His own life, gratefully accepting the Bread of Heaven from the hands of the one who allowed those hands to be nailed to a cross so that we could share it with Him.

The Fall of Pride - Death to the Ego - Bread from Heaven

Note:  The above is a picture of part of the cover of the translation of St. John of the Cross's work I'm using.  For more information about it, you can see my Sources page.

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