His presence becomes so natural, that it would be impossible not to have it: it becomes habitual to the soul, which is also conscious of a great calm spreading over it. Its prayer is all silence, and God imparts to it an intrinsic love, which is the commencement of ineffable happiness.
Oh, if I could describe the infinite degrees which follow! But I must stop here, since I am writing for beginners, and wait till God shall bring to light what may be useful to those more advanced. I can only say, that, at this point, it is most important that all natural operation should cease, that God may act alone: "Be still, and know that I am God," is His own word by David (Ps. xlvi.10).
1. This subject is pursued in the treatise entitled "Spiritual Torrents."
But man is so attached to his own works, that he cannot believe God is working, unless he can feel, know, and distinguish His operation. He does not see that it is the speed of his course which prevents his seeing the extent of his advancement; and that the operation of God becoming more abundant, absorbs that of the creature, as we see that the sun, in proportion as he rises, absorbs the light of the stars, which were easily distinguishable before he appeared. It is not the want of light, but an excess of light, which prevents our distinguishing the stars.
It is the same here; man can no longer distinguish his own operation, because the strong light absorbs all his little distinct lights, and makes them fade away entirely, because God's excess surpasses them all. So that those who accuse this degree of prayer of being a state of idleness, are greatly deceived; and only speak thus from want of experience. Oh, if they would only prove it! in how short a time they would become experimentally acquainted with this matter!
I say, then, that this failure of work does not spring from scarcity, but from abundance.
Two classes of persons are silent: the one because they have nothing to say, the other because they have too much. It is thus in this degree. We are silent from excess, not from want.
Water causes death to two persons in very different ways. One dies of thirst, another is drowned: the one dies from want, the other from abundance. So here it is abundance which causes the cessation of natural operation. It is therefore important in this degree to remain as much as possible in stillness.
At the commencement of this prayer, a movement of affection is necessary; but when grace begins to flow into us, we have nothing to do but to remain at rest, and take all that God gives. Any other movement would prevent our profiting by this grace, which is given in order to draw us into the rest of love.
The soul in this peaceful attitude of prayer falls into a mystic sleep, in which all its natural powers are silenced, until that which had been temporary becomes its permanent condition. You see that the soul is thus led, without effort, without study, without artifice.
The heart is not a fortified place, which must be taken by cannonading and violence: it is a kingdom of peace, which is possessed by love. Gently following in His train, you will soon reach the degree of intuitive prayer. God asks nothing extraordinary and difficult: on the contrary, He is most pleased with childlike simplicity.
The grandest part of religion is the most simple. It is the same with natural things. Do you wish to get to the sea? Embark upon a river, and insensibly and without effort you will be taken to it. Do you wish to get to God? Take His way, so quiet, so easy, and in a little while you will be taken to Him in a manner that will surprise you. Oh, if only you would try it! How soon you would see that I am telling you only too little, and that the experience would far surpass any description that could be given! What do you fear? Why do you not throw yourself at once into the arms of Love, who only stretched them out upon the cross in order to take you in? What risk can there be in trusting God, and abandoning yourself to Him? Oh, He will not deceive you, unless it be by giving you far more than you ever expected: while those who expect everything from themselves may well take to themselves the reproach which God utters by the mouth of Isaiah: "Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way; yet saidst thou not, There is no hope" (Isa. lvii.10).