Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dr Pusey on loneliness, solitude and God's loving presence

It is a pity that the Oxford Movement leader, Dr Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882), is often compared unfavourably to John Henry Newman, or thought of primarily as a contoversialist and/or theologian. Of course he was a very great theologian and Biblical scholar. But Fr John Hunwicke spoke for many when he said in his blog a few years ago that Pusey was “one of the very greatest Catholic teachers and spiritual directors of the modern period.” Throughout his long life, Pusey had his fair share of personal disappointments and tragedies, so what he says when he preaches or gives spiritual direction is neither trite nor untested by experience.

I share with you today large slabs of a wonderful sermon of his, GOD’S PRESENCE IN LONELINESS, from the book “Sermons for the Church’s season from Advent to Trinity”, published in 1883.

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably to her . . . (Hosea 2:14-15)

God says, “I will allure her.” He vouchsafes to speak to us after the manner of men. He will give us. He saith, “Love for love.” The world hath its sweetnesses, but so hath God. The world would allure us by tinsel, pleasures  which fade, joys which destroy; God would allure us by realities, some foretaste of “the torrent of pleasure” which shall overstream the whole soul, some light from Himself, parting through the clouds and illumining the soul, if but only with one flash of unearthly brightness, a sweetness which bathes it, as it were, in joy unspeakable, a sense of childlike love, with which, if it but last, it feels itself again a child of God. 

“I,” He saith, “will speak to her heart; “sometimes, so that the soul seems to hear His Voice within her, saying, as it were, “The Master is come, and calleth thee; “rise up quickly; sometimes by the gift of tears, in which the long pent-up heart seems to gush forth; or in some devoted purpose, henceforth to be wholly His, and in all things to aim at Him alone and His glory; or in willingness to suffer gladly any chastisement He vouchsafes to send; or in some thrill of the whole soul, at the thought that it can be yet the object of the love of God. He speaks as we may best bear to hear, and is fittest for us; but by Himself or by His servants does He speak to every soul which, led by Him, in silence waits for Him. 

Yes! blessed are those holy hours, in which the soul retires from the world to be alone with God. God’s Voice, as Himself, is everywhere. Within and without He speaks to our souls, if we would hear. Only the din of the world, or the tumult of our own hearts, deafens our inward ear to it. Stillness is as His very Presence, for, like the prayer for the Prophet’s servant, it opens our senses to perceive what was there to behold, only our eyes were holden. “There is neither speech nor language; the voice is not heard; but “day unto day uttereth speech” to hearts that hearken, “and night unto night sheweth knowledge.” All God’s works, because He has made them, bear the traces of His Hand, and speak of Him to the soul which is alone with Him. All works of man, directed or over-ruled by His Providence, every thing, good or bad, speaks of His Presence or His absence. But, chiefly, in the inmost soul He speaks, because there He dwells. 

Thoughts of Him seem to occupy the infantine eye, as it gazes with such fixed, placid, loving earnestness on something we see not. Him the child’s heart, unknowing, seeks, as, unsatisfied with all around, it longs for some deeper love, which shall fill its soul, some one who shall love it best, whose whole love it can have, undiminished by His love for all besides, which can understand every motion of its heart, share its every feeling, wholly love it, and be wholly beloved. And if these first bright drawings have been wasted, still, while it wearies itself with vanities, each pause and breathing-place in its pursuit tells it of another Object, for Whom it was made, Who is not to be found where and as it seeks. Thence is it, that until, worn out with chasing the wind, it turns to its God, the soul shrinks firom being alone. Ye must have felt, some time, an awe come over you, as ye of a sudden stood alone. 

To be alone is to feel the Presence of God, in love or in displeasure, as a Friend or a Stranger, as One Whose Voice the soul hath heard and known and loved, or One it dreads, feeling itself condemned by It. So does God watch over the soul, so plead with it, so ever-present is He, so unwilling to part with it, or that it should part with Him, its only Good; so doth He long, as it were, to find an entrance there, ever knocking at the heart, ever striving to find an avenue unto it, that it may receive Him, and, in Him, be blessed for ever. And hence, until the soul will open its whole self to God, it shrinks from inward and outward loneliness. The restless love of amusement, society, outward excitement, even reading, besides any object for itself, has mainly this, to escape being alone with its own thoughts, because there it will find God. Dull often, and weary will the employment be, but, like the clay used by savages to dull the pain of hunger, it stifles in the soul the sense of the Presence of Him, Whose love it knows not. 

And, therefore, does God so often create in the soul a still more awful loneliness, rending from it that on which its very being hung, that at length it may learn to live alone with God, when all it loved with God is withdrawn from sight. Then, in those sacred solemn hours, if these too it wastes not, it learns to love and to be with Him, Whom “none loseth but who leaveth,” that only “place of rest imperturbable, where love is not forsaken, if itself forsaketh not.” 

Once, brethren, at least, ye must be alone; and lonely indeed is that journey, if He be not by thee, Who first trod it for thee, that in it thou mightest “fear no evil.” None else can then share thy fears; none can so speak to thy heart; none, though he would die with thee, can share thy journey with thee. Alone must each give up his spirit unto Him Who gave it. Oh may it not be alone, but in union with Him, Whose Words we shall soon hear, “Father, into Thine Hands I commend My Spirit,” and Who, with His own, commended ours. But will He then indeed be with us in death, if we be not with Him in life ? 

Oh, let us then learn to be alone with God now. It is only afar off that the wilderness looks a waste and terrible and dry. Was it not there, that man did eat angels’ food, and water gushed out of the hard rock, and bitter waters were made sweet, and God bare His own, and their feet did not swell, and He spake unto them, “and proclaimed Himself merciful, and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” Trust thyself alone with Him, and so in thine inmost heart will He proclaim Himself unto thee, “The Lord, thy God, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” There shalt thou speak to God “face to face,” and “hear what the Lord thy God will speak “in thee; thou shalt tell Him thy sorrows, thy falls, thy sins, the wildness, or forgetfulness, or carelessness of thy youth; there pour out before Him griefs which thou wouldest shrink that the world should know, and He shall say unto thee, “Thy sins be forgiven thee; go and sin no more.” There shall He renew thy soul, hear thy prayer and answer it, shed hope around thee, kindle thy half-choked love, give thee some taste of His own boundless Love, give thee the longing to pass out of all besides, out of thy decayed self, gathered upward unto Him, Who came down hither to our misery, to bear us up unto Himself and make us one spirit with Him.

Treasure any season in which God Himself maketh thee lonely. When He brings thee back into thyself, seek not to go forth out of thyself. Whether it be by sickness, or by bereavement, or by any other sorrow, by want of the sympathy of the world, by distresses which make the heart sick and faint, go not forth out of thyself, but, with the prophet, stand in loneliness “upon thy watch, and set thee upon the tower; “dwell in Him, Who “is a most strong Tower to all them that put their trust in Him; “wherein the righteous runneth and is safe; and “watch to see what He shall say unto thee, and what thou shalt speak when thou art reproved,” and He, while He reproves thee of sin, will shew thee His Righteousness, and “be gracious unto thee and say, “deliver him from going down into the pit, I have found a Ramson.” 

“He will allure thee and bring thee into the wilderness, and speak unto thy heart.” He will fence thee round, that nothing outward break in upon the sacred stillness of thy soul, which seeketh to be hushed in Him. Where He is, is great peace. Learn to commune with Him in stillness, and He, Whom thou hast sought in stillness, will be with thee when thou goest abroad. Go not abroad out of thyself, and He will not depart from thee. He cometh not to us, to leave us, if we would detain Him with us. 

Gather thyself from time to time in thyself; recall to thyself, “Whose am I? for whom am I doing this? how would God have me do it?” Lift up thine eyes to the holy “Pattern shewed thee in the Mount,” even His, “Who came not to do His Own Will, but the Will of Him Who sent Him.” Thy Redeemer, Who would work all thy works in thee, will gather thee up wholly into Himself, all thy thoughts, words, and deeds, that they be thought, spoken, done in Him. 

His visitations are seasons of grace. Miss we not for our own souls, any. So shall joy spring out of sorrow, abundance out of want, comfort out of desolation, hope out of hopelessness, rest out of trouble, life out of death, from brief “afflictions” an “eternal weight of glory.” God shall speak to our hearts, and our hearts shall say unto Him, “Thy Face, Lord, will I seek;” and He Himself shall be the Strength of our hearts now in this “valley of the shadow of death,” Himself, “Who filleth all things,” shall, “in the land of the living,” and “the Brightness of His Presence,” be our Portion for ever. 


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