Monday, March 31, 2008

Celestial delectation...and gifts of grace

In his journal, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge jotted down what he took to be the five stages of prayer:

First stage -- the pressure of immediate calamities without earthly aidence makes us cry out to the Invisible.

Second stage -- the dreariness of visible things to a mind beginning to be contemplative -- horrible Solitude.

Third stage -- Repentance & Regret -- & self-inquietude.

Fourth stage -- The celestial delectation that follows ardent prayer.

Fifth stage -- Self-annihilation -- the Soul enters the Holy of Holies.

I mentioned this once before in these posts, and translated Coleridge's stages like this:

First stage -- Help!

Second stage -- Here I am!

Third stage -- Oh my God I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee...

Fourth stage -- Gee! -- followed by -- Wow!

Fifth stage -- silent attention.

For someone like me, raised in a traditional religion, getting to the fourth stage required something of a journey, a shedding of layers, a letting go of God. The fifth stage comes as a kind of grace -- out of the blue, occasional and unexpected -- when in the midst of a Wow! one becomes aware of how infinitely inadequate is any word. In those transcendent moments only silence is a suitable response. The essayist Pico Iyer put it this way: "Silence is the tribute that we pay to holiness; we slip off words when we enter a scared place, just as we slip off shoes."

(Click on image.)