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Excerpt from Ascent of Mount Carmel


We did not mean that those beginning to have this general loving knowledge should never again try to meditate. In the beginning of this state the habit of contemplation is not so perfect that one can at will enter into this act, neither is one so remote from discursive meditation as to be always incapable of it. One can meditate naturally through forms and scenes as before, and discover something new in it. Indeed, at the outset, upon judging through the signs mentioned above that his soul is not occupied in repose and knowledge, a person will need to make use of meditation. This need will continue until he acquires the habit of contemplation in a certain perfect degree. The indication of this will be that every time he intends to meditate, he will immediately notice this knowledge and peace as well as his own lack of power or desire to meditate, as we said. Until reaching this stage(of those already proficient in contemplation) a person will sometimes contemplate, and sometimes meditate.

He will often find that he is experiencing this loving or peaceful awareness passively without having first engaged in any active work (regarding particular acts) with his faculties. But on the other hand he will frequently find it necessary to aid himself gently and moderately with meditation in order to enter this state.

But once he has been placed in it, as we already pointed out, he does not work with the faculties. It is more exact to say that then the work is done in the soul and the knowledge and delight is already produced, than that the soul does anything, besides attentively loving God and refraining from the desire to feel or see anything. In this loving awareness the soul receives Gods communication passively, just as a man, without doing anything else but keeps his eyes open, receives light passively. This reception of the light infused supernaturally into the soul is a passive knowing. It is affirmed that the person does nothing, not because he fails to understand, but because he understands by dint of no effort other than the reception of what is bestowed. This process is similar to Gods illuminations and inspirations, although here the person freely accepts this general, obscure knowledge.

One should not commingle other more palpable lights of forms, concepts, or figures of meditative discourse, if one wants to receive this divine light in greater simplicity and abundance. For none of these tangible lights are like that serene, limpid light. If any individual should desire to consider and understand particular things, however spiritual they may be, he would hinder the general limpid, and simple light of the spirit; he would be interfering by his cloudy thoughts When an obstruction is place in front of a person’s eyes, he is impeded from seeing the light and the view before him.

The manifest conclusion is that, when a person has finished purifying and voiding himself of all forms and apprehensible images, he will abide in this pure and simple light, and be perfectly transformed into it. This light is never lacking to the soul, but because of creature forms and veils weighing upon and covering it, the light is never infused. If a person will eliminate these impediments and veils, and live in pure nakedness and poverty of spirit, his soul in its simplicity and purity will then be immediately transformed into simple and pure Wisdom, the Son of God. As soon as natural things are driven out of the enamoured soul, the divine are naturally and supernaturally infused, since there can be no void in nature.

When the spiritual person cannot meditate, he should learn to remain in God’s presence with a loving attention and a tranquil intellect, even though he seems to himself to be idle. For little by little and very soon the divine calm and peace with a wondrous, sublime knowledge of God, enveloped in divine love, will be infused into his soul. He should not interfere with forms or discursive meditations and imaginings. Otherwise his soul will be disquieted and drawn out of its peaceful contentment to distaste and repugnance. And if, as we said, scruples about his inactivity arise, he should remember that pacification of the soul (making it calm and peaceful, inactive and desireless) is no small accomplislhment. This, indeed, is what our Lord asks of us through David: Vacate et videte quoniam ego sum Deus. (Psalm 45:11). This would be like saying: Learn to be empty of all things – interiorly and exteriorly – and you will behold that I am God.


St John of the Cross,
Ascent of Mt Carmel, Book 2,
Chapter 15:1-5