Dame Gertrude More — The First Confession

THE FIRST CONFESSION

My Lord, we often read in our Office of the Breviary that those that forsake all for Thy sake shall receive a hundredfold in this life and life everlasting in the next. This we read and hear; this was spoken by Thy own mouth, and therefore of the truth thereof we cannot doubt, nor in the hope thereof can we be deceived, presupposing that we on our part be not wanting in that which is necessary to the performance of what Thou exactest.

But tell me, I beseech Thee, my God tell me, I say, for Thy own sake, what is it that Thou exactest of them who shall obtain this Thy promise? For I see many leave their parents, friends, acquaintances, their fortunes, their rich possessions, country and all, and yet is it plain that they find not this hundredfold in this life, which is the forerunner of the everlasting life in the world to come. For I see their state is a burden to them, and the obligations of obedience and religious observance are esteemed by them a great servitude and burden.

What is the meaning of this, my Lord? Shall I doubt that those who resolutely and willingly forsake all the world for Thee would stick at forsaking themselves also, seeing that, by forsaking and denying themselves, they should find Thee in a most particular manner in their souls? Is such forsaking of ourselves to be accounted a losing of ourselves? Oh no! but it is a most sweet and happy exchange to leave our own wills to perform Thine; to be subject for Thee to every living creature is not a burden, but the greatest liberty in this world.

But, alas! my God, the reason why we find Thy yoke a burden is because we bear it not with Thee, by which only it is to be made an easy yoke. If souls who have actually forsaken the world, and in desire themselves also (which most coming into religion are desirous to do), were but put into some course between Thee and their souls by those who had the care of them or authority over them, they would not, as they do, fly back from their first intention, but would every day more and more, by conversing with Thee, get more light to know Thy will and strength to perform it.

But these souls, being ignorant how to converse with Thee, and how in all things to have relation to Thee, Thy yoke becomes more and more burdensome to them, and every day they fall into new difficulties and inconveniences, and are in danger at last to fall into open rebellion against their lawful superiors, and some of them admit of strange friendships, a thing which is worthy to be bewailed with tears of blood. Alas that hearts capable of Thy love, and by profession consecrated thereunto, should so miserably lose themselves in pouring out themselves to those from whom no true comfort can be found or had!

O Lord, remove these impediments from those who are Thine by so many titles; let them know Thee and know of Thee, that they may love nothing but Thee; and let them love Thee, that they may know themselves and their own weakness, and also Thy power and majesty. O my Lord, how infinitely is my soul bound to praise and love Thee, since by means of a faithful servant of Thine I have been instructed in Thy law, and taught how to have in all things relation to Thee, my only Beloved. By this means all crosses, miseries, pains, disgraces, temptations, are most tolerable to me, for having Thee so present to me may speak or write to Thee, by Whom (though I am contemptible in the eyes, as I justly deserve to be, of all the world) I am not yet despised or neglected; for which infinite mercy all praise and honour be given to Thee.

Oh! when shall I be grateful to Thee ? Or what shall I render for all Thou bestowest on me? I have nothing but a heart desirous to love and praise Thee, but ability to do either, alas, my God! it is wanting to me. Oh that all love might be wholly converted to Thee! At least let those who have dedicated themselves to Thee cease to desire anything out of Thee. Send them means to know how sweet it is to have no friend but Thee, and to be neglected by all but Thy sweet mercy.

Oh, can that soul that loves her God

For very shame complain

To any other than Himself

Of what she doth sustain!

No way to her was ever found,

Nor ever shall there be,

But taking up Thy Cross, my Lord,

Thereby to follow Thee.

This is the Way, the Truth, the Life,

Which leadeth unto Heaven;

None is secure but only this

Though seeming ne’er so even.

Those that do walk this happy path

Jesus doth company;

But those who go another way

Will err most miserably.

And in this way do not think much,

That thou dost much endure;

No, though it be from holy men;

For God doth this procure,

That thou mayst seek Himself alone,

And put thy trust in Him,

And not in any creature living,

How good soe’er they seem.

For suffering by the means of th’ill

Will little thee advance;

But to be censur’d by the good,

Goes near to thee perchance.

Alas ! we show but little love

If we must choose which way

Our Lord must try our love to Him,

And not in all obey.

We must submit ourselves to Him

And be of cheerful heart,

For He expecteth much of them

Who be of Mary’s part.

For she must bear a censure hard

From all without exception;

But Thou, O Lord, wilt her excuse,

Who art her soul’s election.

If she will patiently sustain

And be to Thee attent,

Thou favourably will judge of her,

Who know’st her heart’s intent.

For all but Thou, as well she sees,

May err concerning her;

They only judge as they conceive,

But Thou canst never err.

 

Complain not, therefore, loving soul,

If thou wilt be of those

Who love their God more than themselves,

And Mary’s part have chose.

If all thou dost be taken ill

By those of high perfection,

And further if thou be accus’d

To be of some great faction,

 

Our Lord will answer all for thee,

If thou wilt hold thy peace,

And from contention and complaints

Wilt patiently surcease,

Leaving all care unto thy God.

And only Him intend;

Yet what is ill reform in thee,

And this will all amend.

As far as He doth think it good,

Who is most just and wise,

He will thee by afflictions purge

From what displease His eyes.

Wilt thou of all that love thy God

From suff’ring be exempt?

Oh no, but bless, as others do

Thy God, and live content.

Amidst the various accidents,

That do to thee befall,

Commit thyself and all to God,

Who seeks our good in all.

Thyself art blind, and cannot judge

What is the best for thee;

But He doth pierce into all things,

How hid soe’er they be.

My heart shall only this desire,

That Thou my Lord dispose,

E’en as Thou pleasest in all things,

Till these mine eyes Thou close

By death, which I so much desire,

Because it will procure

Me to enjoy my God, my all,

Where I shall be secure

That none from me can take my Lord;

But for eternity

I shall enjoy my only good,

And to Him ever be

United by a knot of love,

Which nothing shall untie,

But will remain as permanent

As His Divinity.

O happy hour, when wilt thou come,

And set my spirit free,

That I may love and praise my God

For perpetuity,

Contemplating His glorious face,

With all that Him adore,

Singing with them His sweetest praise

For ever ever more?

In this is such great comfort and peace that well may the soul be termed to receive a hundredfold in this life who despiseth herself and all other things that she may find Thee. Oh, how free is such a soul to fly with the wings of love to the throne of Thy Divine Majesty! Never was there, or can there be imagined, such a love as between a humble soul and Thee. Who can express what passeth between such a soul and Thee? Verily neither man nor Angel is able to do it sufficiently, and the more such a soul knows of Thee, the more sound becometh her humility. This Thyself only can teach one perfectly, and it is impossible to get it in truth and perfection but by conversing with Thee.

O my God, bestow this heavenly gift on me, which only findeth favour before Thee! Those that possess it are able in and by Thee to bear all things, to understand all things, as far as it is necessary for them. For one learneth more in prayer of Thee in one hour than all creatures in the world could teach one in fifty years; for that which Thou teachest is sound, solid, and secure, because it tends to nothing but to love Thee and neglect oneself. Thy words bring force and strength in themselves; Thy words are words of peace to the soul; Thy words are not like the words of men, which pass as a sound through the air, but Thine pierce the very bottom of our souls.

Let me hearken therefore to Thee, Who speaketh love and most certain truth. The wisdom of the world is foolishness before Thee, but Thy wisdom is much to be desired, and for it willingly ought we to give all our substance; to it we ought to be espoused; and by it, if we will be happy, all our actions ought to be governed.

Although Thou didst say that unless we become as little children we could not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, yet withal Thou hast said that we ought to be as wise as serpents and simple as doves; that is, that we should be wise before we be simple, and not place simplicity before wisdom; whereof I ask Thee the reason, O my Lord, with all the humility I am able, for it seems to me that therein, as in all Thy words, there is a hidden mystery.

Tell me, I say, my God (of Whom in all cases and doubts I ask solution, and many times by it Thou dost make many things manifest to my simplicity) tell me, I say, what was the reason? Verily it seems to me that Thou biddest us be wise before we become simple, because that only is true simplicity which followeth true wisdom. For we cannot become truly simplified in our soul but by Thy heavenly gift of true wisdom; for there is a simplicity which is without wisdom and discretion which little availeth unto perfection.

This virtue of simplicity becometh more and more perfect in the soul as she increaseth in humility and charity; yet at the very beginning of our conversion this is in some sort practised by us, if we do as we ought to do as, for example, to become pleasing to Thee it is absolutely necessary that a soul walk simply and sincerely before Thee and all men, and read and hear, obey and perform all in a simple and humble manner, not searching into that which belongeth not unto her. This, I say, Thou dost exact, for nothing is more odious to Thee than the contrary practice. But yet this doth not diminish our natural reason, but maketh it more clear and able to comprehend what is necessary for us. This virtue also, therefore, bestow upon me, who even naturally (as Thou well knowest) did ever above all things hate dissembling and dissimulation.

O Lord, poor as I am and most sinful, Thou seest how I thus presume to speak unto Thee. But easily shall I obtain pardon of Thee, because Thou overflowest with the abundance of Thy mercy, for which glory, praise, adoration be to Thee, Who art my Lord and my God, and only desired by me. I have no friend to speak or treat with but Thee, and some of Thy Saints to whom Thou hast given charge of me and to whom I fly when my sins affright me, amongst whom next after Thy dear Mother, the Queen of Mercy, is my beloved St. Augustine.  

O glorious Saint, whose heart did burn

And flame with love Divine,

Remember me, most sinful wretch,

Who starv’d doth sorely pine

For want of that which thou enjoyest

In such abundant measure,

It is my God that I do mean,

My joy and all my treasure.

Thy words, O Saint, are truly sweet,

Because thou dost address

Them unto Him Who’s only meet

Our mis’ries to redress.

At the intercession of these Saints much hast Thou done for me.  Honour them, my Lord, for me, who am so poor that I have nothing to present them or Thee, only a desire of being grateful to Thee. Be Thou by all eternally praised. Amen.

*****

Infinite,

We each search for you with our body and soul, knowing that a life with you demands obedience, poverty, and chastity in all things, including the desire for knowledge. So much of your truth lies at the intersection of two or more realities, clothed in contradiction and paradox.  We strive to know you, and to stay humble on the journey, but we have from you, Eternal, minds that crave, and fear, and crave again the hidden mysteries of the universe. Remind us that the more we know, the more there is to know, and so keep us humble and full of wonder.

It’s so easy to put trust in the wrong place. I will rely on your answers only, Infinite, and will find you in the luminal place between silent prayer and benediction. If I have the strength to listen; if I can, through unforced concentration, find the peace where you are, there will, in that moment out of time, be grace.

Amen.

*****

 

The Jacamar Door

I have had, for a long time, a fascination with St Anne, the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus.  She has many roles in Christian tradition: amongst them, she is patron saint and protectress of horses, horsemen, horsewomen, stablemen, and horse-breeding; of mothers, homemakers, pregnant women (especially those in labor), childless people; cabinetmakers, carpenters, and miners.  Her horse connection probably comes from her association with the Pan-Celtic Great Mother Goddess in various forms, especially those of Anu, Ana, and Anand.

It was only recently, though, that I found she is also the patron saint of doors.  I imagine this is due primarily to her association with childbirth, but as I looked more closely, each of her associations — childbirth, stablemen, horse-breeding, cabinetry, mining — has something to do with the movement from containment to a place of light, or new beginning.

I chose the title “Jacamar Door” for this because it is a image of new beginning that forms me on a daily basis.  The Great Jacamar is a bird that lays its eggs in what is ostensibly a hostile environment — inside termites’ nests.  The termites seal in the eggs and enter into a strange symbiotic relationship with them: one in which some eggs are lost — the unwitting guests are eaten by their host — and some are allowed to develop.  When the eggs remaining are ready to hatch, the Jacamar returns to the termite nest, breaking a doorway into it, whereupon the new young birds are released from the dark into a new world of light and freedom.

This seems to me a fitting symbol for our lives of spirit in this beautiful world, that can be at once so kind to us and yet so intolerably cruel.  There will be suffering; there will be unconscionable loss; but there will also be the nurture, love, freedom, and release of a life lived in Christ.

May Christ and St Anne bless you, and be with you, on your journeys into the light.

–Sorche