This post may need a contextual setting. Elements of it were born in our chapel service on Tuesday this week, a deep musical reflection on Psalms 42-43. I’d wanted to escape the room because I don’t love performed worship where I can’t sing too. Whatever else my spirituality may be, there’s a healthy dose of charismatic evangelical in there! And as the minutes passed, I’d then wanted to escape the room because the relentlessness of the words, sung over and over in different settings, forced me to admit that the debilitating longing of the Psalmist was mine too. So I began to write there in chapel. It was that or floods of tears. Something had to give. Now in this post I’ve set my words against interludes of Psalms 42-43 and a few verses in Isaiah 26. I’ve used Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle to give words to what I’ve hardly known before how to name. It is raw. More raw than I usually give voice to in this space. But it is the truest thing I know how to write in this season as he rearranges my heart in ways I’d forgotten how to dream about.
As a deer pants for the flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. Yes, I wait for you, your name and remembrance the desire of my soul.
My soul longs for you. I have no words. It hurts and the tears flow. Everything in me cries out.
So pants my soul for you.
Yet though my soul longs, yet I turn away. I turn away for to be turned to your face burns, oh God. Teresa talks of courage in the drawing near (VI.5.1). Courage indeed is needed here. Easier always to turn away, at the last to balk.
When shall I come and appear before God? Cast down, in turmoil, yet shall I hope.
Somehow there is little I can do. Teresa says this too. That we can do nothing in this work done by the Lord (V.2.1). Yet she tells me to let His Majesty have a free hand, that he will give more than we know how to desire because we are striving and making every effort to do what we can about this love (V.3.12). And I believe her. That you will give me that for which I wait.
My soul yearns for you in the night, my spirit seeks you.
Purify me, dear Lord, that I might be able to face the purifying flame. Remove from me all that resists you, that I may become more fully surrendered to you. Even now, I feel that I would break at your touch. If you drew near and gave me what I asked for, you might destroy me. The passion which is this longing is too great for me. My soul is not yet strong to contain this longing’s satisfaction.
You keep in perfect peace the one whose mind is stayed on you, who practises your presence.
Indeed, oh Lord, I seek to practise your presence. To enter more deeply into this union which is your gift to me. Yet unless you shore up the boundaries of my soul I may not survive this wrestling match. My soul is not yet substantial enough to grapple with you. It dissolves when you draw near. The pain of your nearness is delightful yet great in wounding (VI.2.4).
By day you command your steadfast love. By night your song is with me. All this indeed a prayer to the God of my life.
So, Lord, I wait. Your name and remembrance truly my desire. Yes, Lord, I wait. Until I am made ready to face the flame, ready to see you in your cether. And I invite you, as I wait, to dismantle all my defences. Though I fear to be defenceless, yet I know that it is better to be surrounded by your songs of deliverance than my own. Though I fear this dismantling, yet I know that only by this route an overshadowing and a carrying.
These things I remember as I pour out my soul.
That you are faithful. That even now you are working deeper than I can know. And that surely I have no good apart from you. Because of these, so let it be to me according to your word.
Statue of Teresa of Avila