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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

The Impact of God

I am in the Santa Cruz Mountains at a retreat center giving conferences on St. John of the Cross. We are using a text by Father Iain Matthew called The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of the Cross published by Hodder, 1995, 2010. Father Matthew provides a wonderful orientation to the life and writings this Carmelite Doctor of the Church, an orientation which Jean Vanier calls "firmly centred in Jesus, in love with Jesus." Because of his decades of living in an intense and catholic form of Christian community, the fact that Vanier wrote such a glowing foreword to the book gave me confidence that it would be worth my time. It is one of the most insightful secondary sources on this spiritual master's thought I have yet come across. One of the many things Father Matthew captures well is the divine dynamism of the Living God in contemplation. He directs us to the One St. John of the Cross encountered in prayer - the initiator of a beautiful friendship, the Fire of Love who burns in a particular way for each person as if they were the only one He loved. If God is totally transcendent, ineffable and unattainable by the unaided operations of the soul, Father Matthew makes sure we know that the Carmelite Poet does not describe a passive, stale and exhausted presence that is indistinguishable from one's own big fat ego. Instead, Father Matthew relentlessly unpacks the 16th century mystic's descriptions of an in-flowing presence which imbues the soul with such supernatural gifts it can boldly go in search of the One who is by nature totally hidden from it. The work is geared to providing confidence in suffering and in prayer, and because it is faithful to theological vision of St. John of the Cross, Father Matthew succeeds in this enterprise.

John has traced a pattern—a God who gives himself, a darkness making room for the gift—which presents a purpose worthy of a person's life. But his promise of encounter is not reserved for those who make it to the end. John sees the pattern available now—present in faith, guaranteed in Jesus, released in prayer. Having reviewed the pattern, we want next to take hold of this encounter. Not that there will be no pain or confusion; but there is a precious and more significant friendship, closer than pain or confusion. That is a valid reason not to be afraid. Father Iain Matthew, Impact of God, 93.

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