Friday, September 22, 2017

"Come Down, O Love Divine," was the hymn for Morning Prayer. We sometimes sing it at Sunday worship. I have always thought it beautiful, but the number of themes resonating with my studies of the Orthodox understanding of salvation made me especially attentive.  It was written by Bianco da Siena, (c350-1399), a mystic poet and member of the "poor Jesuates" (a religious order I never heard of, which apparently lasted some three hundred years).

I teach on it today because it illustrates the Orthodox way of "psychotherapy" (soul healing) and shows the common core shared by Christians in the East and West. I added numerals to aid connecting it to the comments below:

1 Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
2 O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, til earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
3 And let Thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

4 Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
5 and lowliness become mine inner clothing;
true lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
6 and o'er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
7 For none can guess its grace, till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling."

1. It is God who seeks us. He must come to us for us to be made new. We can only respond to His love, and cry out to Him Who has already chosen us.
2 The work of the Holy Spirit is called fire. The "soul healing" requires the nous (Biblical Greek-the mind is the seat of perceiving, understanding, feeling, judging, and determining. It is the door to the heart/inner person) be purified by the fire of God. Again and again we read of this holy fire and here we sing of its life giving power. Note the fire burns the passions. The Fathers speak of the passions, but we must remember that the ancient usage of the word passion (meaning suffering) is not a good thing. The sinful passions are the desires which draw us away from God, the hunger which deprives us of freedom and peace. Until they be burned away (dust and ashes) as a sacrifice, we will not be made holy. The fire of God transforms every desire into the desire for Him, the perfect desire, where alone we find our joy and life. His fire makes a bad thing (sinful passions) into a good thing (holy desire).
3 Like fire, light is another common element of the process of theosis (union with God which divinizes us). The association of God and light has long been part of the biblical heritage ("Jesus says, "I am light of the world," John writes "God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all"). To be enlightened means to know and understand God and His ways. His word is a light for our path. Once more, the darkened nous/mind needs the light of God to see and be free.
4 "Outside", we sing for the Lord clothe us in love. Love, our relationship with others, is the great commandment. We act with love.
5. Humility, meanwhile, is the "inside" virtue which puts us right with God. This morning reading the Orthodox book on Psychotherapy, I read that humility is the most important virtue to combat the Eight Deadly Thoughts which create the sinful desires. So here, this medieval Italian shares the Orthodox insight.
6 The ancient Fathers of the East make much of the importance of tears. I touched on this briefly Sunday. Tears of repentance cleanse the heart and soul. Tears water the soul and make it grow. We do not take sin seriously enough nor are we truly sorry for them if we never cry. God must soften our hearts and tears are the remedy of hard hearts. So teach the mystics and holy men and holy women in every age from every corner of the church.
7 theosis is when the Holy Spirit dwells in us, when our spirit is completely united with God's Spirit, the work of union is done. We are divinized, which is the purpose of life.

My readings in "Orthodox Psychotherapy"--usually a few pages a day--have given me deeper understanding about the path of salvation. Union with God is so much richer to me than the concept of "getting saved" or "going to heaven." Finding this hymn, written over six hundred years ago by a man from Siena Italy, was a wonderful confirmation that while the Orthodox ways are not always the same as Western Christianity, the most important part, the road to life, are found in both. I sing with Bianco in my 'Anglican' (Episcopal) Church for the same things that Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox pray, the same things that Evangelicals and Pentecostals pray. That we may all be one in Jesus, and that in Jesus the Holy Spirit will unite us in the heart of God---there to be one with God forever.

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