The full spiritual consciousness of the true mystic is developed not in one, but in two apparently opposite but really complementary directions:
“. . . io vidi
Ambo le corte del ciel manifeste.”
On the one hand they are intensely aware of, and know themselves to be at one with that active World of Becoming, that immanent Life, from which their own lives take their rise. Hence, though they have broken forever with the bondage of the senses, they perceive in every manifestation of life a sacramental meaning; a loveliness, a wonder, a heightened significance, which is hidden from others. They may, with St. Francis, call the Sun and the Moon, Water and Fire, their brothers and sisters: or receive, with Blake, the message of the trees. Because of their cultivation of disinterested love, because their outlook is not conditioned by the exclusive action of the will-to live; they have attained the power of communion with the living reality of the universe; and in this respect can truly say that they find “God in all and all in God.” Thus, the skilled spiritual vision of Lady Julian, transcending the limitations of human perception, entering into harmony with a larger world whose rhythms cannot be received by common beings, saw the all-enfolding rhythms Divining Life, the mesh of reality. “For as the body is clad in the cloth,” she said, “and the flesh in the skin and the bones in the flesh and the heart in the whole, so are we, soul and body, clad in the Goodness of God and enclosed. Yea, and more homely: for all these may waste and wear away, but the Goodness of God is ever whole.” Many mystical poets and pantheistic mystics never pass beyond this degree of lucidity.
On the other hand, the full mystic consciousness also attains to what is, I think, its really characteristic quality. It develops the power of apprehending the Absolute, pure Being, the utterly Transcendent: or, as its possessor would say, can experience “passive union with God.” This all-round expansion of consciousness, with its dual power of knowing by communion the temporal and eternal, immanent and transcendent aspects of reality—the life of the All, vivid, flowing and changing, and the changeless, conditionless life of the One—is the peculiar mark, the ultimo sigillo of the great mystics, and must never be forgotten in studying their lives and work.
As the ordinary person is the meeting-place between two stages of reality—the sense-world and the world of spiritual life—so the mystics, standing head and shoulders above ordinary beings, are again the meeting-place between two orders. Or, if you like it better, they are able to perceive and react to reality under two modes. On the one hand they know, and rest in, the eternal world of Pure Being, the “Sea Pacific” of the Godhead, indubitably present to them in their ecstasies, attained by them in the union of love. On the other, they know—and work in—that “stormy sea,” the vital World of Becoming which is the expression of Its will. “Illuminated men,” says Ruysbroeck, “are caught up, above the reason, into naked vision. Therefore the Divine Unity dwells and calls them. Hence their bare vision, cleansed and free, penetrates the activity of all created things, and pursues it to search it out even to its height.”
Though philosophy has striven since thought began—and striven in vain—to resolve the paradox of Being and Becoming, of Eternity and Time, she has failed strangely enough to perceive that a certain type of personality has substituted experience for her guesses at truth and achieved its solution, not by the dubious processes of thought, but by direct perception. To the great mystics the “problem of the Absolute” presents itself in terms of life, not in terms of dialectic. They solve it in terms of life: by a change or growth of consciousness which—thanks to their peculiar genius—enables them to apprehend that two-fold Vision of Reality which eludes the perceptive powers of others. It is extraordinary that this fact of experience—a central fact for the understanding of the contemplative type—has received so little attention from writers upon mysticism. As we proceed with our inquiry, its importance, its far-reaching implications in the domains of psychology, of theology, of action, will become more and more evident. It provides the reason why the mystics could never accept the diagram of the Vitalists or Evolutionists as a complete statement of the nature of Reality. “Whatever be the limits of your knowledge, we know”—they would say—“that the world has another aspect than this: the aspect which is present to the Mind of God.” “Tranquility according to His essence, activity according to His nature: perfect stillness, perfect fecundity,” says Ruysbroeck again, this is the two-fold character of the Absolute. That which to us is action, to Him, they declare, is rest; “His very infinite life.” That which to us is Many, to that Transcendent Knower is One. Our World of Becoming rests on the bosom of that Pure Being which has ever been the final Object of our quest: the “river in which we cannot bathe twice” is the stormy flood of life flowing toward that divine sea. “How glorious,” says the Voice of the Eternal to St. Catherine of Siena, “is that soul which has indeed been able to pass from the stormy sea to Me, that Sea Pacific, and in that Sea, which is Myself, to fill the pitcher of her heart.”