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«Insights from the Revelations of Divine Love and the Contemplation to Attain Love Kerrie Hide Abstract: Religious conversion, following Bernard ...»

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Australian eJournal of Theology 3 (August 2004)

Insights from the Revelations of Divine Love and the

Contemplation to Attain Love

Kerrie Hide

Abstract: Religious conversion, following Bernard Lonergan, is deeply mystical: “other

worldly falling in love,” “total, [unconditional] and permanent self-surrender.” Julian of

Norwich and Ignatius of Loyola both give, albeit in quite different language, an

experiential and imagination rich accounts of religious conversion. For Julian, this is the “oneing” of the soul to God; for Ignatius, the contemplation which makes “beings in love.” Key Words: Julian of Norwich; Revelations of Divine Love; Ignatian exercises; Bernard Lonergan; religious conversion; oneing; contemplation ord Jesus, I give you my hands to do your work;

I give you my feet to go your way;

I give you my eyes to see as you do;

I give you my tongue to speak your words;

I give you my mind, Lord, that you may think in me;

I give you my spirit that you may pray in me, That you may pray in me.

Above all, Lord, I give you my heart…1 This Grail prayer flows from the heart of one deeply grounded in God. It is the song of one who is in love and longs to be in union with the source of all being. The author gives voice to a passionate desire to be emptied and filled with God, to become one with God. The litany of giving expresses a reciprocal movement of receiving from God and giving to God that evokes an endless series of conversions of body, mind, soul and heart. The poet describes what Bernard Lonergan identifies as religious conversion: an other worldly falling in love that is total and permanent self-surrender without conditions, qualifications, or reservations.2 This way of conversion facilitates a transformation that enables human beings to become beings in love.3 Recently set in a contemplative melody by Margaret Rizza, this publication of the Grail Prayer reminds us, that today there is a growing number of people, both within and outside formal religious structures, seeking to live a spiritual life, to be contemplatives and live in harmony with God, self, all people and all creation.4 The popularity of this hymn suggests that the Spirit of Love is still very much alive and active,5 enkindling the desire of human hearts to fall in love and to seek a way of life that is in union with divine love.

Margaret Rizza, Fire of Love: Music for Contemplative Worship (Kevin Mayhew, 1998), 6.

Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972),

Lonergan, Method in Theology, 1.4.2-4, 104-109.

See Sandra M. Schneiders, “Religion vs. Spirituality: A Contemporary Conundrum,” Spiritus 3 (2003): 163where she describes this growth, especially in the United States.

Rizza, Fire of Love, 3.

–  –  –

In response to those who seek encouragement in their longing to yield to the gentle but insistent desire to be grounded in their source, to give of what they have received, and to live a transforming way of conversion, I will explore Bernard Lonergan’s theology of religious conversion and present insights into the nature of conversion from two classic voices from the tradition, Julian of Norwich and Ignatius of Loyola. Though Julian and Ignatius wrote in very different times and in very different genres, the Revelation of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich and the Contemplation to Attain Love by Ignatius of Loyola complement each other and inspire us, as we seek to cultivate a way of being that enables us to experience religious conversion. After examining Lonergan’s theology of religious conversion, I will show how this way of conversion is in essence an experience of oneing, as described in the Revelations of Divine Love. I will then demonstrate how the experience of religious conversion, of becoming more and more completely one with God, occurs in the dynamic of the paschal mystery evoked by the Spiritual Exercises that reaches a climax in the Contemplation to Attain Love. Finally, I will draw conclusions for what this has to say to those who desire to live a contemplative life today.

Before focusing on religious conversion, some brief reminders concerning Bernard Lonergan, Julian of Norwich and Ignatius of Loyola will help situate them in context.

Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984), a Canadian Jesuit, is one of the great twentieth century theologians, who gives us valuable insights into the content and process of conversion. His perceptive writings provide a systematic method for achieving spiritual growth, centering on conversion. In his major work, Method in Theology (1972), he describes an experiential pattern in human development that begins in experience, evolves into reflection on the experience, insights into the experience, judgments about these insights and action on these judgments. His clear and systematic analysis of human experience assists us in understanding how we can nurture growth towards union with God. Centuries earlier in England, Julian of Norwich (1342-1420) wrote the Revelations of Divine Love, a classic of Middle English literature that vividly describes the experience of ongoing conversion as oneing. In the short text, written shortly after a visionary experience in prayer in 1373, and the more theological long text, composed after fifteen years reflection of the meaning of the showings or visions, Julian describes how we are gifted in origin in the love of the Trinity, and immersed and enfolded in love throughout our lives, until we return to the Trinity in graced fulfilment. The revelations tell of the journey of human beings from God to God, a journey of deeper and deeper conversion. Julian’s colourful, visual descriptions of the experience of divine love, give us a mystical way of expressing the theological and spiritual dimensions of the process of conversion and assist us in recognizing our own personal invitation to become one with God. The Spaniard, Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) is also deeply concerned about conversion. Influenced by a profound conversion experience in 1521, that occurred as he recovered from a severe leg wound suffered at war, and a visionary experience at La Storta, in 1537 he developed the Spiritual Exercises that blend his personal mysticism with pastoral experience.6 In the concise genre of a rule with notes, Ignatius provides a reliable guide for a director, who assists a directee to seek and identify God’s will and desire for his or her life. The exercises give a series of four weeks of meditation and contemplation on Christ’s life, death and resurrection, that invite the exercitant to live the paschal mystery. This paschal pattern of the exercises draws the pray-er to conversion of mind, body, soul and heart. In the words of Avery Dulles, the See Harvey D. Egan, in The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, 522-529.

–  –  –

Exercises “have been the instrument of countless conversions.”7 They are a manual of conversion par excellence.

Though Lonergan, Julian and Ignatius write in a very different genre, time and culture, they each have a classic perception of the experience of conversion. They complement each other and create rich and inclusive insights for those who seek conversion today.


Lonergan’s way of conversion describes the experience of de-centering that enables us to re-centre in our centre that is God. He presents conversion as a complex process of transformation involving various judgments, decisions and actions that move us from an established horizon, usually formed through the desires and addictions of the false self, into a new horizon of knowing, valuing and acting, informed by our true self that has its ground in the being of God.8 In Method in Theology, Lonergan distinguishes three phases in this process of transformation - intellectual, moral and religious conversion - that create a dialectic. Other theologians expand this triad to include affective, socio-political9 and somatic conversion.10 In summary, intellectual conversion clarifies the horizon of our knowing. It questions and eliminates deeply held, distorted myths about reality, to enable divine wisdom to be the only source of our knowing. Moral conversion shifts our criteria for decision making from the satisfaction of the self as the basis of choice, to the discovery and pursuit of truth and value. Religious conversion integrates the history of our conversions and establishes us firmly in our centre in God. Inclusive of intellectual and moral conversion, it frees us to surrender all so that we may love in a way that engenders

self-transcendence. In the words of Lonergan the capacity for religious conversion:

becomes an actuality when one falls in love. Then one’s being becomes being in love.

Such being in love has its antecedents, its causes, its conditions, its occasions. But once it has blossomed forth and as long as it lasts it takes over. It is the first principle. From it flow one’s desires and fears, one’s joys and sorrows, one’s discernment of values, one’s decisions and deeds.…11 Once we have fallen in love, love takes over. Love becomes the centre of being, the source of our decisions, the goal of our longing. When we fall in love with God, the illusionary, superficial grounds of our being, created through our fearful responses to pain, gradually, piece by piece fall away. This makes space for God to be the only ground of our being, the only source and informing principle. The experience of falling draws us back to our origin in God, to our original union, to the centre of our being where God makes a home in us and we have a home in God. Now from the ground of being, one in the being of God, our desires Avery Dulles, “Introduction,” The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: Based on the Studies of the Language of the Autograph, trans. Louis J. Puhl, Vintage Spiritual Classics (New York: Vintage Books, 2000), xviii.

Lonergan refers to this as a transcendental method which involves being attentive, being intelligent, being reasonable and being responsible: Method in Theology,

See Donald L. Gelpi, The Conversion Experience: A Reflective Process for RCIA Participants and Others (New York: Paulist Press, 1998).

See Len Sperry. Transforming Self and Community: Revisioning Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Direction (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002). These conversions create an important holistic understanding of conversion, but because the focus of this paper is on religious conversion I will stay with Lonergan’s original distinctions.

Lonergan, Method in Theology,

AEJT 3 (August 2004) Hide / Insights from Revelations and Contemplation and fears, our joys and sorrows, our discernment and value, our decisions and deeds have their source in God who is love. We become beings in love.

The experience of becoming beings in love is holy. It is filled with awe. Lonergan

describes the mysterious nature of the experience:

Because the dynamic state is conscious without being known, it is an experience of mystery. Because it is being in love, the mystery is not merely attractive but fascinating;

to it one belongs; by it one is possessed. Because it is unmeasured love the mystery evokes awe. Of itself then in as much as it is conscious without being known, the gift of God’s love is an experience of the holy, of Rudolf Otto’s mysterium fascinans et tremendum. It is what Paul Tillich named being grasped by ultimate concern. It corresponds to Ignatius of Loyola’s consolation that has no previous cause….12 This sense of being in love, of belonging to God and being possessed by God, experienced consciously without being fully known, is experienced in contemplation. It is what the mystics describe as transforming union or oneing. It is a movement into deeper and deeper identification with God who is love, or oneing in God. It is the same experience Ignatius cultivates through the Spiritual Exercises. Lonergan elucidates: When someone transcendent is my beloved, he is in my heart, real to me from within me.13 The sense of being possessed by love is experienced deep within. It is real. This presence of the beloved in the human heart inciting our love has an authenticity that can never be doubted.

This being in love is a gift that is ours because God is love… and … Love has been perfected among us (1 John 4:16b-17b). It is mystery, mysterium fascinans et tremendum, beyond the limitations of our imagining. It wounds us and incites us to long for union with

the beloved. William Johnston’s words capture the wonder of the experience:

It is existential love at the level of being. It is love of the finite for the infinite, love of the limited for the unlimited, love of the contingent for the necessary, love of the creature for the creator. This is a spiritual passion that consumes one’s whole person. It is the wound of separate being longing for completion, a wound that will only be healed when one’s being is united with God who is love.14 Religious conversion creates in us an unquenchable passion that consumes our whole being. It initiates an insatiable desire to be true to our origins, to fulfil God’s desire for us to be one. It enflames finite love to seek the infinite, limited conditional love to love unconditionally, dependent love to become free. It creates a wound that can never be healed until we are one with God, until we love with the gift of God’s own love.

Let us now see how this experience of existential love at the level of being, that draws us to seek union with God, is an experience of oneing.


If we consider conversion to be growth towards self-transcendence, towards becoming beings in love without restrictions, it can be helpful to envisage conversion as a dynamic of oneing. The theology of Julian of Norwich gives an example where conversion is understood as the experience of oneing, of becoming one with God.15 In Julian’s theology, Method in Theology, Method in Theology, William Johnston, Mystical Theology: The Science of Love (New York: Orbis Books, 2000), 185.

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