This week we are going to examine the 6th and 7th grades of prayer as developed by St. Teresa of Avila. Hopefully, you’ve been able to reap some fruit in your prayer life and have increased your desire for intimacy with God. As we go further along in this journey of exploration, remember to not be discouraged by how out of reach some of this may seem. Instead, approach the possibilities with a sense of wonder and awe. God is so good and has made amazing things available to each of us if we continue to desire them and seek Him out in all things.
6th Grade of Prayer – Prayer of Quiet
The concise definition of the Prayer of Quiet is: “An awareness of God’s infused presence captivates the will and fills the soul and body with a burning delight, peace, and quiet.”
Lucky for most of us, this is one of the higher grades of prayer that is most particularly available to the laity. The Holy Spirit enters into the individual and captivates the will. So, the lay have the opportunity to experience this infused presence of God while carrying out the duties of their particular vocations. For example, you might experience the Prayer of Quiet while doing the dishes. Your hands – or entire body – are completely abandoned to the will of God which is in the vocation to which he has called you. Your work is His work and with that comes profound humility. As your will is so conformed to His will in your work, you will experience a tremendous peace and great consolation in whatever it is you are doing. Your work completely ceases to be a chore, a source of pride for you, or a double-edged sword. Yes, most of us can say we perform certain actions out of love, but how many of us can say we do them only out of love? That takes some serious detachment from self and the world. Your work simply becomes a pure and humble act of love because it is what God wills. Since this form of prayer is primarily a taking over of the will by God, the intellect remains active in other things. Here the individual must engage the intellect to contemplate God and His mysteries. Since the consolation and delight in this grade of prayer is so intense, it is common for the individual to want to stop moving, not speak, and to remain motionless in order for the experience to not end. It is important to trust Him and be thankful for these beautifully infused moments with Him whenever they come and for however long they last.
7th Grade of Prayer – Prayer of Simple Union
The concise definition of the Prayer of Simple Union is: “All internal faculties – will, intellect, imagination, memories – are captivated and occupied with God. The only things not captivated in this stage are the bodily senses.”
There are three indicators of a soul being in a state of simple union with God. The first is that there is an absence of distraction. The memory and imagination have been captivated by God and are therefore so absorbed by Him there is no room for anything else. Anything could be going on around outside the individual, but he or she would not be aware. The second indicator is that the soul would have complete certitude of its union with God. No doubts or questions would exist whatsoever. The third indicator of this level of prayer is that there is a complete absence of any weariness or tedium. In other words, the soul will be completely overwhelmed by the presence of God within it, but it will not be a wearisome experience.
Our great saints have explained other sensations associated with this grade of prayer. The soul might experience what can be called “mystical touches” which are the sensation of the supernatural touching the soul. Remember the bodily senses are still intact during this grade, so this is a very real sensation. The soul might experience “flights of the Spirit” which occur when the soul is overwhelmed with an all-consuming love of Christ and a mystical hunger and yearning for Him. Finally, a soul might experience what has been described as “fiery darts of love.” These are mystical touches by God onto a soul that leave the heart completely enflamed by God’s love. This experience could be one of delight, but could also be one of suffering and affliction in the soul. If suffering and affliction do present themselves, it is because the soul is so in tune with God’s desire to love Him with its whole being that it becomes so aware of its sinfulness and becomes full of sorrow for ever rejecting Him or His will. A mystical dart can also be a mystical sharing in the suffering of Jesus Christ. To have a share in that suffering will be painful, but it remains a great privilege. He allows the soul to partake in His suffering in order to purify that soul, or for the sake of others.
Again, acknowledging that we cannot obtain the 6th and 7th grades of prayer for ourselves, we must look at what we can do to increase our union and intimacy with God. Take some time to study our great saints and read their experiences in their own words. There are countless examples of holy men and women in our Tradition who have achieved great union with God and with whom we can identify and emulate. What I particularly love about this exercise is that it reveals there is not just one way to do this. For as many individual saints there are, there are an equal number of spiritual ways to achieve intimacy with God. Each individual is called specifically by his or her own gifts and charisms. So long as he or she directs them toward the service and love of God according to His will, the individual can conform more and more deeply to God. Ask God to reveal to you the steps you can take to conform your will to His thereby increasing your love and desire for Him. As always, remember to go back and continue to practice the first four grades of prayer so that you can do your part to seek Him out and grow in intimacy with Him.
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