Ruth Burrows and Carmelite mystical prayer

OK, so here’s a few things about Ruth Burrow’s views on mystical prayer in general and St Teresa’s Mansions in particular. I’m not at all wanting to sound like I am some sort of authority on these matters! I hope that when I said in the “Dark Night” thread that I’d rather try and live these things than write about them that it didn’t sound like I was some sort of great practitioner of prayer :bigyikes:

The sad truth is that I am anything **but, **and that is why I’m sort of ashamed to get involved in these discussions!

This thread will be of very limited interest, probably!

Ruth Burrows has written several books. Her autobiography is “Before the Living God”, and she wrote in general about mystical prayer in “Guidelines for Mystical Prayer” and about the St Teresa’s Mansions in “Interior Castle Explored” (which might have a different title in the US)

She herself is an English Carmelite - for many years the prioress of Quidenham Carmel.

She is a bit controversial in Carmelite circles: this is not the place to analyse in depth why, but some think she was critical of St Teresa. Not so, IMHO, she just tries to explain why most people don’t experience the same phenomena, EVEN IF (and this is an important point) they genuinely attain some degree of mystical prayer.

One of her most notable theories (and I personally found this very helpful) was about what she terms “light on” and “light off” experiences of mystical prayer. It arose from the fact that neither she nor the vast majority of the nuns in her Carmel (or indeed any Carmel) could relate to the phenomena that accompanied St Teresa’s prayer and which she writes about as if they were the actual marks or characteristics of the various stages. A very very few (notably St Teresa herself!) are “light on” types, where there are accompanying phenomena that can be seen; but “light off” is the normal mode. Of course she goes into the fact that you have to be sure that the visible manifestations are an indication of an authentic grace (“by their fruits you will know them” - and , she says “the fruits of genuine mystical contemplation are of a very special quality indeed" Such things as raptures and ecstacy can of course be quite natural phenomena; self-induced, products of mental imbalance, suggestion, etc.etc.

In her book “Guidelines for Mystical Prayer” she describes two nuns: a “light on” and a “light off” one, and both reached transforming union (apparently), so it is quite interesting to see how differently the same graces manifested themselves.St Therese of Lisieux was of the latter (and Ruth B. would say, normal) category.

So – people can easily confuse what St Teresa FELT and EXPERIENCED with the state of prayer she is describing. The best “clarifier” of all this is St John of the Cross, who though also a “light on” type, wrote at length on how incidental any such manifestations are, and not to be given undue importance.

What RB says is well expressed and very readable, and I do recommend both these books.

She also had a unique way of describing the purgative, illuminative and unitive states as three separate islands in the “Guidelines” book – also helpful.

If anyone wants to know more, I’ll try and oblige! This is maybe more than enough already!:o :confused: :ehh:

Dear AteNumquam,

Thank you so much for beginning this thread and sharing your views on Ruth Burrows. I should read the books before giving much of an opinion. With what you shared here, though, I can quickly see how persons might be on different pages of thought with respect to St. Teresa‘s mansions.

*>>> *IMHO, she just tries to explain why most people don’t experience the same phenomena, EVEN IF (and this is an important point) they genuinely attain some degree of mystical prayer.

Leaving aside the accompanying mystical “phenomena” which is incidental to sanctity, as we both believe, I found Teresa to be especially helpful describing the gradual infusion of prayer that is the true identifier of each stage in spiritual growth. I have to admit that it took awhile, because of language differences and terminology - but God is very faithful if we persist, and I was able to correlate some of my experience with what she wrote. There could be problems of assimilating her descriptions, if the person believes that the phenomena is the identifier, rather than the mystical prayer experience itself. I hear you!

Of course she goes into the fact that you have to be sure that the visible manifestations are an indication of an authentic grace (“by their fruits you will know them”) – and , she says “*the fruits of genuine mystical contemplation are of a very special quality indeed." *Such things as raptures and ecstacy can of course be quite natural phenomena; self-induced, products of mental imbalance, suggestion, etc.etc.

Agreed, and this also is what I thought was helpful from St. Teresa - that she always described the authentic effects versus the bogus or demonic activity. Her chapter describing locutions was one that comes to mind, and if we read it side by side with St. John, they are a very luminous guide to truth.

So – people can easily confuse what St Teresa FELT and EXPERIENCED with the state of prayer she is describing. The best “clarifier” of all this is St John of the Cross, who though also a “light on” type, wrote at length on how incidental any such manifestations are, and not to be given undue importance.

{For the reader’s benefit, she refers to what St. John covered in the Ascent of Mt. Carmel.)

The only exception I would note, AteNumquam, is St. John’s instruction that we hold on to and recall those apprehensions that move the spirit to love.

Book III, Chapter 13:6, “Only for the sake of moving the spirit to love should the soul at times recall the images and apprehensions which produced love. Though the effect produced by the remembrance of this communication is not as strong as at the time the communication was received, yet, when the communication is recalled, there is a renewal of love and an elevation of the mind to God. This is especially true when the soul remembers some figures, images, or supernatural feelings. These are usually so imprinted on it that they last a long time; some are never erased from the soul.

These apprehensions produce, almost as often as remembered, divine effects of love, sweetness, light, etc. — sometimes in a greater degree, sometimes in a lesser — because God impressed them for this reason. This is consequently a great grace, for the person upon whom God bestows it, possesses within himself a mine of blessings.

It is easy, is it not, to confuse this, as well? One could assume, after reading the whole of his teaching, that all apprehensions of whatever kind should be obliterated from one’s thought and not be given undue importance. So the poor soul would be fighting against a gift and grace that God intended for his/her benefit in spiritual growth.

Therefore, discernment is so extremely necessary when we study on our own, or read opinions of others who have not properly understood our Saints, and give wrong direction. For that reason, I tend to avoid many authors who interpret their writings. Yet, it may be true that God is leading me to read these books for the benefit of myself or others, so I will surely consider this further.

Again, you have been very kind to take time from your busy schedule to share this all of this with us, and I am really touched by your thoughtfulness.

May God bless you,
Carole

Hi ATeNumquam!

Thank you for starting this thread! There’s so much here in these first 2 posts to try and absorb in the few brief moments I have so I’ll have to come back and read latter.

But please don’t feel “ashamed” to post your thoughts. I know where you are coming from on your natural inclination toward restraint in these matters but I think you have a lot to offer :slight_smile:

Hi Atenumquam About the limited numbers – in one of Fr Thomas Dubay’s books, he mentions that it is possible to go all the way through seminary and yet still not be familiar with the contemplative prayer tradition. So it’s not surprising that among the lay public, knowledge and information is even scarcer. Still, you’ve been on these forums longer than I have, and you know that there are a few good and helpful people around who, like myself, will read your post with great interest.

Fr Thomas Keating does mention something similar to the lights on lights off distinction in one of his books. He says that some of the lights on phenomena occur only in people who are in poor physical condition. St Teresa, as you know, suffered from poor health for much of her adult life, and her condition can only have been weakened by repeated and prolonged fasting.

I do wonder if my own interest will ever progress beyond reading books and a weekly holy hour. The lay carmelites ask for a minimum of half an hour every day of contemplative prayer, in addition to MP/EP/NP. For the priests and brothers and sisters it’s an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, every day. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the time to take this as seriously as it deserves to be taken.

Hi ATeNumquam -

I haven’t read anything by Ruth Burrows so obviously I can’t comment on her but you do bring up some interesting points. I’ve often noticed that people tend to have their Carmelite “favorites.” I wonder if this has to do with how each person sees their own prayer life if relation to the great wealth of Carmelite writings. I’ve never thought about it in a “light on” or “light off” kind of way - but maybe there’s something to that.

Your comments about St. Therese piqued my interest a bit as I’ve always had some difficulty “relating” to her. It’s funny, though, because my first thought about this turned to Elizabeth of the Trinity.

One the surface Therese and Elizabeth had so many similarites - living in France within just a few short years of each other, dying very young of terrible illnesses, having a VERY strong sense of their posthumos missions toward mankind. But their writings seem so very different to me. With Elizabeth you get soaring mystical language that, to me, rivals St. John (light on?). I don’t get that same sense with Therese (light off?). But I’ve come to see how these two are a great compliment to each other . . . almost like they are opposite sides of the same coin. What binds them together is a single word . . . LOVE . . . even though they expressed themselves in very different ways.

The ironic thing to me, though, from the “light on/light off” point of view is that Elizabeth considered Therese one of her greatest influences. This is probably a very poor choice of words but it seems like she almost idolized Therese much like how a young sister looks up to her older sister.

So perhaps there really is a “light on” aspect to Therese afterall. I wonder if it all comes down to what God intended for each of these individuals to write . . . for our benefit. I don’t get the sense that Therese was meant to write about mystical states and stages . . . but that doesn’t necessarily mean she didn’t live it the way St. Teresa and St. John describe. Or does it??

This truely fascinates me . . .

Hi Joysong -

How very providential for me! I just happened to be reading last night the very same passage from the Ascent that you quote and I was struggling a bit with the very point you raise!

Nice to see you again, Buzzcut,

[font=Verdana]Fr Thomas Keating does mention something similar to the lights on lights off distinction in one of his books. He says that some of the “lights on” phenomena occur only in people who are in poor physical condition. St Teresa, as you know, suffered from poor health for much of her adult life, and her condition can only have been weakened by repeated and prolonged fasting.

[/font]

Here is another example of a spiritual author interpreting, or maybe grosssly misinterpreting, the experiences of the saints.

Anyone reading this, if what you say is verbatim, would wrongly conclude that the phenomena St. Teresa wrote about for our direction, is not to be taken as authentic, since she suffered from poor health. :eek:

Oh God help us! My dander is aroused already. That may be true of some in that condition, and she wrote cautions about it, especially to prioresses of her convents, but I cannot believe it of St. Teresa, for many reasons too long to explore here.

Please take it with a grain of salt, Buzzcut, and do not believe everything you see in these books. :slight_smile:

[quote=Joysong]Please take it with a grain of salt, Buzzcut, and do not believe everything you see in these books. :slight_smile:
[/quote]

:rotfl:

Okay, okay, still ROTFL, but you see my problem … with no knowledge of my own, I have to depend on what other people tell me. As to whether they are right or wrong, I have no way of telling. Rather than relying on my memory, here’s the verbatim quote. Thomas Keating, Open mind, open heart, Continuum 2003, pp. 103-104:

Physical ecstasy is a weakness of the body. When the senses are not ready to endure the intensity of God’s communications, they just give way and one is rapt out of the body. Mature mystics who have passed through that stage rarely have bodily ecstasies.

Maybe wrong. Maybe right. Maybe partially wrong, partially right.

But then just to show you I’m not an entirely uncritical reader :smiley: what about II Corinthians 12:1-4 which is generally taken to be St Paul talking about himself?

I must boast; there is nothing to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows-- and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

Bless your heart, Buzzcut!
How much you remind me of the eunuch in Acts 8:31, “How can I understand this unless someone explains it to me?” So the Lord sent Philip to open his mind and heart. You are such an intense soul, eagerly seeking truth, and I admire your vast knowledge that is often surfacing in your posts. God be praised!

Back to ecstasies. Using Keating’s word above, “physical” ecstasy is suggestive that the body is compensating for an abundant, overwhelming incapacity to receive certain touches of joy or inebriation, so it enters another state of consciousness. [Keating is also used the word “senses” which also suggests the bodily realm, not the spiritual.] In a lesser manner, one may experience profusions of joy that issues into softly flowing tears, because the heart is so full that it erupts into this bodily release. Not having read Keating’s book, I don’t know if he was writing about this natural effect in the body, or if he meant to also include the spirit.

I take exception, though, when God sends the experience solely in the spirit. It is absolutely true that when God enters the spirit in the “prayer of union,” which has also been called “simple ecstasy,” He suspends all of the faculties, and the person is not aware of anything external or internal but God Himself. They don’t swoon, fall, or go into an unconscious state, as some might mentally picture whenever they come across this word. They are utterly one with God, for ever so brief a moment, unable to think, reason, or understand.

Think hard on this, Buzzcut - all the faculties, which include the understanding, imagination, reason, memory, are completely inert, unable to work. It is a grace granted to the spirit, but the body shares also in the profound inebriation. It is a form of contemplation that usually follows after lesser degrees, wherein all the faculties are not suspended. These are the graces about which I wrote a few posts ago, that St. John says are good to recall, for they have the ability to renew love to a great degree; and being spiritual, they are not so capable of causing us to stray, as might be the case if we focused on a vision or other extraordinary phenomena.

You may want to read Chapter VII:12 of Interior Castle, where St. Teresa confirms that there are no longer any raptures experienced or flights of the spirit.

“They happen very rarely and almost never in public as they very often did before. Now the reason could be that in this dwelling place, either the soul has found its repose, or has seen so much that nothing frightens it, or that it doesn’t feel that solitude it did before, since it enjoys such company. In sum, Sisters, I don’t know what the cause may be. For when the Lord begins to show what there is in this dwelling place and to bring the soul there, this great weakness is taken away.”

So she uses the word “weakness” which Keating may have understood in his own way, but who knows what she meant thereby? It really does not mean that St. Teresa lost her poor health, and therefore the phenomena stopped. No, for her health was as poor as ever and lasted until her death. I believe it is a spiritual weakness that God gradually accommodates the soul to receive His touches in stages, as St. John wrote somewhere (I can’t remember the chapter).

[font=Verdana]But then just to show you I’m not an entirely uncritical reader http://forum.catholic.com/images/smilies/biggrin.gif what about II Corinthians 12:1-4 which is generally taken to be St Paul talking about himself?

[font=Verdana]I must boast; there is nothing to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows-- and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.[/font]

[/font]You are correct that it is St. Paul, but I’m not sure what you are asking. Since he had not physically died, it is easy to wonder whether or not one was in the body when the transport, i.e., flight of the spirit occurred, for that is it’s nature. One just doesn’t know.

I suppose this will give you enough to mull over for awhile, http://forum.catholic.com/images/smilies/objects/twocents.gif but if there are still things that puzzle you, maybe we can discuss it further.

May God enlighten your understanding to know His ways.

Carole

Hi Joysong thank you for your warm-spirited and thoughtful reply. Any excuse to read St Teresa is a good excuse as far I’m concerned. You are right, IC 7.3.12 is very relevant here. It even ties in with why I mentioned St Paul. This is because St Teresa’s reference to “those transports and that flight of the spirit” seem to describe the same phenomenon as St Paul experienced. And no one has suggested that St Paul was physically weak, certainly not 14 years before he wrote II Corinthians. I introduced it to suggest that Fr Keating’s characterization of physical ecstasy as necessarily being the result of weakness was too broad a generalization. But then perhaps St Paul’s experience was a spiritual ecstasy rather than a physical one.

Ruth Burrows’ and ATeNumquam’s experiences, being contemporary, seem to me to be very valuable here.

Hi ATenumquam -

I was wondering if you could explain a bit how Ruth Burrows goes about explaining the light on/light off analogy. Does she look at the writings of an individual to make some sort of determination as to whether they must have experienced prayer in the way Teresa describes? Does it have to do with how they did or did not embrace the mystical in their writings?

For example, can I conclude that someone like Elizabeth of the Trinity who spoke in a very elavated, unitive way must have experienced prayer by the classic Teresian description - so she’s considered “light on?” Therese, on the other hand, didn’t speak that way in her writings - or at least to the same degree - so therefore her experience must have been different? I don’t know if the way I’m thinking about this is anywhere near what Ruth Burrows intends.

For everyday individuals, does a tendancy toward the contemplative translate to light on and those practicing meditation equate to light off? If so, doesn’t this tie right back to the Teresian mansions anyway? Or can a contemplative be light off? If so, is it then simply the degree to which “manifistations” do or do not occur during prayer that is the determination for light on/light off?

Sorry, questions galore! :slight_smile: But I do wonder if this concept helps explain why people are naturally drawn to different Carmelite writers.

It IS fascinating, DBT!!

When I was in Carmel, I never could “take to” Elizabeth of the Trinity - I found her too effusive and flowery, but that was very largely my difficulty with the sort of language used in her circles at the time, her personality, her youth, etc and no way a lack of belief in, or putting-down, of her holiness. She is still someone I don’t read!
She probably was a “light on” type - Ruth B. says it’s often true for those whose role it is to enlighten others by their writings.
I also agree with you in not thinking Therese’s role was to write about mystical states -she had an altogether different mission as we all now know.
But Carmelite commentators on Therese have proved conclusively enough for me that she was inded a mystic and reached transforming union, though there is no mention, really, of the sort of manifest phenomena we read about from some saints. RB also demonstrates this in St Therese and classes her as a “light off” which, insofar as I accept this terminology, I agree with.

No doubt this thread will continue!

[quote=ATeNumquam]It IS fascinating, DBT!!
When I was in Carmel, I never could “take to” Elizabeth of the Trinity - I found her too effusive and flowery, but that was very largely my difficulty with the sort of language used in her circles at the time, her personality, her youth, etc and no way a lack of belief in, or putting-down, of her holiness. She is still someone I don’t read!
[/quote]

And I take to her like a magnet! Yikes, I’m a 43 year old man - I wonder what that says about me :smiley:

She probably was a “light on” type - Ruth B. says it’s often true for those whose role it is to enlighten others by their writings.

Ok, I think I get it a little.

But Carmelite commentators on Therese have proved conclusively enough for me that she was inded a mystic and reached transforming union, though there is no mention, really, of the sort of manifest phenomena we read about from some saints. RB also demonstrates this in St Therese and classes her as a “light off” which, insofar as I accept this terminology, I agree with.

So she’s a mystic . . . but light off. Is this simply because she didn’t write about her prayer experiences the way other Carmelites did? Also, why does Ruth Burrows consider Therese the “normal” way? And, from your experience, why is it you feel most Carmelite nuns relate more to Therese than Teresa - Or am I misunderstanding you on that?

Thank you so much for you time on all of this :thumbsup:

[quote=DBT]And I take to her like a magnet! Yikes, I’m a 43 year old man - I wonder what that says about me :smiley:

Ok, I think I get it a little.

So she’s a mystic . . . but light off. Is this simply because she didn’t write about her prayer experiences the way other Carmelites did? Also, why does Ruth Burrows consider Therese the “normal” way? And, from your experience, why is it you feel most Carmelite nuns relate more to Therese than Teresa - Or am I misunderstanding you on that?

Thank you so much for you time on all of this :thumbsup:
[/quote]

Heck, I’m at work, and shouldn’t be posting at all!!! It just goes to show what a poor, immoral specimen I am (no good fruit on this tree:nope: :frowning: !!). Can’t resist the temptation, however, so I’ll have to make up the time.
Why should you NOT like Elizabeth of the Trinity?? It says nothing about a 43 year old male!:slight_smile: It’s purely a matter of taste and temperament. I don’t like effusive language, that’s all, because I am a dried up, bloodless individual, I guess - also, it makes me feel soooooo inferior when people are obviously in love with God (but that’s not envy - I rejoice for them!!)
I will try and explain RB’s concept of “light on” “light off” better, if I can! I have no books here to quote from, so this is off the top of my head.
Most people who genuinely progress into the illuminative way (4th-5th Mansion) - and I have no idea how many would, do sort of recognise themselves in the writings of St Teresa & St John of the +, but they think, well, how can I have made this progress when I don’t experience such things as raptures and ecstasies which St Teresa SEEMS to say are part and parcel of those stages? But in fact, most people DON’T experience them, even if they are at that stage.
I guess RB has in mind being in a room with the light on, or off. If the light is on you know where you are because you can see things around you. If the light is off, it’s a lot harder to know where you are. For most of us, the light in the room is off. “Light on” mystics (I mean here even the early-stage ones!) can see specific ACCOMPANYING manifestations of the inner graces such as St Teresa writes of and can say “Yep! I know where I am!” Why some should have this reassurance and others not, God alone knows.

Because God is so utterly other than we are, and when we get to the early stages (and beyond) of truly contemplative prayer, He is “operating” on us in a way that our normal senses can’t relate to, and this is darkness for us. It’s better for us that it should be so, as St John says in many places and ways. No danger of spiritual pride, for one thing (though this is well and truly beaten out of us if we pass through the passive night of sense).
St Therese, as far as we know, didn’t experience raptures, though she does describe a certain grace she received that comentators liken to, maybe, the “transverberation” of her heart that St Teresa describes (see Bernini’s famous statue! - it is a special feast day in Carmel, actually, “The Transverberation” !!)
I think RB describes the light on or off thing better than I can do, if you want to read about it. It’s just a theory, I guess!
Maybe I can quote her when I’m at home and have her books on hand.
Doubtless Joysong can write more eloquently about all this than I can! Go to it, Carole!:slight_smile:

Alison

Hi Alison -

You did absolutely wonderful in your explanation so please don’t feel self concious about it . . . you’re doing great! Sorry, though, from keeping you from your work! I know exactly what you’re saying as I’m guilty of that temptation myself!

And by the way, my comments about Elizabeth of the Trinity were really just a little joke at my own expense . . . you know a man being drawn to the whole “flowery” language kind of thing. Maybe it didn’t translate very well :slight_smile:

Again, your explanations make perfect sense to me and, through your help, I think I now have a pretty good handle on RB and what I gather her take on St. Teresa is.

Thank you so much.
Dave.

And by the way . . . I think there is plenty of good fruit on your tree :thumbsup:

[quote=DBT]Hi Alison -

And by the way, my comments about Elizabeth of the Trinity were really just a little joke at my own expense . . . you know a man being drawn to the whole “flowery” language kind of thing. Maybe it didn’t translate very well :slight_smile:

[/quote]

Trouble with this posting business is that we can’t see each others’ expressions! I DID realise you were making a joke at your own expense and I was grinning at you! :smiley: But I felt that there might be an underlying feeling of, I dunno, embarrrassment?? on your part, so I thought I should say it was OK to like her!

You are quite insightful :smiley:

Keep up the good work my friend!

Dave

[quote=DBT]Hi ATenumquam -

For everyday individuals, does a tendancy toward the contemplative translate to light on and those practicing meditation equate to light off? If so, doesn’t this tie right back to the Teresian mansions anyway? Or can a contemplative be light off? If so, is it then simply the degree to which “manifistations” do or do not occur during prayer that is the determination for light on/light off?

Sorry, questions galore! :slight_smile: But I do wonder if this concept helps explain why people are naturally drawn to different Carmelite writers.
[/quote]

I didn’t really answer this earlier. (Correct that to “try” to answer:eek: - I feel a bit out of my depth!)

I hope it was clear that the light on/off business is only about those who have passed from meditation being their usual mode of prayer into the early and subsequent stages of contemplative prayer. It’s only contemplatives who are light on/off in Ruth Burrows’ use of the term.
People drawn to contemplation are people of all temperaments and types -they may not have any attraction to St Teresa’s experiences at all, and shouldn’t covet them, for sure!
IF God calls them to it (and one can only prepare oneself by, among other things, practising the prayer of recollection that St Teresa describes maybe in the 3rd Mansion, or early 4th?? - [can’t look it up] - because it is a GIFT), he will deprive them for a time (maybe years and years) of the sort of affective and consoling prayer they had earlier on. They will feel lost and confused, yet somehow drawn to just be with God in darkness, where maybe only in retrospect - after their time of prayer - will they know somehow that something has been going on.
Now, I’m digressing.
Using the light on/off terminology differently from RB’s intention (which is purely about contemplative experience), you could say that God turns off the light for most people when they embark upon contemplative prayer! Meditative/earlier stage prayer tends to be full of lights, sweetness, consolation, maybe tears, etc etc.
Hope this is not getting confusing.:confused:

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