(Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon)
(1648 - 1717)

[In this month's 'Gospel Commentary' page, I quoted Mde Guyon for February 9. She and Bishop Fénelon were the principal figures in a movement of contemplative prayer in 17th-century France. Tragically for Christian spirituality this movement was condemned by Bishop Bossuet (who had no understanding of it) and by Rome (for purely political reasons). To people who had no experience of contemplative prayer, it seemed to be advocating pure passivity. The following paragraphs make clear that Mde Guyon's teaching was more subtle and more experiential than this. She has much to teach us today. - Donagh O'Shea]


      Some persons, when they hear of the prayer of silence, falsely imagine that the soul remains stupid, dead and inactive. But it is certainly active - more nobly and more extensively so than it has ever been before; for God Himself is the mover, and the soul now acts by the power of His Spirit…. When St Paul speaks of our being "led by the Spirit of God," he does not mean that we should cease from action; but that we should act through the internal agency of the Spirit's grace.
    [The act of contemplation], though an action, is yet so noble, so peaceful, so full of tranquillity, so natural and spontaneous, that it appears to the soul as if it did not act at all…. When a wheel rolls slowly we can easily distinguish its parts; but when its motion is rapid we can distinguish nothing. So the soul, which rests in God, has an activity exceedingly noble and elevated, yet altogether peaceful: and the more peaceful it is, the swifter is its course; because it is proportionately given up to that Spirit by which it is moved and directed. This attracting spirit is none other than God Himself, who, in drawing us, causes us to run to Him. How well did the spouse understand this when she said, "Draw me, and we will run after you" (Song of Songs 1:4). Draw me to You, O my Divine centre, by the secret springs of my existence, and all my senses and faculties will follow your powerful magnetism…!
    This action of the soul is attended with the utmost tranquillity. When the soul acts of its own accord, the act is forced and constrained; and, therefore one can easily perceive and distinguish it: but when it acts under the influence of the Spirit of Grace, its action is so free, so easy, and so natural, that it almost seems as if it did not act at all: "He brought me forth into freedom, he saved me because he loved me" (Psalm 17:20)….
    Instead then of promoting idleness, we promote the highest activity by teaching a total dependence on the Spirit of God as our moving principle; for it is "in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). This meek dependence on the Spirit of God is indispensably necessary to reinstate the soul in its original unity and simplicity, that it may thereby attain the purpose of its creation.  


In their many different idioms the classical spiritual writers have attempted to throw light on the eternal question of union with God. 
Every month we give you a brief passage from a spiritual classic.