It is evident that the advent of Christ in the life of a body of believers, while moving, exalting and transforming in its intensity, is seldom retained for long. The prince of this world seems to have the final word, and the darkness encompasses the light once more almost to the point of eclipsing it. But the light shines on, albeit often in tiny sparks amid the all pervading gloom, testifying to the presence of God in the soul of the individual believer which will not allow itself to be extinguished despite the threat of immediate annihilation. The spirit of mankind is indeed willing, but the flesh, by which we are identified with the world, weighs us down, for we are not to attain spiritual proficiency at the cost of our membership of the incarnate order. A spirituality that lifts us irrevocably above the affairs of the world around us would provide an escape from personal responsibility. It would constitute treason against the material order in which we gain experience and develop mastery. It would find its end in a failure to grow into full humanity, a humanity of divine proportions as evidenced in the life of Christ. Those who have been wonderfully illuminated by the light of the Word constitute the company of saints who are our inspiration and also an unfailing means of communication with the Holy Spirit.
Those saints of humanity are by no means confined to the visible Christian Church. Many lived centuries before the birth of Christ; we need only to think of the amazing spiritual literature of China and India to see how intensely the ardent human soul was infused with the power of God. At the same time the spiritual evolution of the children of Israel from Moses through to the prophets and sages testifies to the ongoing illumination of the Word lifting up an entire community to levels of spiritual understanding that aspire to a knowledge of God himself. Resisting the exhaustive pressure of materialistic endeavour there breathes the insistent yearning of the soul to a knowledge of reality that moves beyond the attraction of mundane things and will be content with nothing less than the vision of God. As St Augustine learned after a life of intellectual brilliance and sensual profligacy, God has made us for himself alone, and our souls know no rest until they find true rest in him. Tertullian said that the soul was naturally Christian; this in fact is a corollary of the statement in Genesis 1: 26-27 that God made man in his own image. It is our privilege to know God directly in mystical union; it is also our splendid enterprise to probe the minutest details of the created order in scientific investigation. But for this union of love and research into truth to be firmly based, the personality has first to be disembarrassed of all selfish aims: it has above all to be cleansed of deceit and emptied of lust. Only then are we so divested of self that the soul is ready to receive the Holy Spirit, as a clean chalice contains the eucharistic wine. Then also can we participate in the great work of knowing God's will and satisfying its demands.
The incarnation of the Word, prefigured so splendidly in the lives of the saints of antiquity, finds its full expression in the life of Christ, who not only gives the authoritative teaching but also initiates the great work of reconciliation in respect of the world and God. By his life he reconciles the sinner to God's grace, for he identifies himself categorically with sin on the cross. Furthermore, that identification is a presage of transfiguration of sin to love, of ashes to beauty. He has a cleansing effect on the personality of everyone who meets him, and the healing work continues unabated when he ascends to heaven and his personal essence is no longer evident to even the inner circle of disciples. It is indeed the change in character and the widening of individual sympathy that testify to the vibrant presence of Christ in the soul, that he is constantly moving the person from self- centred torpor to a dedicated affirmation of life. He comes into his own glory in the lives of all those who welcome his presence - and the first step in such a welcome is acceptance which in turn requires awareness.
It is necessary now to consider some of the spiritual effects of the indwelling Christ on the life of the believer. This is the ever-present life of Christ in the soul, the realized eschatology evidenced in the witness of those who are changed in character. The reality of that change is the renewing effect they have on the world around them, in the lives of those they encounter in their daily work.
The awakening of Christ in the soul, the germination of the seed of the Word into a living, fragile shoot, is accompanied subjectively by an experience of release. The life of the person, previously shut in and occluded by barriers of pride and fear, of resentment and jealousy, is now suddenly wrought open. The Holy Spirit blows in vast draughts of refreshing vitality that raises the soul and lightens the heart of the believer. The personality experiences freedom of an order never previously known, a freedom of sunlit glow and renewing youthfulness. This release effected by the living Christ brings with it a spiritual warmth and an assurance of supernatural love that is independent of the character or past associations of the individual. That one experiences a direct love proves that God, though beyond description and outside all rational categories, has personal attributes, since love is always concerned with the minute particular no less than with the mighty cosmos. To know supernaturally that one is loved means that one is acknowledged as a person, a created being of unique constitution and active, independent will. To be an independently acting person with a will to choose in freedom, in unclouded vision, is a divine quality. It is of God's nature to act in this way. It is no wonder that the Psalmist declares, "This is my sentence: Gods you may be, sons all of you of a high god, yet you shall die as men die; princes fall, every one of them, and so shall you" (Psalm 82:6-7). If the will is adversely orientated, the downfall of the individual is certain. On the other hand, if the person acts in accordance with divine instruction, his nature approaches that of the Father; as Christ says: those are called gods to whom the word of God is delivered (John 10:34 - 35).
The experience of God's unreserved love not only opens the previously locked personality but also shows the way to a purposeful life, to hidden meaning in a previously dark, forbidding world. The purpose in life is seen to be not primarily one of action but of unfolding into spiritual radiance, of being a chalice of divine grace. This is the basis of the assurance of salvation that so often accompanies the advent of Christ in the soul. The soul feels it is saved from damnation and destruction, it is delivered from the temptations of earthly life and the consequences of sinful action; its end is admission to heaven which is indeed experienced, albeit fleetingly, during the moment of realization of God. It shows itself in a radical conversion, or turning about, of the person from the meretricious light of earthly attractions to the uncreated light of God's eternal presence. Salvation is in fact a process of the soul's gradual growth into the light of God's perfect love and it has powerful undertones of healing. In Hinduism and Buddhism the concept of liberation is dominant; it implies the freeing of the individual consciousness from the thraldom of earthly attachments so that it may experience the formless reality of the Godhead. Salvation seems to be a long, arduous spiritual journey in the direction of the more radical renunciation that takes place with liberation. For liberation is closer to the mystical state of union with God than is salvation with its more personal overtones of release, healing and direction to Christ. On the other hand, authentic liberation can be effected only in a soul gradually cleansed of the demands of the ego and open to the full, demanding love of God. This love demands our dedicated service to our fellow creatures, so that our life is no longer entirely our own but is now the life that Christ lives in us.
It is a law of spirituality that no one can see God and remain alive. Even the supreme prophet Moses is allowed to see only God's back when he stands on the rock of Mount Sinai. When God's glory passes by, Moses is put in a crevice of the rock and covered by God's hand. When the hand is removed, Moses is able to see God's back, but God's face is not to be seen (Exodus 33:21-23). The mystics have sometimes described the supreme experience of the Deity as dazzling darkness. It is the same darkness that follows a direct view of the sun; its rays are focused by the eye's lens and they can easily burn a hole in the retina at the back of the eye. The result is a darkness that proceeds to total blindness depending on the intensity of the sun's rays impinging on the retina. In a similar fashion the full force of God's presence burns away all that is unclean and impure; only a saint can bear his presence, and the mystic learns that God is encountered at the intersection of time and eternity, at the place of coincidence of opposites: sight and darkness, the void and the fullness of God's presence, death and immortality. Thus the experience of salvation that lies at the heart of Christ's birth in the soul is a pale image of the divine splendour, who is light and in whom there is no darkness at all. In him our own darkness is burnt away until we can begin to confront the presence of God, who is best known as He who is. Only as we become more Christlike can we accommodate the intensity of God's presence in the soul.
This is all of the greatest moment when we consider how Christ comes to glory in the individual soul. Too often the first impress of his presence and the openness to the grace of God that accompanies it is taken by the believer to be an assurance of total, irrevocable salvation. As a result the experience is clung to with a fervour that is commendable in its loyalty but disturbing in its zealous exclusiveness. The renewal of faith that accompanies the experience of Christ in the soul brings purpose and meaning with it, a purpose of individual participation in the divine plan of resurrection of the world and a meaning of triumph in the face of life's uneasy vicissitudes. Where once there was doubt and distrust there is now joy and heart-warming hope. But one essential quality is usually absent: a peace that passes all rational understanding, so that the believer can relax in God and cease to strive obsessively for others to gain his particular insights so as to concur absolutely with his view of the divine purpose. When Christ comes to illuminate our being, we are tempted to shut down so as to contain his presence within us and to conserve the power that he bestows on us. If this attitude of clinging on to his presence persists, we become insidiously entrapped in the very person sent to liberate us. We become imprisoned in a spiritually stultifying outlook based on fear which prevents our further growth into the knowledge of Christ's love and glory.
As in his earthly ministry, Christ issues forth in healing according to the individual's capacity to receive it. While destructive hostility prevents any healing power entering the soul and transforming the person, an attitude of diffidence can also interfere with the work of Christ in the personality by closing the individual to the full impact of the divine presence. If we have misgivings that God's love may be withheld from us because we fail to accept theological statements - as much through ignorance as through a rebellious turn of mind that seeks an understanding faith rather than a merely mechanical repetition of credal formulations - our very uncertainty as to God's displeasure acts to close us to the full thrust of his love. The nature of love is to accept all creatures without reserve; true love, as opposed to affection, has no favourites. Therefore our necessary wariness in accepting dogmatic definition of what are divine mysteries cannot exclude us from God's love. The cry of the distracted parent to Jesus in respect of the healing of his epileptic son, "I have faith, help me where faith falls short" (Mark 9:24) is a much finer understanding of God's eternal patience and compassion than a deferential acceptance of Christ without the full commitment of the rational soul. It is dialogue that brings us towards a unitive relationship, whether of God or of man, not an awestruck obeisance without any involvement of the thinking and feeling faculties of the inner life. This is one of the many glories of the Psalms; the Psalmist is not afraid to question God's motives and to urge him to move with speed to relieve the trials and indignities of his people. As we ask in a confused medley of perplexity anxiety, frustration and anger, so God calms us and brings us into a frame of mind where we can hear the silent injunction and be filled with the renewing power of the Holy Spirit.
If love accepts us without discrimination, there are nevertheless some who are more able to respond than others. The criterion of acceptance of the love freely available is our degree of trust that flows out in tenderest innocence. This is the innocence of the little child whom we are urged to become if we are to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Even if our lives fall far short of childlike innocence, we can attain that blessed state once more by an act of recollection, repentance and confession. As we read in 1 John 1:8-9, if we claim to be sinless, we are self-deceived and strangers to the truth. If we confess our sins, he is just and may be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every kind of wrong. Once we are so cleansed and our will is committed to an amendment of our way of life, we attain a state of primal innocence once more, and can start to lead a new life. Unfortunately, the will to change is weak in most of us, and repeated falls from virtue may be inevitable before the full flowering of the seed of Christ takes place within the soul. By contrast, there is the constitutionally evil person, whose presence in any society is not to be explained away purely in sociological or psychological terms, for his darkness is much more inveterate than mere superficial mechanisms of degradation. Such an individual is so full of his own darkness that there is no place in his personality for the downpouring of God's love. His scheme and destiny in the cosmos is one of the enigmas of creation and an ever-present mystery in the redemption of the world in Christ.
A fanatical devotion to any object of belief, even to Christ himself, is often energized by a fear of life that is deeply rooted in the unconscious depths of the mind. This fear of life is based on an inner insecurity: if we betray the object of devotion, some dreadful misfortune will assail us. And so the devotion is sustained with grim determination for the sake of an untroubled existence. The devotion becomes quite literally a matter of life and death in the mind of the neurotically obsessive believer. In this obsessively clinging encounter - it barely merits the designation of fellowship - the nature of the Word is obscured. Christ becomes less a person of love and release and more a bulwark against the shadowy elements of mortal life. And yet it is in the experience of the shadow side of life and our own personality that we grow progressively into mature beings, ultimately to be measured by nothing less than the full stature of Christ, as St Paul writes in Ephesians 4:13. The more we cling to past images, and the more we look towards our own safety, the further we distance ourselves from a knowledge of God. As a sequel to this we separate ourselves increasingly from the fellowship of God and man that heralds our own transformation into children of light.
Once Christ becomes a magical protection against the misfortunes germane to our mortal existence, our system of belief subtly replaces God in our lives. Then whoever appears to challenge that rigid system is identified with the powers of darkness. The end is a rejection of a large mass of humanity and our encapsulation in a limited group who hold unswervingly to our beliefs. In such a self-righteous, glibly complacent company there is little opportunity for the growth of the soul into greater spiritual truth. In fact the complacency of such a group is merely superficial, for deeper down there is an intolerable uncertainty that gnaws away at the imposing superstructure of the edifice of faith so painstakingly erected and so heavily buttressed. It attempts to define an absolute line of demarcation between the saved and unsaved, yet no one can be absolutely sure on which side of the line he stands. Salvation may indeed come to us as a dramatic experience of God's love in the soul, but its full impact in our lives is a slow, painful process. "Up to the present, we know, the whole created universe groans in all its parts as if in the pangs of childbirth. Not only so, but even we, to whom the Spirit is given as first fruits of the harvest to come, are groaning inwardly while we wait for God to make us his sons and set our whole body free. For we have been saved, though only in hope. Now to see is no longer to hope: why should a man endure and wait for what he already sees? But if we hope for something we do not yet see, then, in waiting for it, we show our endurance" (Romans 8:22-25). It is the development of this hope into clear, unobstructed vision that is the measure of Christ's coming in glory in our lives.
Once Christ has revealed his presence in the soul and has discharged the pall of doubt that clouds our vision and dulls our spiritual aspiration, he paradoxically leads us away from the light of assurance into the darkness of self-discovery. His light first inspires us with hope and meaning, but this is merely a preliminary to the inner cleansing work that the Holy Spirit has to perform. When Jesus was baptized and the Spirit dwelt definitively in him, that same Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the prince of darkness who subverts our material existence. So likewise the Spirit leads us into the depth of the soul, there to confront our personal failings, especially lust for power, resentment, jealousy and avarice. This is at least as authentic a work of the Holy Spirit as are the more spectacular charismatic phenomena that tend to be especially coveted by those who are young in the spiritual life - no doubt a reflection of their own deeper uncertainty. Charismatic powers in the absence of a purified inner life are very likely to do later damage after bestowing an initial, transitory blessing on both the individuals exhibiting them and those receiving them. It is in this context a greater spiritual attainment to weep spontaneously for our sins that to work exceptional miracles. In the act of humble contrition the soul is cleansed of much rubbish; after the period of tears it is able to accommodate the profligacy of God's love. After the rigour of the judgement comes the glowing warmth of God's unlimited forgiveness, the flow of heavenly grace. On the other hand, the working of unusual phenomena tends to exalt the ego often at the expense of a deeper knowledge of God, and these are better avoided until the person is sufficiently humble to be able to give unrestrained glory to God. In Jesus' parable it was the worthless publican who was justified, who came into right relationship with God - once he had acknowledged that he had nothing to offer except his sinful nature - rather than the Pharisee who interposed his own virtue between himself and God. The publican gave himself, unworthy as he was, whereas the Pharisee gave nothing of himself, but merely exulted in his gifts, at the same time despising other people. In the same way, miracle workers can easily believe in their special dispensation to the subtle exclusion of the One from whom all good works proceed. This is a hazard in the lives of all those who exhibit special gifts: self-glorification supersedes the work of transformation and inner renewal.
All this again stresses that the coming of Christ in glory in the soul is a slow process, progressive in its healing action and thorough in its capacity to change the perspective of the individual from mere self-interest to self-sacrifice on behalf of the world. We are, however, often very impatient: we look for external signs of power while averting our gaze from the revelations of inner disorder. While there is even a trace of self-seeking within us, one spark of aversion towards our neighbour, the work of inner cleansing has to proceed. Furthermore, as we proceed along the inner path of purgation, so do shafts of gluttony, lust, jealousy and resentment suddenly erupt to the exterior. These embarrassments help to show us the vast distance we have to traverse before we attain a full dedication to Christ in our midst. The value of this descent into our private cesspit of corruption is that, as its foul contents are brought to the light of spiritual discernment, so we attain an empathy with our fellow men that is overwhelming in intensity, not merely an intellectual abstraction. As Christ mixed with the common people in their thoughtless degradation, so we too have to come to terms with the gamut of disturbance within our own personality and in turn with the disturbance common to humanity. In the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, the publican could attain that relationship with his peers - and indeed all people - by virtue of his own humility. The Pharisee, by contrast, had so separated himself by his own imagined excellence from his peers that he could not relate authentically either to God or to man.
In the same way, the mother of Jesus was so empty of guile and thoughts of self-importance that she was able to contain the fruit of the Holy Spirit within her soul - of which the womb was an external reflection. When Christ comes in glory into the individual soul - which is at the same time in corporate unity with the universal soul of life - he not only cleanses it of its accumulated dross, but acts to transmute that very dross into a fabric of purity to embellish the newly-born individual. Humility is the ultimate virtue of the spiritual life; it keeps us young in spirit as we are enabled to learn from even the most unprepossessing of our brethren. Jesus is our exemplar in humility; as he taught the common people, so he learned from them the secrets of human existence, both degraded and heroic. The light of righteousness burns inextinguishably in the untroubled atmosphere of humility until the whole world is bathed in the splendour of its radiance. Such a light illumines the purified soul, making it a fit receptacle for the gifts of God and the fruits of his Spirit. This is the work of Christ in the soul, and its love, joy and peace enrich the lives of all who encounter it in the day's work. So too did Jesus enrich all those who were open to his love.