I have sometimes said that insights come to me more easily when I am on the road. Perhaps the fact of being in between two places — being neither here nor there, so to speak — frees the mind and the heart to receive what is offered. But on the road or not, insights do not always come just because I am available to receive them, nor do consolations or whatever else I think I need at a particular moment. As often as not, my highway time presents me with nothing more than trees, trucks, circling turkey vultures, or heat shimmering on the pavement — only what you would normally expect on a Florida road.
During one of those empty drives back from the Jacksonville airport, I realized (an insight breaking into the emptiness?) that this minor nothingness could be reminding me of a profound truth of the spiritual life, which is that joy resides in loving God more than we love God’s gifts.
Saint Therese Couderc, for example, the co-founder of the Cenacle, was a mystic whose whole life was given over to God. Even those among us who are most holy, however, have places deep in their hearts where God continues to call them closer, so that they may not cling to anything less than God. According to Abbé André Combes (“The Four Offerings of Blessed Therese Couderc”), this is what happened to St. Therese:
One day, finally given over without reserve to God, Mother Therese became aware that there was something abnormal in the fact that she continued to be filled with divine consolations. Immediately she said to Our Lord: “I would follow you just as well without that!”
Whether or not this is literally the way it happened, we do know that Mother Therese had reached the point where she loved God more than she loved the spiritual experiences God had given her. It was not that she was refusing God’s gifts – far from that, for to refuse what God wants to share with us would be the height of ingratitude – on the contrary, she accepted to move into a new stage in her life with God. This stage was marked by fewer consolations, but also by a deeper union in the Paschal Mystery with the One who was All in All for her.
Our own prayer time may seem like an ordinary road revealing nothing beyond the hard pavement, the passing cars, and the swampy vegetation. We may find ourselves bored to tears and longing to come to the end. But brilliant insights and tangible spiritual experiences are not the confirmation of our prayer. It is rather the transformation in love that God is working in us, to bring us into union with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for our own sanctification and for that of the world in which we live.
The more we draw near to God, the more we desire to draw near; the more we are united with God, the more we desire this union, because we understand more and more that God is the center of our hearts and that God alone can fill them and make them happy.
Saint Therese Couderc, Letter to Mother de Larochenégly, August 7, 1867