JAN RUYSBROECK, the noted 13th century Flemish mystic, reminds us that it is through Jesus alone that we can be led to true unity. In our Lord “God became man and has Himself become the Way to true unity”, as he puts it. It is possible for man to “possess the most high unity of God, in a supernatural manner”, and this was the purpose of his creation. “He (Jesus) died in the bonds of love and has opened to us that very unity, in which we may possess eternal bliss”.
Ruysbroeck attempts to describe the nature of unity as it firstly affects man from the outside in:
Unity is this: that a man feels himself to be gathered together with all his powers in the unity of his heart. Unity of heart is a bond, which draws together body and soul, heart and senses, and all the outward and inward powers and encloses them in the union of love.
Thus the outward and the inward are fused together, through God’s working into a harmony and simplicity, which can be ‘felt’. It is love, which is the binding force and the centre.
Man has to play his part, however the long part of active faith and growth in discipline, self-control and virtue. If we hope in any way to ‘see’ God, to experiences this inner unity we must become as one who has forsaken himself and all things to enter the inner part of his spirit unencumbered with images”. And as Ruysbroeck expresses it elsewhere:
All of our powers must be gathered together by a free turning of the will, and free from inordinate love. Thereby the will flows into the unity of God.
Yet, ultimately, it is not man’s work:
We cannot achieve true unity unless the Spirit of God blows to a flame His fire in our hearts. For this fire makes one with itself and like to itself all that it can master and reshape”.
This burning and reshaping is indeed costly, and all demanding, as the mystics testify, but it is a prerequisite to union with God in love. Nor do we cease to be ourselves as many wrongly assume when hearing such language used. Ruysbroeck reassures us:
We cannot wholly become God, and lose our created being, this is impossible — we are brought forth by God, out of our selfhood into the immersion of love, in which we possess blessedness and are one With God.
The creature does not become God for the union takes place in God, through grace and out homeward-turning love.
It is God’s gift then and His grace, which enables, while we for our part must turn towards God in love and desire. Indeed: “without the practice of love, we cannot be united with God, nor remain one with Him”.
There will nevertheless be times when the believer is less conscious of his own feeble love than of the overwhelming presence of God. Dimly he experiences something of God’s inner nature. ‘Self’ becomes a burning desire to be one with God and “feels the ETERNAL DEMAND OF THE DIVINE UNITY”. The more the believer feels this, so much the more is he urged to pay the debt until the ‘self’ is burnt up in the “Simple Unity of God”.
The heart opens itself in joy – and all the powers of the soul are in readiness and desire to fulfil that which is demanded of them by God and by His unity. This invitation is a shining forth of Christ the Eternal Sun.
God’s love is experienced as drawing us on into the Unity, where, all the same, ‘we are made aware of God as Trinity:
The Father and the Son, through the Holy Ghost, embrace each other – and draw themselves back with eternal love into the unity of their nature.
And, somehow, most wonderfully, all creation and we are enfolded by this same Love, “THE ETERNAL INDRAWING SUMMONS OF THE DIVINE UNITY”, which “lovingly draws inward, in eternal fruition the Father and the Son and all that lives in them”. “The Unity is ever drawing to Itself and inviting to Itself everything that has been born of It, either by nature or by grace”. “The most high Nature of the Godhead is Simplicity and Onefoldness – the Rest of all saints in the Unity, and a Common Fruition of Himself and all saints in Eternity”.
This then is ultimately the unity we are all seeking: “that most high Unity where, in the bond of the Holy Ghost, the Father and the Son are united with all saints. Thus, with Ruysbroeck, we make our prayer to God, in humble trust and confidence, so that in His good time all creation and we may be restored to oneness in Him:
May we possess in fruition the essential Unity, and clearly behold unity in the Trinity; this may Divine Love, which turns no beggar away, bestow upon us. Amen.
A Sister of Holy Cross Convent Rempstone