…all desires known

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.   

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, Sanzio Raffaello, 1515, Detail

One of our sisters lives in a nursing home nearby. The last time I brought her communion, she interrupted the liturgy at the collect for purity and declared, “I don’t love God perfectly and I wish to heck I could ‘worthily’ magnify God. But I DON’T! I CAN’T.”   

Sister wasn’t asking for my help. What was she doing? Throwing down the gauntlet? Drawing a line in the sand? Just expressing spiritual frustration? The thing is, this sister and I get caught in the same kinds of spiritual traps. So at least I understood. I can step easily into that endless loop of unworthiness: I’m so unworthy I can’t even begin to hope to be redeemed or saved. Or loved.  Or pitied.  Or even noticed. Since all my effort to love God perfectly fails so miserably, it’s not worth praying at all. So there.   

Julian of Norwich has a prayer: grant me that love which thou desirest of me.  This prayer reverses the negative loop for me. Okay. Please GIVE me that love that I need to love you.  Clever!  This puts the burden upon God to give me that which I need to love God! But more profoundly, it’s a form of holy surrender.  I know I can’t manage this on my own, on my own power, my own initiative, my own strength, my own resources. I shouldn’t expect to! “We do not know how to pray as we ought,” said St. Paul, “but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs to deep for words”.  That’s enough.   

Sister and I decided that we’d pray the collect for purity several times a day and think about it during the week.   

Like Julian’s prayer, the Collect for Purity puts the burden upon the Divine to prepare us worthily for worship. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration  of your Holy Spirit. I’m asking the Holy Spirit to cleanse my character – my attention, my mind and heart my motivations. In that cleansing I find that I can love God – which I wouldn’t know how to do even if I had the power myself.  And what’s perfect anyway?  Sometimes when I think I’ve failed, I’ve succeeded in some moral victory; a situation I perceive as unhappy turns out full of grace; a terrible mistake turns to a weird kind of blessing in some larger design of things. I can’t know what’s perfect. And to perfectly love God? Impossible. But I can wrap myself in my mantle like Elijah and step outside the crevice and let that Spirit sigh and breath, come and go, shake and crack the rocks, sing and whisper within the sound of sheer silence.   

For me, the practice of Julian’s prayer helps me let go of the control I think I need to approach worship in a worthy manner.  When I thought about the prayer this week the phrase that most touched me was this: all desires known.   I don’t know if it’s true that this prayer was composed for Charlemagne’s coronation. (God knows your desires. God sees your secrets. So you just watch it!) But because of my conversation with Sister, for the first time in many years I asked myself, “what IS your desire?”    

For the first time in my life, I think I can say, “God knows.” For like the loop of negativity reversed by Julian’s prayer, the loop of ambition reverses in the collect for purity.  My desires are hid with God. God knows what I desire. I don’t even have to know. It sounds dis-spirited and defeated, but there it is. Give me that love THOU desirest of me. That’s enough.

2 Responses to “…all desires known”

  1. Su Murdock Says:

    I love this reflection. It really is all about God, giving us Love, drawing us to God’s self, showing us our need, knowing our deepest desires. Thanks for the reminder. And I am enjoying the meditations as well.

  2. Pilar Londono-Kent Says:

    I think that is exactly what St. Ignatious’s instructs in his spiritual exercises: to be in the presence of God and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to see things ad God sees them, love them as God loves them and discern their meaning.

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