“Thou shalt have battles enough”

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Pentecost (year B) May 27, 2012

“For as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.” John 17:18

King sends out a Knight, French Miniaturist, French Bible of Hainburg, 1300-1320 (actually, I think this is King David sending out Uriah, which changes everything, but please pretend it’s just some anonymous king and knight. Thanks. )

I was looking for an image to take me into the week of preparing for Pentecost and I remembered Suso’s meditation/dream about his elevation from squire to knight. (Henry Suso, 1300-1366, was a popular devotional writer in the Middle Ages. With Johannes Tauler, Suso was a student of Meister Eckhart. The three together are known as “the Rhineland Mystics.”)

Evelyn Underhill, in her book Mysticism, introduces Suso’s vision:

Some weeks later, when he had been rejoicing in the new bodily comfort which resulted from his relinquishment of all outward mortifications, Suso received a still more pointed lesson on his need of moral courage. He was sitting on his bed and meditating on the words of Job “Militia est.” “The life of man upon the earth is like unto that of a knight.” Job 7:1 (Vulgate) and during this meditation, he was once more rapt from his senses, and it seemed to him that he saw coming towards him a fair youth of manly bearing, who held in his hands the spurs and the other apparel which knights are accustomed to wear.

And he drew near to the Servitor, and clothed him in a coat of mail, and said to him, ‘Oh, knight! hitherto thou hast been but a squire, but now it is God’s will that thou be raised to knighthood.’ And the Servitor gazed at his spurs, and said with much amazement in his heart, ‘Alas, my God! what has befallen me? what have I become? must I indeed be a knight? I had far rather remain in peace.’

Then he said to the young man, ‘Since it is God’s will that I should be a knight I had rather have won my spurs in battle; for this would have been more glorious.’

The young man turned away and began to laugh: and said to him, ‘Have no fear! thou shalt have battles enough. He who would play a valiant part in the spiritual chivalry of God must endure more numerous and more dreadful combats than any which were encountered by the proud heroes of ancient days, of whom the world tells and sings the knightly deeds. It is not that God desires to free thee from thy burdens; He would only change them and make them far heavier than they have ever been.’

Then the Servitor said, ‘Oh, Lord, show me my pains in advance, in order that I may know them.’

The Lord replied, ‘No, it is better that thou know nothing, lest thou shouldst hesitate….”

Nevertheless, the young man hints at three things. One, that Suso’s reputation will be ruined : “Thou shalt be an object of contempt to blinded men.” Two, that he will endure unfaithfulness, sufferings and griefs. And three, that he will seem abandoned by God and that he will be “publicly persecuted by the friends of thine enemies.”

These particular humiliations ultimately strengthened the somewhat over-sensitive Suso, and helped him mature spiritually and morally.

Bearing love, bringing love into loveless situations, requires humility, honor, bravery, and not a little quixotic foolishness. And each of us brings his or her own weakness, rough spots, tragic flaws into the quest. I hope this chivalric image finds you girding your loins for the Pentecost event and the trials awaiting you thereafter in your love-bearing.

And now,
“send us out to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

(Post communion prayer, page 366, American (1979) Book of Common Prayer)

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