Academic journal article Magistra

Deadly Loneliness, Deadly Bliss: Rethinking Spirituality in Light of Hadewich of Antwerp's Writing about Union with Love

Academic journal article Magistra

Deadly Loneliness, Deadly Bliss: Rethinking Spirituality in Light of Hadewich of Antwerp's Writing about Union with Love

Article excerpt

Never was so cruel a desert created

As Love can make in her land!

For she impels us to long desiringly for her

And to taste her without knowing her being,

She shows herself as she takes flight;

We pursue her, but she remains unseen:

This makes the miserable heart ever exert itself!

These lines are from a poem of Hadewijch of Antwerp, a thirteenth century mystic. If one expects a peaceful, calm and serene voice to flow out of a mystic, Hadewijch' s presentations might sound awkward and repellent. Instead of guiding to the relaxation and tranquility of deep spirituality, she leads one to see the murky side of the spiritual life. The moment of the union is as brilliant and fleeting as the white-blue flash of lightning in the middle of the night. Then the bliss has gone. The soul is left alone, she is daunted and imperiled by melancholy - no consolation, no certitude, no peace in her heart.

Although one might not want to accept this state of mind as a part of spirituality, it might have to be admitted that Hadewijch's presentation resonates with the most unguarded side of one's heart. All people live with their own vulnerability, a vulnerability to a sudden despair or a prolonged absence of hope. This vulnerability becomes embittered under certain social and political conditions, particularly, in days like the present, in which violence is a way of life and the loss of loved ones and the loss of belief can happen anytime.

Perhaps this tenuousness is why such spiritual practices as meditation, yoga, and vegetarianism, have been so much favored and popularized in the West since the late twentieth century. Spiritual practices offer helpful ways to set aside pride, to appease the defensiveness that is used to shield pride, and to surrender to a profound absorption in divine love and peace. However, there can be a narcissistic tendency that is found in some popularized forms of spiritual practice. When the techniques of such spiritual practices take on superficial religious sentiments or even consumerism, they can lose a connection with a liturgical community and even lead one to avoid the practical matters of everyday life that call forth urgent and active engagement.2

Can the spiritual/mystical traditions offer not only ways to heal wounded and troubled hearts, but also ways to support a compassionate and active engagement with the world? What if the fragile side of spirituality - vulnerability and weakness, which is common to all - can be a point of connection with the world and a way of resonating with the vulnerability and weakness of others?

This essay will explore one answer to these questions. The melancholic sentiment manifested in the mystic Hadewijch's writing offers helpful insight. In Hadewijch's writing about the Eucharistie reception, the soul's melancholy always follows her blissful union with Christ's body. However, the soul does not take melancholy as a self-destructive rage. Instead, she turns it into a point in which she identifies with Christ's suffering. In order to locate Hadewijch's melancholy in a discussion of critical reflection about religion and spirituality for the present times, a comparison may be made with the post-structural theorist Judith Butler's retrieval of melancholy.3

Through her reading of Freudian melancholy, Butler develops the notion that the ego is produced through the identification with a lost love. For Butler, melancholy is a symptom that reveals the subject's interdependency with the other. By juxtaposing the melancholic sentiment in Hadewijch's writing and Butler's theory of melancholy, one may seek the potential of spiritual traditions to keep attentive to the myriad forms of violence, hate, fear, abandonment, and loneliness that terrify the everyday world. Hadewijch's melancholic spirituality, when it is interpreted through Butler's notion of melancholy, can offer a potential for Christian spirituality to be accountable before the pain and suffering that tear lives apart. …

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