Delight is a delightful word! As soon as it appears on the screen in front of me I begin to smile. As a characteristic of human experience, delight can be shared or it can be part of solitude. It can be found in a variety of situations and what it means to one person is nearly always expressed differently from another’s. Finding and knowing what it means is personal, even when that sense of delight is shared across a community or in relationships.
Here, I’d like to tell you something of my experience and understanding of delight as a characteristic that is both divine and human.
Early in life I found delight in the beauty of the fields, meadows, rivers, streams and ponds that were close to where I lived. Some of this delight was exuberant enjoyment of a childish, physical encounter with water in its natural form. It was ‘splash and crash’ and I brought it about by riding my bike too fast through water on the road, or by edging close to a pond to explore, or standing on a slippery river’s bank. It was fast and spontaneous.
Equally, though, I found delight in other moments of encounter with the natural world. A chalk stream presented a slow way of drawing close to what appeared to be a mystery. Usually hidden away and not readily visible it had a presence that was of itself. For me, it invited neither splash nor crash. Instead, the chalk stream existed as a quiet entity, belonging just as much in my life as the activities in which I enthusiastically took part.
I realise now that the quiet stillness was a counterpoise which gave balance and grounding to the necessity of wonder at mystery. It presented me with a paradox. Mystery, I was told, should be opaque and difficult to comprehend, but here the water was so clear that everything within it was visible. I know now, that what I discovered then was contemplative, something which can be defined as looking into the essence of an object, without wanting to own it, or change it or destroy it.
In my mind this early experience of a watery world went hand in hand with the delight in a lovingly created world that I heard about in the Bible. Often, it seemed to me, the words shone and danced as I read them for myself and, in turn, as I listened to the words being read aloud to me or sung in my community. Their gift was the expression of delight through the use of poetry and metaphor. I still like to connect with the songs that are a human longing to know of divine love. In the wisdom literature of The Bible I listen to the manifestations of a world created by divine love. In poetic vision and language, the beauty and glory of hills and mountains, the abundance of a field and the flow of a stream are seen in delight and with joy. The vastness of the sky is affirmed; oceans, forests and wilderness are celebrated. A few examples are Psalms 8, 19, 29, 65, 148 and Job:38. (In the NRSV version of the Old Testament the Books of Job, The Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon are included in the Poetical and Wisdom Books.)
At the same time, though, the psalms cover the experience of humanity and human emotions; trauma, frailty, being afraid and distressed, what it’s like to be vulnerable, to feel desolate and humiliated, and with an awareness of the possibility of self-deceit; they are all on view. And yet, in the psalms I hear of divine delight in all human beings (Ps.139: 1-18). In the discomfort of painful emotions, the unceasing and loving connection that is relationship between each person and the divine remains present. This relationship of connectivity endures when trauma, at its most fearful, intrudes into daily life. In horror that can barely be endured God’s delight, which is beyond the grasping power of human destructiveness, remains steadfast. Divine delight stays even when its light appears to have been brutally wiped out.
The concept of ‘sweet water well’ that I take to be central to Contemplative Fire, I see as the essence of the spiritual understanding of Jesus as the innermost centre of each human life and of the eternal water of life that each person longs to find and know.
In a Christian Trinitarian understanding I see Jesus as the light of divine delight. This is light that is inextinguishable, offering the joy of its presence in the saddest, lowest moments. The light of divine light that can be felt when fear or sadness seem overwhelming can, it seems to me, have a quality that might be described as ‘care-free- ness’. I think of this when I read of Meister Eckhart’s concept of ‘nothingness’. I take this to be that which is beyond human knowledge and not shut into time or physical place. This sense of being ‘no-thing’, I believe, has a quality of tranquillity and freedom, a sense of being which is unrestricted and unrestricting.
Wolfgang Riehle talks about the way in which Christian mystics, in their search to express the delight of God’s love, push at the boundaries of language to bring new meanings into existence. (The Middle English Mystics, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London: 1981) For mystics the desire to express the delight of God’s love is so strong that new pathways are opened for others to explore their own experience. Eckhart’s writings on Trinitarian life are paradoxical and inspiring.
He uses extraordinary language to give an idea of the transcendence of God – which is that which is beyond everything we can possibly know. He talks of ever flowing delight, of the stillness of Godhead, and of an abundance of joy. Eckhart says all of this is what God most wants to give us in the ordinariness – and at times – the grief of each day. The birth of the Word (as Logos and purpose) in each soul makes available to each human being the full, delightful life of the Trinity.
Initially, in my life journey, I associated delight with situations in which delight was apparent, where it was easy for me to find in the beauty of the world and in relationships. It may be that this was what I most wanted then. Over time, I became aware of a sense of delight that didn’t depend entirely on what I saw or experienced. It seems to me now that, in times where everything appears to be contrary to divine delight, the light of Jesus’ delight remains as inner peace. To me it seems anchored, sturdy and trustworthy. Within this presence there is nothing that is bereft or wanting. It seems to me that knowing the peace of this delight – even though I experience it very imperfectly – is beyond anything I could have wished for. I’m sure that mystery is at its heart and that the grounding of this mystery is eternal.