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WHY THE PERFECT CONTEMPLATIVES TAKE NO HEED TO OUTWARD SONG, AND OF THEIR ERROR THAT REPROVE THEM: AND HOW TO PROFIT IN CONTEMPLATION
Because in the kirk of God there are singers ordained in their degree, and set to praise God and to stir the people to devotion, some have come to me asking why I would not sing as other men when they have ofttimes seen me in the solemn masses. They weened forsooth I had done wrong, for ilk man, they say, is bound to sing bodily before his Maker, and yield music with his outward voice. I answered not thereof; for they knew not how I gave forth melody and a sweet voice to my Maker, but, because they could not understand by what way, they weened that no man might have ghostly song.
Truly it is fondness to trow that a man, and especially he that is perfectly given to God’s service, should not have a special gift from His love that many other men have not; but many trow this because in themselves they find none such. Therefore I have thought to show some manner of answer, and not fully give stead to the reprovers. How longs the life of other men to them whose manners, as they wot, in many things surpass their life, and are far higher in things that are unseen? Whether it is lawful to God to do what He will; or their sight is wicked and God is good? Nor will they bring God’s rule under their measure, for are not all men God’s? And whom He will, He takes; and whom He will, He forsakes; and to whom He will and when He will, He gives what pleases Him, to show the greatness of His Goodness?
Therefore I trow they grumble and backbite because they would that others higher in devotion come down to them, and conform themselves in all things to their lowers, for they ween they be higher when they are far lower in merit. Therefore my soul has found boldness to open my music a little that is come to me by burning love; in which I sing before Jesu and sound notes of the greatest sweetness. Also the more they have stood up against me, because I fled the outward songs that are wont in the kirks, and the sweetness of the organ that is heard gladly by the people, only abiding among these either when the need of hearing mass—which elsewhere I could not hear—or the solemnity of the day asked it on account of the backbiting of the people.
Truly I have desired to sit alone that I might take heed to Christ alone that had given to me ghostly song, in the which I might offer Him praises and prayers. They that reproved me trowed not this, and therefore they would have brought me to their manner; but I could not leave the grace of Christ and consent to fond men that knew me not within. Therefore I let them speak, and I did that that was to do after the state in the which God had set me.
For this shall I say, thanking Christ’s glory, that henceforward I no more fear others who be thus fond, nor that presume to deem proudly; for that I have done is not from feigning simulation, and being taken by imagination, as some say of me; and many therewith are beguiled that ween they have that they never received. But in truth an unseen joy has come to me and I have verily waxed warm within me with the fire of love; the which has taken my heart from these low things, so that, singing in Jesu, full far have I flown from outward melody to full inward.
Whence I have hated filth, and cast out vanity of words, and have not taken meats in superfluity, nor have striven unwisely to govern myself; although it were said of me I was given to rich houses, and to be fed well and live in pleasures. But by God’s working I had set my soul otherwise, so that I savoured things heavenly rather than sweetness of meats; and for this cause I have loved a certain wilderness, and I chose to live away from men, only speeding the needs of the body, and so soothly I received solace of Him that I loved.
It is not to be trowed that in the beginning of his turning a man may run to the height of contemplative life or feel the sweetness thereof, when it is well known that contemplation is gotten in great time and with great labour, and is not given anon to every man, although it be had with all joy when it is gotten. Truly it is not in man’s power to receive it, nor no man’s labour however great is worthy it; but of the goodliness of God it is given to true lovers that have desired to love Christ above man’s hoping.
Yet many after penance have fallen from innocence, afterwards gliding into idleness and to the abomination of sinners, because they were not burning in charity; seldom and so thinly have they the sweetness of contemplation that they are too weak to stand when they are tempted; or else, being weary and loathing ghostly food, they desire worldly comfort among sinners.
Truly to despise this world and desire the heavenly kingdom and desire Christ’s love is full good; and, hating sin, to read busily or meditate on holy books. A devout soul being used and taught in these has a ready defence against the fiend’s darts. It is truly to the devil’s confusion when we spread God’s word against all his temptations. Forsooth the sufferers, and bearers in patience of the burden and heat of temptation, suffer not themselves to be led into the love of deceitful sweetness; and after many tears and busy prayers they shall be enflamed with eternal love, and shall feel heat abiding in themselves withouten end, for in their meditation the fire shall wax warm.
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