Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ecstasy and Solitude

A great composer discovers contemplation.
The later developments in Liszt's life of prayer could shed some light on the apparent darkness of his final years. Most of the great spiritual writers have agreed on a certain pattern in a soul's ascetical progress. The initial conversion and discovery of God in prayer is usually a period of great joy and consolation. As a person grows in the spiritual life these delights gradually disappear, leaving the soul in what seems like darkness. This is not because God has deserted the person, but rather because He wants to draw him closer to Himself, helping the soul to seek and love God rather than His gifts.

This period of aridity can last for years, although it is seldom without some respite, and further progress in prayer depends largely on the generosity of abandonment and love we offer God during this time of refining. Thus it is entirely compatible with genuine spiritual progress that the Liszt of "Unstern" enjoyed a more intimate union with God than the Liszt of the Benediction -- in fact it is more likely. We know that the latter piece was written at the time of Liszt's return to the sacraments, and although the piece takes us into the world of high contemplation it is virtually impossible that Liszt could have experienced such a state of prayer at first hand. But perhaps at the end of his life, after so many years of disappointment and difficulty, still clinging tenaciously to his faith, Liszt could echo the following words of the Carmelite, St. Thérèse of Liseux, written at the end of her life:
I give thanks to Jesus for making me walk in darkness, and in the darkness I enjoy profound peace[ -- ]I am content, nay full of joy, to be without all consolation. I should be ashamed if my love were like that of earthly brides who are ever looking for gifts from their bridegrooms, or seeking to catch the smile which fills them with delight. Thérèse, the little spouse of Jesus, loves Him for Himself.

2 comments:

carmelitemom said...

This was very interesting. Do you think Liszt did experience high contemplation at first as a gift from God to draw Him back to Him? He favored Teresa of Avila this way early in her spiritual journey.
Thanks for sharing. ~Theresa

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, he may have, Theresa. Thank you!

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