Introductory Note:

Love for God cannot be forced or pretended, but, according to 15th century theologian Nicholas of Cusa, it grows naturally in us as we “enlarge our capacity” to recognize God’s gifts of sweetness and joy.

Below we’ve paired an excerpt from Nicholas with two contemporary readings that help us pay attention to God’s overtures of love and our attraction to God’s beauty and goodness.

Renovaré Team

The Divine Embrace 

—from Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, by John O’Donohue

Faith is attraction to the divine. For too long faith has been presented as a weak form of knowledge. Yet whilst faith seems feeble in the realm of evidence and proof, beauty always attracts us. It strikes our sensibility in a way that makes us respond. Our response to beauty is unlaboured. Even in unknown ways, our lives are charged with attraction towards divine beauty. The infinity of the beauty which is God is a feast for the soul. The beauty of God increases and deepens our own beauty. We enter the secret symmetry of the Divine Imagination. When we consider faith as a response to Divine Beauty, we begin to glimpse its creativity and passion. Faith is no blind piety but a primal attraction, the deepest resonance of the self drawn to the elegance of its ancient origin. Faith has its own aesthetic of dignity, light and proportion. Something in us senses and knows how perfectly the contours of the soul fit the divine embrace. It is the deepest dream of the soul to be in the intimacy of Divine Beauty. At that depth an atmosphere of elegance presides. Such a profound attraction turns the body into a force-field of divine quickening. The whole self is taken up in the embrace of the divine tenderness.

The classic image for this encounter of God and the soul is that of the Lover and the Beloved. …

Love’s Imparting

—from The Vision of God, by Nicholas of Cusa

Lord, Thou hast given me my being, of such a nature that it can make itself continuously more able to receive Thy grace and goodness. And this power, which I have of Thee, wherein I possess a living image of Thine almighty power, is freewill. By this I can either enlarge or restrict my capacity for Thy grace.

The enlarging is by conformity with Thee, when I strive to be good because Thou art good, to be just because Thou art just, to be merciful because Thou art merciful; when all my endeavour is turned toward Thee because all Thy endeavour is turned toward me; when I look unto Thee alone with all my attention, nor ever turn aside the eyes of my mind, because Thou dost enfold me with Thy constant regard; when I direct my love toward Thee alone because Thou, who art Love’s self, hast turned Thee toward me alone. And what, Lord, is my life, save that embrace wherein Thy delightsome sweetness doth so lovingly enfold me? I love my life supremely because Thou art my life’s sweetness.

Now I behold as in a mirror, in an icon, in a riddle, life eternal, for that is naught other than that blessed regard wherewith Thou never ceasest most lovingly to behold me, yea, even the secret places of my soul. With Thee, to behold is to give life; tis unceasingly to impart sweetest love of Thee; tis to inflame me to love of Thee by love’s imparting, and to feed me by inflaming, and by feeding to kindle my yearnings, and by kindling to make me drink of the dew of gladness, and by drinking to infuse in me a fountain of life, and by infusing to make it increase and endure.

Tis to cause me to share Thine immortality, to endow me with the glory imperishable of Thy heavenly and most high and most mighty kingdom, tis to make me partaker of that inheritance which is only of Thy Son, to establish me in possession of eternal bliss. There is the source of all delights that can be desired; not only can naught better be thought out by men and angels, but naught better can exist in any mode of being! For it is the absolute maximum of every rational desire, than which a greater cannot be.

Preparation of the Heart

—from Prayer, by Richard Foster

Sometimes we are invaded to the depths by an overwhelming experience of the love of God. Walking down the streets of New York, D. L. Moody was so overcome by God’s loving presence that he rushed to the home of a friend in order to have a room alone where, for two hours, wave after wave of God’s ravishing love swept over him. At other times we experience such a flaming vision of light that we are forever blinded to all competing loyalties. In the center of his greatest spiritual moment Blaise Pascal wrote the single word Fire!”…

I have discovered that such God-intoxicating experiences are far more common than we might at first assume. However, it is possible that we have never had such a soul-shaking encounter. That is all right. Nothing is wrong with us. We can share in the joyous wonder of such flaming visions through the biographies and journals of the saints and the wonderful stories of countless unnamed, unheralded ordinary people. After all, these experiences are given for the encouragement of all the people of God, not just a few individuals.

Also, we can cultivate the habit of a Godward-directed mind and heart. …

We are to have the fittest preparation of heart,” says Richard Baxter. Long before anyone knew that body language reveals our innermost feelings, Baxter was urging people to meet God in such an uninhibited way that their deepest feelings could burst forth. We can run, jump, walk, stand, kneel, or lie prostrate on the floor. We can close our eyes bowed in awe and reverence, or we can raise our eyes upward in praise and devotion. We can lift our hands, clap our hands, fold our hands. We can weep, laugh, sing, shout. We can use trumpet, lute, harp, tambourine, strings, pipe, and loud clashing cymbals. We can kneel in silent wonder and adoration. We can also prepare the heart by cultivating holy expectancy.” With our mind’s eye we pass through the outer court and into the inner court. The veil is lifted from our hearts, and we enter the Holy of Holies. The air becomes charged with expectancy. We listen in utter silence for the Kol Yahweh, the voice of the Lord.

Another way we make the heart ready to enter the awesome Presence is by disciplining the tongue. How much more fitting to come in absolute silence before the Holy One of eternity than to rush into his presence with hearts and minds askew and tongues full of words. The scriptural admonition is, The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!” (Hab. 2:20).

Specific preparations can be extremely helpful. The Psalter is the prayerbook of the Church, and I often precede personal prayer with the prayerful reading of a Psalm. My own church tradition is decidedly nonliturgical, which is precisely why at times I use one of the great books of liturgy designed to aid private prayer. Sometimes I have John Baillie cultivate my heart by means of his famous Diary of Private Prayer, or I may turn to the lesser-known Doctor Johnson’s Prayers. At other times I write out my own prayers and pray them as a daily private ritual of heart preparation. The preparation of your own little sanctuary can draw the heart into worship. I have a friend who lights a candle in her small study whenever she goes to prayer. Fresh flowers can delight both sight and smell. I like to have a cup of coffee in hand whenever I pray in the morning. I know you have preparations of your own. The idea is to use all the means at our disposal to urge all that is within us into doxology: Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Ps. 103:1). As Richard Baxter reminds us, the rewards are well worth the effort: There is none on earth that live such a life of joy and blessedness as those that are acquainted with this heavenly conversation.”

We usually think of a tryst as a prearranged meeting of lovers. How appropriate! The trysting prayer is our special date with God. We can be free and at ease because we are entering into the heart’s true home. Our Eternal Lover lures us back regularly into his presence with anticipation and delight. It is not hard to honor this regular time of meeting, for the language of lovers is the language of waste. We are glad to waste time with God, for we are pleased with the company.

The Divine Embrace” — taken from Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O’Donohue, copyright © John O’Donohue, 2004. (Harper Perennial, 2004). Used by permission of the John O’Donohue Literary Estate.

Love’s Imparting” — taken from The Vision of God, by Nicholas of Cusa, 1453. Emma Gurney Salter, translator. Available on Scribd through Cosimo Classics.

Preparation of the Heart” — taken from Prayer:Finding the Heart’s True Home, by Richard Foster (HarperOne, 1992).

Photo by Evie S. on Unsplash

· Last Featured on February 2023