Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis. Book 1, Chapter 20: Of the love of solitude and silence

Of the love of solitude and silence

Seek a suitable time for thy meditation, and think frequently of
the mercies of God to thee.  Leave curious questions.  Study such
matters as bring thee sorrow for sin rather than amusement.  If
thou withdraw thyself from trifling conversation and idle goings
about, as well as from novelties and gossip, thou shalt find thy
time sufficient and apt for good meditation.  The greatest saints
used to avoid as far as they could the company of men, and chose
to live in secret with God.
One hath said, “As oft as I have gone among men, so oft have I
returned less a man.”  This is what we often experience when we
have been long time in conversation.  For it is easier to be
altogether silent than it is not to exceed in word.  It is easier
to remain hidden at home than to keep sufficient guard upon
thyself out of doors.  He, therefore, that seeketh to reach that
which is hidden and spiritual, must go with Jesus “apart from the
multitude.”  No man safely goeth abroad who loveth not to rest at
home.  No man safely talketh but he who loveth to hold his peace.
No man safely ruleth but he who loveth to be subject.  No man
safely commandeth but he who loveth to obey.
No man safely rejoiceth but he who hath the testimony of a
good conscience within himself.  The boldness of the Saints was
always full of the fear of God.  Nor were they the less earnest
and humble in themselves, because they shone forth with great
virtues and grace.  But the boldness of wicked men springeth from
pride and presumption, and at the last turneth to their own
confusion.  Never promise thyself security in this life,
howsoever good a monk or devout a solitary thou seemest.
Often those who stand highest in the esteem of men, fall the
more grievously because of their over great confidence.
Wherefore it is very profitable unto many that they should not be
without inward temptation, but should be frequently assaulted,
lest they be over confident, lest they be indeed lifted up into
pride, or else lean too freely upon the consolations of the
world.  O how good a conscience should that man keep, who never
sought a joy that passeth away, who never became entangled with
the world!  O how great peace and quiet should he possess, who
would cast off all vain care, and think only of healthful and
divine things, and build his whole hope upon God!
No man is worthy of heavenly consolation but he who hath
diligently exercised himself in holy compunction.  If thou wilt
feel compunction within thy heart, enter into thy chamber and
shut out the tumults of the world, as it is written, Commune with
your own heart in your own chamber and be still. [Psalm 4:4]  In
retirement thou shalt find what often thou wilt lose abroad.
Retirement, if thou continue therein, groweth sweet, but if thou
keep not in it, begetteth weariness.  If in the beginning of thy
conversation thou dwell in it and keep it well, it shall
afterwards be to thee a dear friend, and a most pleasant solace.
In silence and quiet the devout soul goeth forward and
learneth the hidden things of the Scriptures.  Therein findeth
she a fountain of tears, wherein to wash and cleanse herself each
night, that she may grow the more dear to her Maker as she
dwelleth the further from all worldly distraction.  To him who
withdraweth himself from his acquaintance and friends, God with
his holy angels will draw nigh.  It is better to be unknown and
take heed to oneself than to neglect oneself and work wonders.
It is praiseworthy for a religious man to go seldom abroad, to
fly from being seen, to have no desire to see men.
Why wouldest thou see what thou mayest not have?  The world
passeth away and the lust thereof.  The desires of sensuality
draw thee abroad, but when an hour is past, what dost thou bring
home, but a weight upon thy conscience and distraction of heart?
A merry going forth bringeth often a sorrowful return, and a
merry evening maketh a sad morning.  So doth all carnal joy
begin pleasantly, but in the end it gnaweth away and destroyeth.
What canst thou see abroad which thou seest not at home?  Behold
the heaven and the earth and the elements, for out of these are
all things made.
What canst thou see anywhere which can continue long under the
sun?  Thou believest perchance that thou shalt be satisfied, but
thou wilt never be able to attain unto this.  If thou shouldest
see all things before thee at once, what would it be but a vain
vision?  Lift up thine eyes to God on high, and pray that thy
sins and negligences may be forgiven.  Leave vain things to vain
men, and mind thou the things which God hath commanded thee.
Shut thy door upon thee, and call unto thyself Jesus thy beloved.
Remain with Him in thy chamber, for thou shalt not elsewhere find
so great peace.  If thou hadst not gone forth nor listened to
vain talk, thou hadst better kept thyself in good peace.  But
because it sometimes delighteth thee to hear new things, thou
must therefore suffer trouble of heart.

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