Friday, August 17, 2012

Blessed Geurric of Igny and the Soul's Joy

The Abbey of Igny. (Source.)
Tomorrow is the memorial of Blessed Geurric of Igny, scholar, abbot, and mystic of joy. Sometimes you have an instant affinity for an author and I had such an experience with Geurric when I first read him during my time as a monk.

Geurric was born at Tournai in Belgium and educated there. He was already a mature scholar when he came under the influence of St. Bernard and became a monk of Clairvaux. He later became Abbot of Igny near Rheims and is one of that great group of Cistercian mystics and fellow travelers who made the 12th Century to become known as the Cistercian Century. Saints Bernard, Aelred, Hildegard, and Gertrude tend to be far better known than many of the Order's other mystics, but a quote or two from Geurric might show a bit of what depth there is to be found in any number of writers and teachers of the period.

In his second sermon for Advent, Geurric speaks beautifully of Christ's visits to the soul that desires him:

Since then the first coming brought grace and the last will bring glory, this one indeed partakes both of grace and of glory; for in it, through the consolation of grace, we are given a foretaste of future glory. In the first the God of majesty is seen as one despised, in the last he will be seen in awe0inspiring might. In this one he is wonderful and lovable: the lustre of grace that renders him lovable demands admiration, not disdain; the splendor of glory that makes him wonderful brings consolation not fear....

Utterly wonderful and lovable it is when God, the Love of the lover, is grasped even in the senses, when the Bridegroom embraces the Bride and they become one in the Spirit, as she is transformed into the same image in which as in a mirror she sees the glory of the Lord. How blessed are they who because of their burning love have already merited to receive this privilege. Blessed too are they whose holy simplicity leads them to hope for it sometime.
What modern author, even a very holy one, would be able to write with that simplicity, trust, and wonder and yet not wander over into the saccharine? How beautiful to look over Bl. Geurric's shoulder across more than eight centuries and still to see the light of joy on his face. The older version of the Cistercian Menology says that Geurric received angelic visitations because of his own angelic innocence and we see his innocence and intimacy with God in his writing. His writing gives hope that we too can have the more calloused layers of our personality peeled away so that something more supple may emerge.

Earlier in the Second Sermon for Advent, he writes of the humility Christ imparts to us in his visitations:

He comes to us now of course so that his first coming will not have been in vain nor his last in anger against us. In this coming he is intent to reform our spirit of pride, making it conform to his humility which he manifested in his first coming, so that he might also refashion our lowly body, making it like to his glorious body which he will manifest when he comes again the second time.

Finally, there is this prayer attributed to Geurric, which seems particularly right for high summer, even if the drought has kept many gardens from being what their gardeners might like this year:

O Lord Jesus, true gardener, work in us what you want of us, for without you we can do nothing. For you are indeed the true gardener, at once the maker and tiller and keeper of your garden, you plant with the word, water with the Spirit and give your increase with your power.