Monthly Archives: April 2021

Raissa Maritain Second notebook

The second notebook covers the period from 2018-2019 – the last year of World War 1. Early on Raissa writes about the vocation of a Christian which is to ‘walk on the waters … With no human support, in pure faith, in hope and pure charity. With no feeling sometimes, simply keeping one’s eyes raised to God …’

 

Despite being always in poor health Raissa journeys with Jacques to Rome in connection with his theological work, and there it’s initially more difficult to find the solitude and silence she needs. Once she can, she deepens her time of contemplative prayer, commenting on the necessity of this time of silence. This is alongside theological study, writing prose and poetry. Raissa sees that contemplation is the foundation of everything, for even if it dispenses with external activities and takes place in isolation it means that there is a stronger connection with others. She sees this as loving others more for God and ‘to esteem them much less in themselves. Their judgement matters little to me, at least fairly little. What matters to me from now on is to be with my God, and to learn to love him truly. To make his Love and his Mercy known, by becoming kind and merciful myself, by living only on his Love.’

God is in us she writes ‘by grace. It is a question of descending into ourselves, to the bottom of our soul, and that, once again, by sweeping away obstacles.’ She feels discouraged looking only at herself so vows to leave the care of herself to God and abandoning her attempts to do anything through her own strength she sees this as a form of surrender.

In her biography of Raissa, Judith Suther raises questions and gives the contradictory views held about Raissa Maritain. She sees that a physically frail highly intellectual woman living an unconventional life will always be the subject of criticism and divergent judgements. By various people seen as a saint, a snob, a hypochondriac, a genius or an eccentric. Her experience of having felt lost in her desire to be with God and her deepening sense of the joy of his presence meant that her spirituality carries an intensity and strength and this evoked strong feelings in others.

In 1919 she lays out in her journal her resolutions; these are just some of them:

self-examination every day at a set time; very frequent short and fervent prayer; total abandonment to God; free my heart from everything it clings to most …; consent to be completely inactive and useless better to allow God to work in me; be attentive to divine impressions; be attentive to all movements of my heart; see to the purity of intention of all my acts, to perfect sincerity.

And there are more …

 

Resurrection experiences

Extracts from the further notebooks from Raissa Maritain will be posted in the future, but as this is Eastertide the reflections by Stephen Verney on the resurrection seemed timely to write about.

His book Water into Wine is about John’s Gospel and he shares two experiences of his own whereby he came to know what he had previously believed as an article of religious doctrine, ‘that those who have died really are alive, in another order of being, and in communication with us within a new consciousness of faith and prayer.’

The first account follows the death of his first wife, who after an operation felt that she had lost her inner spring of energy and used to say, ‘They have taken away my horse’. After her death, Stephen Verney and his children spent a week together at a place where the family had holidayed every year in Anglesey.

‘We were walking round the cliffs and had come over a little rise, when suddenly I saw, two fields away a horse grazing. I have walked round those cliffs almost every year of my life, and I had never seen a horse in that field before, and have never seen one since. It raised its head, saw us, started whinnying, and galloped across the fields, through a gap in the wall, and up to the stile … she pushed her muzzle over the fence, and snuffed us with delight. I cannot say, “It was as though my wife, my children’s mother, had come to greet us”, the experience was far more powerful than that. We knew that she had come to greet us, and that she was saying, “Look I’ve got my horse back, and I’m so happy you are here on holiday.”’

The second experience involved the death of a day-old son born to Stephen Verney before writing the book and with his second wife. Born, baptized in an oxygen tent, he died – this was the extent of the baby called Harry Stephen’s earthly life,

‘and we were left in a dark place where things did not seem to make sense. One morning, some weeks later, I got up early and was walking along the landing when I looked out of the window, and saw in my garden two sheep with two little black lambs. There have never been sheep in my garden before, and never again since that morning. I went outside, but they had gone leaving their footprints in the soil’.

It was the fortieth day after Harry’s death and Stephen Verney remembered the Eastern Orthodox tradition that the fortieth day after death the soul is set free and enters into anew relationship with heaven and with us. The scripture reading for the day was about the Good Shepherd who carries his lambs in his arms. Stephen Verney’s wife who was Welsh and to whom he had given when they were engaged a dress made of black Welsh sheep’s wool told him that she had always thought of Harry as a little black Welsh lamb.

‘Again, I cannot say, “It was as though Harry had come to tell his parents that he was alive and happy and cared for.” He had really come, using a language which would make sense to his mother and father on that particular morning.’

The veil between this world and the next can becomes very thin in times of deep loss,

‘They have gone through it, and they draw us with them into an intensity of awareness, so that in the depths of the present moment we become open to another order – “the inrush of timelessness” where everything is held together in the mind of God’.