Lent with St Edith Stein Day 33: The Profound Abyss of the Caves of Sense

Lent with St Edith Stein Day 33: The Profound Abyss of the Caves of Sense

“When the spiritual appetite is purified of all things created and of all attachment thereto, then the soul has taken on divine qualities rather than her own natural ones and she now possess an empty, prepared room. But since the divine is not yet communicated to her in union, the soul feels ‘pain that is worse than death.’”

St Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross

               The faculties of the soul can be referred to as the Caves of Sense. The first cave is the intellect, which thirsts for God. It longs to be filled with divine wisdom and truth. This part of the soul seeks knowledge and truth and as St Edith famously said, “Whoever seeks truth seeks God, whether they know it or not.” The second cave is the will, which hungers for God and the perfection of love. This perfection in love cannot be found in ordinary human relationships. Finally, the third cave is the memory, or imagination, which is consumed with desire for possession of God. It longs to grasp something greater than itself.

               Without God, our souls suffer miserably. We spend our lives seeking to fill these caves, these infinite caverns. But we are never satisfied. The caves are infinite and so is our hunger and desire, but we can only be filled by the infinite. Temporal things only provide us with a shallow satisfaction, so when we try to fill ourselves with them, we only block off the entrance. So we’re still empty and miserable, but God can’t get in to fill us with His light.

               We keep ourselves in spiritual blindness, either by ignorance or willful stubbornness. The spiritual eye has excellent vision, but like the physical eye, it can be blocked so easily. Think of the physical eye; it has a tremendous range of vision. Go outside and you can see the light of stars from millions of miles away. But put just the tip of your finger over your eye and it sees nothing. In the same way, we block of the caves of senses and keep ourselves in utter darkness.

               In order to fill these caves, we must possess God, but how can we do so? There are two means: Possession of God through Grace and Possession of God through Union. Possession through grace is like an engagement.  God asked his beloved to be his and she said yes. The bride prepares for the fullness of marriage and the two grow closer. The bridegroom visits her regularly and brings her gifts. This preparation takes longer for some than for others.

               The second type of possession of God is through union, which we have discussed extensively in previous sessions. This divine union is given to us by God once we have passed through the dark night or otherwise purified our souls. This is a matrimony where God and the soul are joined together with one common purpose, one will.

               When we possess God through grace, the barriers in front of our caves begin to shift and move out of the way. The divine light begins creeping in. We can begin to see things more clearly, although sometimes temporal things still block the light. In union, the caves are flooded with divine light. As St John of the Cross notes, “They themselves now burn and send the splendors they have received with loving glory in God to God, just as glass reflects the splendor of the sun shining on it. Yet the soul reflects the divine light in a more excellent way because the will cooperates.” The soul is now able to give God more than it possesses, even in its innermost depths. Because the soul possesses God, it can reflect his own perfect love back to him.

               Not only are the caves of the soul filled to satisfaction, the soul is capable of greater love for God. St Edith says that “The soul here loves God for his own sake. She does not love him only because he is so generous, good, glorious, and so on, but with greater intensity she loves him because he is all this in himself essentially.”

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