Meister Eckhart has become popular as an all-purpose mystic, the patron saint of a “spirituality” that makes no hard demands. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Dag Hammarskjöld once said, Meister Eckhart’s true message is to call us to a life of selfless service. In life, Meister Eckhart seems to have been a man of action rather than contemplation. Born in 1260 in Germany, he became a Dominican monk and did much of his writing while responsible for 47 monasteries spread from the Netherlands to the Baltic. Eager to encourage ordinary people to live out the gospel more fully, he was known for his striking and original preaching. Shining through his writings is Meister Eckhart’s love for Christ. In this sense if no other, he was indeed a mystic. His down-to-earth wisdom can help guide us in our life of discipleship today.
The Dawning of the Soul
If God is to enter into you, then human or animal nature must go out of you. Where this nature ends, God begins.
Self-love is the root and cause of all evil; it snatches away all that is good and all that is perfect. Therefore if the soul is to know God, it must also forget itself and lose itself. For as long as it sees itself, it will not see and perceive God.
But when it loses itself for God’s sake and leaves all things, then it finds itself again in God because God dawns for it – and only then does the soul perceive itself and all things, after having detached itself utterly from them, in God.
See, your heart at times feels strangely aroused and averted from the world: this comes from the grace that lifts up the soul, for if the soul is to become godly, it must be raised up above itself.
Learning to Will God’s Will
Nothing makes a true man but the giving up of his will. The only perfect and true will comes from entering into God’s will and being without self-will. For the whole perfection of man’s will means being in harmony with the divine will by willing what God wills, and the way he wills it.
At the time when the angel appeared to our dear Mary, nothing that she had done would ever have made her the mother of God; but as soon as she gave up her will, at that same hour she became mother of the Eternal Word and conceived God in that hour.
Never has God given himself nor will he ever give himself to an alien will. Only where he finds his will does he impart himself and leave himself, with all that he is.
We deafen God day and night with our words, “Lord, thy will be done.” But then when God’s will does happen, we are furious and don’t like it a bit. When our will becomes God’s will, that is certainly good; but how much better it would be if God’s will were to become our will…
Anyone who by God’s grace unites his will purely and completely with God’s will has no need other than to say in his ardent longing: “Lord, show me what is thy dearest will and give me strength to do it!” And God will do this, as truly as he lives, and to such a one he will give in great abundance and all perfection.
No one must imagine that it is impossible to attain this, for it is God who does it. Some may say they do not have it. To this I say that I am sorry. But if you do not desire it, I am still more sorry. If you cannot have it, then do have a longing for it! And if you cannot have the longing, then at least long to have the longing!
Discipleship and Virtue
The perfecting of virtue is not possible without a fight. It is easy to demonstrate and describe virtues; but truly to have them is very rare indeed.
The habit of good comes about and is made to count through frequent repetition of individual deeds. Virtue thus comes into being more by itself and out of love for the good, without a why; and only in this way, not before, will one have perfect virtue.
Meantime one must grow and progress at all times, without ceasing – and one will never come to the end of that.
Never shall we be satisfied with what we have attained, never must we stand still. In this life there is no standing still. Anyone who wants to overcome the devil and to do wonders without delusion must persevere in daily battle against every sin by which the devil might defeat us, and have patience in adversities.
Therefore let a man only direct his will to God in everything he does and have God alone before his eyes. Then he may go his way quietly and have no fears and no misgivings about whether he is on the right way or is doing anything wrong. If a person who wanted to walk a certain distance were to consider first how he should put his foot down, he would never arrive at the goal.
One should therefore just follow the direction. In this way one arrives there, and that is good.
From Meister Eckehart spricht, (Munich: Ars Sacra, Josef Müller Verlag, 1925), translated by Nicoline Maas.