As Kelly explains what a life guided by the inner light of Christ is like, he writes that such guidance does not consist wholly “in special leadings toward particular tasks. It begins first of all with a mass revision of our total reaction to the world.” This is another area where the classic teachers of contemplation surprised me. The majority of my acquaintances who “listen for the voice of God” or seek to obey the “inner promptings of the Spirit” seem to have a particular focus on discovering what exciting tasks the Lord has in mind for them. But the great mystics of the church are primarily focused on cultivating a deep love of God that leads to inner moral formation. It isn’t so much about what they do specifically, as it is about the kind of person they are becoming. Again, I’m reminded of St. Teresa. She remarked in The Interior Castle that the first time a person hears the voice of God, he won’t like it. That’s because God says the same thing to everybody at first: “put away your sins!”
If you go down the mystic path looking to discover the “wonderful plan God has for your life,” you may be disappointed when he instead tells you to stop sinning and love people more. Which is where Kelly turns next.
Paradoxically, this total Instruction proceeds in two opposite directions at once. We are torn loose from earthly attachments and ambitions–contemptus mundi. And we are quickened to a divine but painful attachment to the world–amor mundi. He plucks the world out of our hearts, loosening the chains of attachment. And He hurls the world into our hearts, where we and He together carry it in infinitely tender love. [p. 19-20]
Gone is my selfish ambition; in its place is selfless love. We are called to follow the pattern of the One who left all glory and authority to become a mortal man, a servant, an executed criminal. In the light of Christ, all wrangling for prominence is exposed for the great foolishness that it is.
But this is joy–not sorrow. Kelly calls it “the new freedom of utter poverty.” His last words in this section are worth quoting in full:
Double-mindedness in this matter is wholly destructive of the spiritual life. Totalitarian are the claims of Christ. No vestige of reservation of “our” rights can remain. Straddle arrangements and compromises between our allegiences to the surface level and the divine Center cannot endure. Unless the willingness is present to be stripped of our last earthly dignity and hope, and yet still praise Him, we have no message in this our day of refugees, bodily and spiritual. Nor have we yielded to the monitions of the Inner Instructor.
But actually completed detachment is much harder than intended detachment. Fugitive islands of secret reservations elude us. Rationalizations hide them. Intending absolute honesty, we can only bring ourselves steadfastly into His presence and pray “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” And in the X-ray light of Eternity we may be given to see the dark spots of life, and divine grace may be given to reinforce our will to complete abandonment in Him. For the guidance of the Light is critical, acid, sharper than a two-edged sword. He asks all, but gives all. [p. 21-22]