The Drama Within the Drama and the Brains Behind Pa
Specifically, I'm reading Balthasar's First Glance at Adrienne von Speyr, which is his relatively brief introduction to her vast body of work, most of which it seems was "dictated" to him in trance. It is definitely a drama within the drama, and anyone sophering from traces of reductionosis or materialitis will be severely tested. It's pretty much of an either/or: either you accept her as the real deal, or reject her as some kind of fringe kook.
Having personally witnessed the phenomena over some 27 years, Balthasar was 100% certain of her authenticity, although, at the same time, he left it to the church to make the final determination as to whether or not her teachings were kosher. But he says that he "never had the least doubt about the authentic mission that was hers, nor about the unpretentious integrity with which she lived it and communicated it to me." (And I'm assuming she must have known Pope Benedict -- then Big Joe Ratzinger -- being that Balthasar and Ratzinger started a journal together.)
First, Balthsar makes it clear that his work cannot be separated from hers, and that any attempt to do so does violence to his project. The whole relationship very much reminds me of that between Sri Aurobindo and his spiritual collaborator, known as the Mother (Mira Richard). In fact, I don't think I've seen anything that so closely parallels it. Sri Aurobindo also had to caution his reluctant disciples that his work could not be understood apart from the Mother, and that they were even "one consciousness in two bodies," so to speak.
In any event, whatever else you think about these people, you have to admit that something very strange was going on with them. How strange? I've mentioned in the past that one of the things that struck me about Aurobindo was how he could work on seven or eight massive volumes of theology, mysticism, scriptural commentary, philosophy, political science, and poetry, all at the same time. He completed most of his major works in a relatively short space of time.
Now, first of all, he had no training in any of the above subjects with the exception of poetry. Furthermore, he claimed to engage in "overmental writing," in which you could say that he was basically a stenographer for forces higher than himself.
The same thing is true of von Speyr. She was a physician by trade, with no theological training whatsoever. In fact, she didn't even become a Catholic until the age of 38, shortly after meeting Balthasar (she was born in 1902, he in 1905). He became her spiritual director, confessor and confidante, and they eventually shared a house until her death in 1965.
At the time of von Speyr's death, 37 of her books were in print, and yet, even today, few people have "taken serious notice of her writings." And those 37 are truly just the tip of the iceberg. There is apparently so much unpublished material that it dwarfs Balthasar's, even though he was obviously about as prolific as you can imagine.
And yet, as with Aurobindo, von Speyr's work is not the product of "thought" or cogitation. However, at the same time, she had a kind of implicit knowledge of deep spiritual truths, almost like an idiot savant who can solve complex mathematical problems with no formal understanding of math (except that she was no idiot, having been an outstanding physician).
In 1940, Balthasar began instructing her in the Catholic faith. On the one hand "she plainly did not know the things I told her," and yet, "immediately and directly recognized them as valid and true for her." She also realized that she had been seeking these truths her whole life (she was raised a protestant and had only heard vaguely negative things about Catholicism).
Balthasar has a vivid description of what this was like: "the outline of Catholic truth was, as it were, hollowed out in her like the interior of a mold. A slight indication was all she needed in order to understand and accept with all her heart and in exuberant joy."
I have to say, I know exactly how this feels, as it has been happening to me on a smaller scale, what with our ongoing adventures in Christianity. In fact, this is why it has been such slow-going in blogging about the Theo-Drama. More often than not, a single sentence by Balthasar blossoms into a whole post.
At first, the two were somewhat disappointed at the world's indifference to her remarkable gifts (her books were rarely even reviewed). But eventually, "she came to understand that during her lifetime it was her lot to talk into thin air, to work without any evident effect." Suffice it to say that there was absolutely no ego involved in any of this. Rather, she lived a life total surrender to the divine. Higher than her own power was the renunciation of personal power and her submission "in silence to the will of God."
Immediately after her conversion in 1940, "a veritable cataract of mystical graces poured over Adrienne in a seemingly chaotic storm that whirled her in all directions at once." It was as if she were transported "above" in prayer, only to come back down to earth "with new understanding, new love and new resolutions." In fact, on one occasion she heard a voice that provided a certain key to her gift: you shall live in heaven and on earth, like a sort of vertical bridge that spans the worlds.
But at the same time, this was no picnic. For example, she was given direct insight into "the interior sufferings of Jesus in all their fullness and diversity -- whole maps of suffering were filled in precisely there where no more than a blank space or vague idea seemed to exist." One part of her would be undergoing the experience -- stigmata and all -- while another part "was able to to describe in her own clear and penetrating words what she was experiencing."
Importantly, unlike free-lance mystics whose visions are of dubious value at best, hers were never unorthodox, but always wholly rooted in revelation. Again, she was fully surrendered to this divine reality, and didn't mix in her own idiosyncratic ideas. There is nothing "occult" about her, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. She practiced a form of "self-forgetfulness," a "virginal readiness for the Word of God," in which the personal self would only get in the way. She loved the anonymity of of letting herself "be absorbed namelessly in the universal," or of simply making herself "available" to God. In this regard, her model was Mary (her first published work, Handmaid of the Lord, was a Marian one).
At the same time, despite the anonymity, surrender, and absorption in God, she was definitely a distinct person in her own right. As Balthsar puts it, "the supernatural dimension in no way effaced her natural individuality: rather, it underlined it." He describes her as fundamentally joyous, cheerful and humorous, despite her suffering. Like a child, she had a "love of surprises," and was always guileless and innocent, "with the idea that only in this way can the true meaning of life, the wild adventure of existence be properly portrayed." She was the very opposite of the modern jadedness and cynicism that stifles the adventure of life.
Indeed, one of her most prominent characteristics was "that all her life she was and remained a child.... Moreover, she was and remained nothing but a child before God, the Church, and her confessor, with a trust that had nothing to conceal.... This guileless openness of heart is probably the key to all doors of her nature and writing."
As for the content of that opened heart, I guess that will have to wait until tomorrow. Long day ahead.
Well, she talks to all the servants
About man and God and law.
She's the brains behind pa. --Bob Dylan