An English hermit and mystic, Richard Rolle was born at Thornton, Yorkshire around 1290. He was educated at Oxford and in Paris before entering into the life of a hermit on the estate of his friend John Dalton of Pickering. After years of intense contemplation, he took to wandering across England, settling at Hampole where he assisted the spiritual development of the nuns in a nearby Cistercian community. He died there on September 29, 1349. As one of the first spiritual writers to use the “vernacular” English, his writings were widely read during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. His works include letters, commentaries on the scripture, and treatises on spiritual perfection. Among these are De Incendio Amoris (The Fire of Love) which recounts his mystical experiences. He describes evidence of his mystical communion with God as sometimes characterized by a physical warmth in his body, a sense of wonderful sweetness, and heavenly music that accompanied him as he chanted the psalms. In terms of the Advent season, Rolle expresses the coming of God in Jesus in terms of the revealing of Uncreated Light and the consuming fire of “God With Us”.
O Holy Spirit, Who breathes
where You will, breathe into me
and draw me to Yourself.
Invest the nature You have shaped,
with gifts so flowing with honey that,
from intense joy in Your sweetness,
this clay might turn from lesser things,
that it may accept (as You give them)
spiritual gifts, and through pleasing
jubilation, it may melt, entirely,
in holy love, reaching finally out
to touch the Uncreated Light.
Invitation to the God
Sear my inmost being
with Your fire, and my heart
will burn on Your altar forever.
Come, I beg You, O sweet
and true glory! Come, O most
desired sweetness! Come,
my Beloved, Who are my whole
consolation, to my soul — now languishing
for your sake and inclined to You —
and slip into it with most
sweetly flowing love. Set ablaze
with Your heat every penetrable
place of my heart and, by filling
its inmost places with Your light
feed the whole with the honey-flowing
joy of Your love, in order
to snatch up in new, noetic
union this mind and body.
Advent celebrates the reality that we are not alone. God comes to us, often in the most unexpected ways.
does not suffer
the loving soul
to continue apart,
exiled inside itself.
Rather, love carries
that soul beyond
itself and nearer
so that the soul
be there, joined
to that it loves,
than where the body
on it for feeling
and for life) languishes.
Our next Mystic for Advent will be Origen of Alexandria. Just as Richard Rolle emphasizes the Advent mysteries of Joy, Origen presents us with the Advent mysteries of Hope.
Note: The words of Richard Rolle are presented in verse form by Scott Cairns in his book, Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life, Paraclete Press, 2007.
Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam and one of the blog masters of New Westminster Anglican Blog. Your comments and contributions are always welcome.