I would like to reply to someone who questioned me as follows: “You speak of experience, of spiritual experience, of the experience of the Church. But of what concern is that to us? How does that correspond to your own experience of God? To what degree does it resemble or partake of the Church of all times and that of all the saints? Either this experience is real in you and your theology can be constructed, or it does not exist and theology is based on the void.”
Certainly, a theology not based on a living experience is empty, vain, and sclerotic, even if the words are true and sound, borrowed from the common experience of the Church. How can I reply? Of what value is my experience? I cannot judge this. But I can say that I want to base myself with my whole being, without dissolving myself, on the experience of the saints: in apprenticeship, in humble discovery, in partaking of this common faith that gradually becomes mine, to such an extent that I no longer know where to put the quotation marks around the words of the saints and my own words—quotation marks are a modern invention, unknown to the Fathers. There is a way of living the words of the Gospel and the words of the saints so deeply that they become my own words, spontaneously, naturally. Thus, I feel that the certainty of the saints is mine. With all my being, I desire that this be so. I live the painful alternation of the presence and the absence of God—who of us can say he or she is entirely in the presence of God? I live the oscillation between, on the one hand, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit and, on the other, dryness, inaneness, and spiritual sterility. I live in the faith, in the hope of things to come, in the certainty that God has loved and saved us and that the grace of God superabounds and works through our weaknesses. The Lord tells St Paul that to speak of spiritual experience is not to look at oneself in a mirror or to hear oneself talk, pray, or preach. St Isaac of Syria writes, “True prayer is when one prays without even knowing one prays.” To know that one prays is already a return to self. True prayer, then, is to forget about oneself; praying is turning to God and others in the best possible way.