Lord, you tell us from heaven that you are the first and the last. Grant us understanding of this word in faith, this word that you speak to us over and over again, that you say again and again, like a confession of love to us and to the Father at the same time. Let us understand the meaning of your word, become the first in our day and remain the first and the last simultaneously until our evening. Occupy the place of the first and the last in each of our thoughts so that everything we think about may become a prayer enveloped in your presence. In so naming yourself, you offer yourself to be our beginning and end. You offer to accomplish all of the work in us, to bring us, worthy of your promises, to the Father. Lord, form us. Form our faith; form our life out of your own being—being that is the beginning and the end. Uproot everything in us that does not begin and end in you, everything that prevents us from following you perfectly. When you are beginning and end in us, your obedience to the Father becomes alive in us. Lord, let our obedience be offered to your will, give us anew each day the strength to receive you as our first and last; just as the Father possesses you in the Spirit as the first and the last, so grant that we may learn from your Father, from you, from your Spirit to possess in you our beginning and end forevermore. Amen. (Quoted from the book, With God and With Men: Prayers, published in English translation in 1995 by Ignatius Press, San Francisco)
This is a prayer of a true 20th century mystic, Adrienne von Speyr (1902-67). She was a physician in her native Switzerland. She preferred to treat the poor, at no charge, and saw as many as sixty to eighty patients a day. But today she is known mainly for the many books that contain her spiritual writings. In the prayer quoted above, we hear someone who entered deeply into the divine life and experienced what we Orthodox call theosis. It is a truly profound prayer, a prayer of pure theology, a prayer as if spoken by someone embedded in the trinitarian life and love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. She always contemplated Christ in communion with us and with God the Father at the same time. This is true Christian mysticism.
Every phrase and sentence in this prayer deserves much contemplation on our part, but what I most easily respond to are her thoughts of formation. “Form us,” she cries out; form our faith, form our life…out of God’s own being! What an amazing thing, this prayer to be formed by God, as if at the beginning again; to be formed in God’s image in Christ. Christ who is “the first and the last” of all existence! I have to become a mystic myself to delve any deeper in this prayer, so I stop here.
Looking at her picture below, taken when she was in her forties, I see a woman who was doctor and wife (then widow) – and mystic. Not a nun, not a dour, world-hating person that you would not want to be around. Just an ordinary woman who was gifted by God to express some of the most profound thoughts and prayers of anyone living in our turbulent times. A symposium was held at the Vatican in 2017 entitled “Adrienne von Speyr: A Woman in the Heart of the 20th Century.” Hans Urs von Balthasar, whom I quoted yesterday, transcribed and edited many of her books and often said that most of his own work was primarily inspired by his collaborator von Speyr and her “experiential dogmatics”. He wrote: “On the whole I received far more from Adrienne, theologically, than she from me…. As her confessor and spiritual director, I observed her interior life most closely, yet in twenty-seven years I never had the least doubt about the authentic mission that was hers…. [H]er work appears far more important to me than mine…. I am convinced that when her works are made available, those who are in a position to judge will concur with me about their value and will thank God that he has granted such graces to the Church in our time.”