I was led into mystery this year through a study on the psycho-spiritual inspiration of three saints – Francis of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen and Ignatius of Loyola. As an expression of my interest in spirituality and mental health, I investigated the mental health related factors that enabled the saints to ‘burst out in praise’ in the midst of pain or suffering. My findings included a psycho-spiritual development scale, factors of psycho-spiritual development and a representative diagram.
Early on, I thought that this ‘bursting out in praise’ – also called the psycho-spiritual inspiration – meant a real Hallelujah moment where everybody would hear a joyful acclamation. While I do not deny that this can be the case, I began to understand the process as less obvious at first glance. Francis was known to have lived with two levels of experiences: one was at a surface level and another was at a deeper level. He experienced his own turmoil and anguish and the darkness of the world while at the same time he felt deep peace knowing that his pain or suffering was held secure by the goodness of the love of ‘God’.
Hildegard experienced the soft sound of praise in the midst of her mystical visions such as the vision of Soul and Body which tells about the body and soul of the child coming together in the mother’s womb. Her visions were supported by the pope of her time and by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Ignatius experienced this sweet softness while contemplating on ‘God’ at work in all of creation, as recorded in his Spiritual Exercises. His imagination enabled him to deepen his belief that ‘God’ could be found in all things, everywhere in everyone at all times.
The soft sound of praise can be compared to a heart that is strumming like a guitar. Like a lively contentment being around loved ones, doing ordinary things and experiencing ordinary emotions. I look to the image of a monk (which my mam painted!) in the cloister who feels connected with an inner joy in the midst of solitude. He walks rhythmically and feels the sunlight that touches his body. And from this anchor of praise, we might just sense the energy of his smile.