Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon (commonly known as Madame Guyon) (18 April 1648 : 6 – 9 June 1717), was a French mystic and one of the key advocates of Quietism (i.e. a practice of Stillness), although she never called herself a Quietist. Quietism was considered heretical by the Roman Catholic Church, and she was imprisoned from 1695 to 1703 after publishing a book on the topic, “A Short and Easy Method of Prayer”.
Guyon believed that one should pray all the time, and that in whatever one does, one should be spending time with God. “Prayer is the key of perfection and of sovereign happiness; it is the efficacious means of getting rid of all vices and of acquiring all virtues; for the way to become perfect is to live in the presence of God. He tells us this Himself: “walk before me, and be thou perfect” Genesis 17:1. Prayer alone can bring you into His presence, and keep you there continually.”
As she wrote in one of her poems: “There was a period when I chose, A time and place for prayer, but now I seek that constant prayer, In inward stillness known.”
In her autobiography, Madame Guyon criticized self–righteous people who try to gain heaven through their works. She praised lowly sinners who merely submitted themselves to God’s will. Of the righteous, she wrote:
“The righteous, supported by the great number of works of righteousness he presumes to have done, seems to hold his salvation in his own hands, and regards heaven as the recompense due to his merits. His Saviour is, for him, almost useless. These righteous persons expect God to deliver and save them as payment for their good works. In contrast to the self–sufficient, righteous egoists, the sinners who have selflessly submitted to God are carried swiftly by the wings of love and confidence into the arms of their Saviour, who gives them gratuitously what He has infinitely merited for them. God’s bounties are effects of His will, and not the fruits of our merits.”
As with Marguerite Porete’s writings, one can find in Madame Guyon’s themes of non-doership, surrender of personal will, a discipline of silence and stillness, the transcendence of thought and desire, renunciation of lesser spiritual experiences for the sake of the Absolute, the True Self, or Divine — all elements which also characterize the teachings of Eastern sages such as Ramana Maharshi.
Excerpts from her writings:
“As long as the soul continues resting in gifts, it does not fully renounce itself. Never passing into God, the soul loses the real enjoyment of the Giver, by attachments to the gifts. This is truly an unutterable loss.”
“Then the soul knows that all the states of self-pleasing visions, openings, ecstasies and raptures, are rather obstacles; that they do not serve this state which is far above them; because the state which has supports, has pain to lose them; yet cannot arrive at this without such loss. In this are verified the words of an experienced saint; “When I would,” says he, ‘possess nothing through self-love, everything was given me without going after it.’”
“My attention toward God, by an attachment of my will to His, was without intermission. I waited continually upon Him, and He watched incessantly over me, and He so led me by His providence, that I forgot all things. I knew not how to communicate what I felt to anyone. I was so lost to myself, that I could scarcely go about self-examination. When I attempted it all ideas of myself immediately disappeared. I found myself occupied with my one object without distinction of ideas. I was absorbed in peace inexpressible; I saw by the eye of faith that it was God that thus wholly possessed me; but I did not reason at all about it.
I thought not about any recompense, gift, or favor, which He could bestow or I receive. The Well-beloved was Himself the only object which attracted my heart. I could not contemplate His attributes. My heart had a language which was carried on without the sound of words, understood of Him, as He understands the language of the Word, which speaks incessantly in the innermost recesses of the soul. Oh, sacred language! Experience only gives the comprehension of it! Let not any think it a barren language, and effect of the mere imagination. Far different — it is the silent expression of the Word in the soul.
As He never ceases to speak, so He never ceases to operate. If people once came to know the operations of the Lord, in souls wholly resigned to His guiding, it would fill them with reverential admiration and awe. Its prayer is continual. Nothing can hinder it from praying to God, or from loving Him. It amply verifies these words in the Canticles, ‘I sleep but my heart waketh;’ for it finds that even sleep itself does not hinder it from praying. Oh, unutterable happiness!”
“Oh, that we fully understood how very opposite our self-righteousness is to the designs of God… When the soul is docile, and leaves itself to be purified, and emptied of all that which it has of its own, opposite to the will of God, it finds itself by little and little, detached from every emotion of its own, and placed in a holy indifference, wishing nothing but what God does and wills.”
“This never can be effected by the activity of our own will, even though it were employed in continual acts of resignation. These though very virtuous, are so far one’s own actions and cause the will to subsist in a multiplicity, in a kind of separate distinction or dissimilitude from God.”
“Let me assure you, this is not attained, save through pain, weariness and labor; and it will be reached by a path that will wonderfully disappoint your expectations. Nevertheless, if you are fully convinced that it is on the nothing in man that God establishes his greatest works, you will be in part guarded against disappointment or surprise. He destroys that he might build; for when He is about to rear His sacred temple in us, He first totally razes that vain and pompous edifice, which human art and power had erected, and from its horrible ruins a new structure is formed, by His power only.”
“I even perceived no more that soul which He had formerly conducted by His crook and His staff, because now He alone appeared to me, my soul having given up its place to Him. It seemed to me, as if it was wholly and altogether passed into its God, to make but one and the same thing with Him; even as a little drop of water, cast into the sea, receives the qualities of the sea. Oh, union of unity, how strong is this in a soul that is become lost in its God! After the consummation of this divine unity, the soul remains hid in God. This happy loss is not like those transient ones which ecstasy operates, which are rather an absorption than union because the soul afterwards finds itself again with all its own dispositions. Here she feels that prayer fulfilled – John 17:21: ‘That they all may be one as thou Father art in me, and I in Thee; that they also may be one in us.’”
”In regard to thoughts or desires, all was so clean, so naked, so lost in the divinity, that the soul had no selfish movement, however plausible or delicate; both the powers of the mind and the very senses being wonderfully purified. Sometimes I was surprised to find that there appeared not one selfish thought. The imagination, formerly so restless, now no more troubled me. I had no more perplexity or uneasy reflections. The will, being perfectly dead to all its own appetites, was become void of every human inclination, both natural and spiritual, and only inclined to whatever God pleased, and to whatever manner He pleased.”
“This vastness or enlargedness, which is not bounded by anything, however plain or simple it may be, increases every day. My soul in partaking of the qualities of her Spouse seems also to partake of His immensity. My prayer was in an openness and singleness inconceivable. I was, as it were, borne up on high, out of myself. I believe God was pleased to bless me with this experience.”
“I found, the farther I went, the more my spirit was lost in its Sovereign, who attracted it more and more to Himself. He was pleased at first that I should know this for the sake of others and not for myself. Indeed He drew my soul more and more into Himself, till it lost itself entirely out of sight, and could perceive itself no more.
It seemed at first to pass into Him. As one sees a river pass into the ocean, lose itself in it, its water for a time distinguished from that of the sea, till it gradually becomes transformed into the same sea, and possesses all its qualities; so was my soul lost in God, who communicated to it His qualities, having drawn it out of all that it had of its own. Its life is an inconceivable innocence, not known or comprehended of those who are still shut up in themselves or only live for themselves.
When I had lost all created supports, and even divine ones, I then found myself happily compelled to fall into the pure divine, and to fall into it through all those very things which seemed to remove me further from it. In losing all the gifts, with all their supports, I found the Giver. In losing the sense and perception of Thee in myself — I found Thee, O my God, to lose Thee no more in Thyself, in Thy own immutability. Oh, poor creatures, who pass all your time in feeding upon the gifts of God, and think therein to be the most favored and happy. How I pity you if you stop here, short of the true rest, and cease to go forward to God Himself, through the loss of those cherished gifts which you now delight in! How many pass all their lives in this way, and think highly of themselves!”
“I set myself in a corner, and there had my work with me, but could scarcely do anything by reason of the force of the attraction which made the work fall out of my hands. I passed whole hours this way, without being able either to open my eyes or know what passed; but I had nothing to wish for, nor yet to be afraid of. Everywhere I found my proper center, because everywhere I found God. My heart could then desire nothing but what it had. This disposition extinguished all its desires; and I sometimes said to myself, “What wantest thou? What fearest thou?” I was surprised to find upon trial that I had nothing to fear. Every place I was in was my proper place.”