Monday, December 12, 2016

The Seeking Heart, by Francois de Salignac de La Mothe Fenelon

One of my friends, whose spiritual life I respect, told me that Francois Fenelon's The Seeking Heart changed his life.  I had never heard of Fenelon, but with an endorsement like that I figured I should check it out.  Fenelon (1651-1715) was a French Catholic archbishop.  The Seeking Heart reads like a collection of excerpts from his correspondence.  The short selections, some as short as a couple of paragraphs, none longer than two pages, admonish the reader to trust God, endure suffering, and pray earnestly.

Although no context for the selections is given in the Seed Sowers Library of Classics edition, one can often easily discern hints of the back stories of these letters.  Here are some typical examples of the first lines:
"I am truly sorry about all your troubles."
"Let the ups and downs of your spiritual life come and go."
"I am sorry that one near you is an invalid."
"Do you wonder why God has to make it so hard on you?"
"I am happy to hear you are well . . ."
"I hear you are having problems sleeping."
It would be interesting and enlightening to know what prompted these responses, but, as you see, it sounds like his correspondents had experiences similar to all of us.  Nothing of the lessons is lost by the omission of personal details.

The Seeking Heart is bits and pieces, without a continuous narrative or development.  Each short selection can be read independently.  However, Fenelon returns to several themes throughout.  He would have little patience for a soft, entitled Christianity, such as is so common today in the United States.  Some of these quotes give a taste of Fenelon's style and attitude:

"How do you bear suffering? Silently before God. Do not disturb yourself by trying to manufacture and artificial sense of God's presence....learn to bear ....sufferings and patients and meekness."

"The greatest profit which you can gather from an experience of your weakness is to let your frailties help you become more humble and obedient."

"Say little and do much--without wondering if you have been noticed or not."

"God will teach you more than even the most mature Christian could. He will teach you better than all the books in the world could."

"You can often help others more by correcting your own faults than theirs.  Remember . . . that allowing God to correct your faults is not easy.  Be patient with people--wait for God to work with them as he wills."

"Do you really think that God cannot completely satisfied you? . . . You were made to love God and be loved by Him. . . . In His mercy He fills you with dissatisfaction for everything so that you will turn to Him alone."

"Of course you will suffer problems, illness, and disappointment as other people do, but your attitude toward everything for bearing these difficulties will be very different from those who do not know God. You can see God in all things, but never so clearly as when you suffer."

"Real prayer is nothing more than loving God. Prayer is not made great by a lot of words, for God knows your inmost feelings before you say them."

As you can see, Fenelon's call to faith is a call to share in the suffering of Jesus, not to enjoy the riches of the world.  Satisfaction in God and fellowship with Jesus in his suffering are marks of a Christian life.  I wouldn't call The Seeking Heart life-changing on my first reading of it.  But this is a book meant to be read slowly and repeatedly, which, I imagine, is how my friend approached it.  I am glad he introduced me to Fenelon.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book someone tells you "changed my life"

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