Now we are at the last stages of prayer, the unitive way. This is the way of the “perfect,” those who have totally abandoned themselves to God and His holy will. At these stages, the soul does not experience distractions and has a complete certitude of intimate union with God. There is no tedium or weariness in prayer, even though it is quite intense at this level. This is the highest level of purification: the saint can only make a naked act of faith. He is not dependent on any consolations, either of the senses or the higher facilities of intellect, will or memory; in other words, he does not believe in and love God because of what God does for him, but instead simply because He is God.
Level 7: Simple Union
During the prayer of simple union, all internal faculties, including the intellect and the will, are gradually captivated and occupied with God. What is not captivated? Only the external bodily senses. Otherwise, the soul is totally united to God.
Level 8: Conforming Union
This is also called “spiritual betrothal,” where both the internal and external senses are absorbed in the presence of the divine. At this stage, the person is in “ecstacy” where their body no longer responds to outside stimuli and is completely captivated by God.
Level 9: Transforming Union
If Level 8 is “spiritual betrothal,” then Level 9 is “spiritual marriage.” Conforming union involved the consent of the will to union, but transforming union is the union itself. This is the highest grade of perfection in prayer, and St. John of the Cross said it is “nothing less than a transformation into God.” It is at this stage that deification occurs, and by grace we become more divine than human. Our entire being is captivated by God and everything we do is completely united to God. The soul and God are so united at this stage that they cannot be separated.
The observant reader of this series might notice that I spent much less space describing these three levels than any of the other six. The reason for this is simple: they are so beyond human language, and they have been experienced by so few people, that detailed explanations are impossible. At these stages, one must simply follow the promptings of God as He leads you into complete union with Him.
Hopefully this blog series has whet your appetite for learning more about Christian prayer. The following books all should help you in that process. I would recommend first reading Dubay’s books (especially “Fire Within”), as they give the “lay of the land” that you need before you can really understand the works of the Spanish saints.
- “Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer” by Fr. Thomas Dubay
- “Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel-On Prayer” by Fr. Thomas Dubay
- “The Way of Perfection” by St. Teresa of Avila
- “Interior Castle” by St. Teresa of Avila
- “Ascent of Mount Carmel” by St. John of the Cross
- “The Dark Night” by St. John of the Cross
But by far the best way to learn about prayer is to pray! So keep praying!