Jun 9, 2024

William of St. Thierry


Christian mystic is a term used to describe William of St. Thierry (1075? -1148). Mystic is a slippery, vacuous word. For the record, it’s not a synonym for people who do weird things in the name of God. Christian mystics are people who seek direct experiential union with God. They do not simply want to know about God; they aspire to know God in the heart, in the realm of personal experience.
William became abbot of St. Thierry in France in 1119 AD. He brought much-needed reform to the monastery yet was tired of his ecclesiastical duties. He resigned his post to pursue a contemplative life. Younger monks sought him out for counsel and direction in cultivating a spiritual life. He wrote Meditations in response to these numerous requests from novice monks. As I read his Meditations, the close interplay between Scripture and prayer stood out. His motive in coupling Scripture and prayer was not informational; it was formational. He sought through Word and prayer to be formed into the likeness of Christ. His deep immersion in Scripture became the catalyst for full engagement in prayer.

One meditation centered on the verse, “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4.19). We love in response to God’s love for us. He wrote, “You love us so that we might love you, not because you needed our love but because we would not be what you created us to be, except by loving you.”

You don’t need to live in a monastery to engage in this type of spiritual reading. Why not read 1 John 4.7-21 slowly and reflectively as a prelude to today’s prayer? Meditate on its words and be on the lookout for phrases that stand out to you. Listen for God’s word in Scripture. Ask God to speak to you through his Word:

Lord, I will seek your face and continually search for you as much as I can and as much as you render me capable of doing. Lord, my God, my one hope, hear me lest exhausted I lose the will to seek you. May I ardently seek you always. Give the strength to seek you who have given the desire. And when the strength is sufficient, add to the desire that which you have given. May I always remember you, understand you, and love you until, faithfully remembering you and prudently understanding you and truthfully loving you, O Triune God, according to the fullness which you know, reform me to your image into which you have created me.

William of Thierry, The Meditations with a Monastic Commentary, (Liturgical Press, 2022)

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.