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Preaching a Practical Spirituality – A Sermon by Johannes Tauler (14th Century, published in 1515/16)

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Our Lord said: “You have behaved unchastely and blemished yourself.” And he said in another chapter: “And this all because you have abandoned me, the living fountain, and dug your own well."

Everything that enters this well will become stale and stink: these sensory practices dry it up. They remain proud, individualistic, impenitent, harsh in judgment and word. They reprimand their neighbor, not out of love or with gentleness, but at the unfitting place or time. Some try to put out a fire in another’s house and burn down their own. Indeed, if such a man had three houses with his hard, ferocious words, and a beggar [literally, a poor child] came to him, he would say: “No, he is a fraud,” and when another comes, “No, she is a beguine.” Well then, you are truly cisterns: if the true water had ever sprung from your barren land, none of you would make such distinctions among people, for divine love would spring from the ground as from a spring. Then there would be no belittling, no harsh judgment, no hearts of stone. This foulness festers in cisterns.

Rational people [i.e., the educated] with their haughty words and advanced reason are also cisterns. One is satisfied with his seemingly good words and appearance, while the other is satisfied with his intellect. What do you think will happen when the time comes when the strong winds blow everything apart, and the terrible and frightening plagues descend on the earth? Then, in the panic, one will see who is disbelieving. Those who seemed to be good with their grand names and great reason and clever words, who displayed false holiness and did not have the living ground – all self-contained, all cisterns: the devil will come to them in the end and fell them with a single blow of his ax. And so everything will be pulverized and banished, so that no ground remains there. It will all be blown away and obliterated, as if nothing had ever been there. It was putrid water in the cisterns. They were interested only in appearance, but there was nothing within.

My children, when do you think that this will all be seen? Remember when you go into the life of the world: I told you that this false appearance and attitude have become common among the religious orders – an outer superficial, sensual manner – and that many married people and widows in the “world” are much more advanced, further, much further [in their spiritual journey]. And if God is merciful to these [corrupted clerics] at the end of time and saves them, they shall suffer long in purgatory, as God has ordered, and after that they shall still remain at a great distance from God, far away from Him.

Children, in the name of God, I ask you to look out for yourselves. Examine yourselves and be careful what you get yourselves into, and be gentle and humble in spirit and a servant to God and all creatures, because God laments your behavior to the heavens, and to the earth, and to all creatures. These heavens, these are the heavenly hearts, for every good person is a divine heaven, and each of them carries heaven within; even if they themselves cannot enter. And this is the biggest torment for those weak in spirit: though they recognize the heaven within, they are never able to enter.

And just now we touched upon what our Lord spoke through the prophet: You have been unchaste and pursued a stranger as your lover; you have scorned me and chased after another. But come to me, and I want to let you repent, and then I will pour living water into you, if you return completely to me.

Don’t you see this unbelievable mercy and goodness of God, how much he wants to help us if we too desire it, and speak to us as a friend, if we only come to him? Our Lord said before: “And if you don’t do this, then I have to proceed against you at the Judgment." To proceed against Him is a precarious thing, for He has the upper hand.

Children, protect yourselves, so that He does not say that you are not one of his sheep. For His sheep have heard His voice and did not follow a stranger, as He Himself said. What is this unchasteness of which our Lord says you are guilty? This is to be understood in a spiritual way, if there is no other meaning, because you have at least become bogged down in the sensual [pleasures]. And the stranger whom you pursued, this lover, that refers to all the external images and things which were supposed to lead you to Me: you have been unchaste through them. But come to me now, and I want to receive you and pour the living water into you.

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