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A Meditation on the Miseries of this Life.

IN the midst of these meditations, think earnestly upon all the miseries of this present life, and with a watchful heart consider how carefully thou oughtest to live therein. Remember that thou art of his company, concerning whom the Scripture hath said: A man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in with darkness.114114   Job iii. 23, according to the Vulgate. For truly thou art hedged in with a deep darkness of ignorance, since thou knowest not how 81God will weigh thy works, and canst not tell what thine end will be. No man knoweth, saith Solomon, whether he is worthy of hatred or of love, but all things are kept uncertain even unto the end.115115   Ecclesiastes ix. 1, according to the Vulgate.

Imagine to thyself a valley deep and dark and all manner of torments in the bottom thereof. Suppose moreover a bridge cast across this valley, exceeding long but of no more than a foot’s breadth. Let a man be compelled to pass over this bridge, so straight, so high, so perilous; let his eyes be blindfolded that he cannot see his steps; let his hands be bound behind him, so that he cannot guide himself by groping his way with a staff. How great would be the fear and distress of mind in such an one! Dost thou think there would be place in his thoughts for cheerfulness, for merriment, for wantonness? I trow not. All pride would be taken from him, all vainglory put to flight, the darkness of death alone would abide in his mind. Imagine moreover a monstrous multitude of savage birds hovering about the bridge and seeking to drag the traveller, as he crosseth it, down into the abyss. Will not his dread be multiplied thereby? And what if each plank be at once withdrawn so soon as he hath passed over it? Will not he be stricken thereby by a yet greater fearfulness?

But now consider the signification of this image and let a godly fear and trembling take 82hold upon thy mind. By the deep and dark valley is signified hell, which is an abyss immeasurable, and terrible with the shadows of most black darkness. There are assembled together all manner of torments. There all that can soothe is lacking; and everything that can appal and torment and distress, is present. The perilous bridge, from which whosoever maketh not his passage over it aright is hurled downward, is this present life; wherein whosoever liveth ill, descendeth to hell. The planks which are withdrawn when the traveller hath passed over them are the days of our life; which pass away never to return, but by growing fewer press us onwards toward our end, and compel us to hasten to our goal. The birds that hover about the bridge and beset them that pass over, are evil spirits, whose whole study is to cast men down that are set on the right way, and to hurl them into the depths of hell. We ourselves are the travellers that pass over, blindfolded by our ignorance and bound by the chain of the difficulty of doing good works, so that we cannot direct our steps freely toward God in holiness of life.

Consider therefore whether thou oughtest not in so great a strait to cry out earnestly to thy Creator, so that, being defended by His protection, thou mayest sing in faith among the hosts of thine enemies: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?116116   Ps. xxvii. 1.83He is thy light against thy blindness; thy salvation against thy difficulty. These are the two evils, whereinto our first father caused us to fall, even ignorance whither we go and difficulty in seeing what we ought to do. Meditate upon these things, O my soul, think upon them; let thy mind daily exercise itself therein. Let it being intent thereon, turn away from vain and unprofitable cares and thoughts, let it burn with the fire of holy fear and blessed love to fly from these evils and lay hold upon eternal goods.

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