Jan van Ruysbroek: A Similitude of the Ant

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Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man. Proverbs 6:6-11

“I wish to give a short similitude to those who live and fare in the tempest, so that they may valiantly and obediently persist in this manner of living, and attain to high virtue.

There is a little beast called the ant. She is strong and wise and hard to kill. And she loves to live in the company of her fellows in a hot, dry land. And she works in the summer and gathers up food and corn against the winter; and she splits each grain in two, so that it cannot germinate and spoil, but so that the ants can benefit from it when there is no other food to be had. And each ant does not make a separate path, but they all follow the same path. And when the season comes that she has been willing to wait for, then she is able to fly.

Thus these men ought to do: they should be strong in awaiting the coming of Christ, wise against the revelations and suggestions of the devil. They must not wish for death, but always for the honor of God and to win for themselves fresh virtue. They must live in the company of their heart and all their powers, and be obedient to the demands and the compulsion of divine unity. They must live in a hot, dry land, which is in the violent tempest of love and in great impatience, and they must work in their lives summer, and gather the fruits of virtue against eternity, and split them in two.

The one portion is that they must evermore desire the high and delectable unity: the other is that they must restrain themselves by means of reason, so far as they may, and await the time that God has ordained: so the fruit of virtues is preserved to all eternity. And they must not make separate paths or peculiar manners for themselves, but they must follow the path of love through all the storms on the way that love leads them. And while man awaits his time, and furnishes himself with all virtues, he is able to contemplate, and to flee into God’s secret refuge.”

Jan van Ruysbroek (1293-1381) in The Spiritual Espousals (London: Faber and Faber, 1952) 110-111.

This similitude aims to inspire every reader to press on and grow in generosity while we await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. I want you to fare valiantly and obediently.

Thanksgiving week in the USA brings tremendous focus on things, materialism, shopping, and spending on self.

But we must rise above this. We must maintain our focus and divine unity that all times. This means we gather like ants, not for self but for the colony. It means generosity must remain in focus. This is true whether you live in USA or not.

For that to happen, we must focus on thanksgiving and gratitude. All we possess came from God to us for a purpose: to enjoy and share.

Do this, for out of thanksgiving and gratitude flows unity and generosity. Unity because we restrain our selfish motives in receiving every good and perfect gift from God. Generosity follows as we use those gifts rightly.

No wondering off the path. Stay on the way of love, thanksgiving, gratitude, and generosity!