by Nancy Pope Mayorga

GERHART TERSTEEGEN (1697-1769), a ribbon weaver living during the eighteenth century in the middle of a remote woods outside of Mulheim, Germany, was chosen by God. He talked with God and he talked of God, and people came from as far away as England to hear him. They came by the hundreds to his cottage in the woods, and when they could not all crowd in, they used to bring ladders and boxes and sit on the tops of them to look in at him and listen through the windows.

What is it that calls forth a saint? Perhaps suffering refines the soul, or difficulties challenge the man, or the misery of others summons him. Or perhaps, more simply, God sends the saints at certain times to give comfort and courage to men. But the fact is that saints do rise to meet hard times. Gerhart Tersteegen, for ex­ ample, appeared at one of the most difficult periods of Germany’s history. For three decades the country had been torn and strafed by a Catholic-Protestant war. In other countries where this same struggle was going on, in England or France, one or the other factions had been stronger and a quick conquest was made. But in Germany, Protestant and Catholic were evenly matched, and the bitter religious conflict swept unresolved back and forth across the country for thirty terrible years. The people lived in poverty, terror, and oppression; and at the end, society was so prostrate that it took almost two hundred years for recovery. It was shortly after the Thirty Year’s War, at the depth of this awful depression, that Tersteegen was born.

As a young child he had wanted to be a minister. His mother, however, was left a widow early in his life and there was no money to pay for a university education for him. He was an introverted boy, delicate in health. Apprenticed to a linen weaver in Mulheim, he found the work too taxing for his strength and town life unsuited to his temperament. Fortunately, about this time, he met a devout merchant who took an interest in him and pointed out to him that he need not necessarily be a minister of the church to be a man of God. So as soon as he was finished with his apprenticeship, he moved to a cottage in the woods, took up the less taxing work of ribbon weaving and the supremely taxing work of self-purification.

For five years he was in what he called a “state of darkness.” He admitted that there were times when he began to doubt there was a God at all. But then one day, according to him, he received “such an internal manifestation of the goodness of God” that all his doubts vanished. At this time he wrote and signed in his own blood a covenant with God, (reminiscent of Pascal’s amulet), a strange document which was a kind of self­dedication and which seemed to have brought him much peace and joy. From then on, he always had an intense feeling of the presence of God, together with a divine ability for reaching, comforting, and inspiring other hearts.

His life in the woods was very simple. He took only milk, water, and cereal, never coffee or tea, and he gave away to the poor what money he did not need. His schedule started out to be ten hours at the loom, two hours of prayer, with the rest of the time devoted to composing hymns, translating the mystics, writing letters of comfort and advice, and speaking informally to groups of friends on devotional matters. These friends became his steadfast disciples and, because of their meditative ways, were known through the countryside as “The Quiet Ones.”

This last occupation, which he had begun humbly and reluctantly, began to take more and more of his time as people came from afar to hear and question him, and he had not the heart to turn them away. There were frequently twenty or thirty persons waiting for a chance to speak to him. Sick people sent for him and he spent many a night at their bedsides. He finally had to give up weaving altogether and, perforce, to accept small donations from friends and disciples to keep himself going. The last twenty-five years of his life, though he was plagued with ill health and neuralgic pain, were nevertheless given entirely to the welfare of others. In answer to a need, he opened a small medical dispensary in his home. He became known as “the physician of the poor and the forsaken.” He hardly had a moment to himself. If he decided just to take a little walk in the country, he was pounced upon, carried off to the nearest barn or shed where a crowd would immediately gather. What bothered him most was this absence of solitude, but he accepted it cheerfully as the task God had imposed upon him. Those who knew him spoke of his gentle character, his affection, his insight into people, and his holy anxiety to fan even the faintest spark of spirituality.

Tersteegen’s teaching was as simple as his life, his relationship with God so childlike and unaffected as to be touching. “It is as if there were a little secret room in your heart where your best friend lives and waits for you. And so your love must urge you now and then to purchase some time, and if possible some outward loneliness, so that you can go to your friend in the little room and talk to him privately, and tell him how you are and that you want to love him truly. And when you go back again to your business, let it be as if you took your friend by the hand and begged him to come with you and keep you company while you work and take care of you. And that he will do most willingly.”

He was a mystic of the purest type. The key to spiritual life, he taught, is surrender. “Renew in your spirit that complete surrender to God by a gentle but inward act of presenting your whole self to God. Aim at remaining privately there.” He constantly urged a child­ like attitude. “Do all your work in God’s sight and in God, in as simple and childlike a spirit as you can.” The titles of his hymns and poems often contain the word ‘child.’ “Dear soul,” he sang, “couldst thou become a child!”

WHEN it came to the practice of meditation, Tersteegen had endless pieces of advice, in every letter, in every sermon. He never tired of encouraging and urging, and though his advice is informal, there gradually grows a formula in the mind of the one who reads him.

The formula is this- look at God and let Him look at you. In his own words:

“Prayer is looking at God and letting Him look on us. You must withdraw into yourself a little and keep quiet before the face of God, then look gently and perfectly frankly at God who is so near to us, to let Him see if there is anything in us or near us which must be hand­ ed over, and assure Him of our hearty consent to give up everything to Him. Remain exposed to Him in the light of truth simply.” And again, “We should try to keep close in front of Him so that He may have a good look at us and cure us.”

What it amounts to, this formula, is a subtle, mystical exercise, the practice of simultaneous concentration and self-surrender, both simple and difficult. He has given us the fruit of his years of struggle.

In his sixtieth year, Tersteegen’s health broke down from overwork. Neve11heless, he rallied and lived for another twelve years, and though he looked, it is said, like a corpse, he continued to work for God, never slackening in his constant zeal to encourage the least trace of spirituality wherever he found it. In these last years he collected his sermons and letters into a book entitled Spiritual Crumbs, and his hymns and poems into another called The Spiritual Flower Garden. In this flower garden he showed himself to be truly a gentle spring of God’s love, gushing forth hymn after hymn of childlike adoration. Many of these hymns are in our present-day hymnals, still inspiring and teaching.

At last he wrote to a group of disciples, “My head is very weak and my body weary, but I must not think about that; there are various people here much more ill than I who think my visits useful or stimulating, and therefore I am not free to keep away from them. Dear children, do pray to God for me that He may make the short remainder of my days fruitful to His glory!”

Nancy Pope Mayorga




We are conscious these days of a deep-seated hunger, a secret need in our heart’s core, to be set free from the world and from self-centeredness and so to be reunited with our source. We must only be in earnest about it. The power is close at hand.

Truly spiritual souls have no special sect of their own. I extol the holiness of these souls, not the name of their religion.

The true inner life is no strange or new thing; it is the ancient and true worship of God, the Christian life in its beauty and in its own peculiar form. Truly inward souls make no particular sects; if each one followed the teaching and life of Jesus by His Spirit, then, without any doubt, everyone would live the inner life and the world would be full of mystics.

You don’t need to search for God; you have only to realize Him.

The inner life is much less known than one would imagine, even among those who have been called. The urge to the inner life is an urge to be hid with Him.

Outwardly narrow, inwardly wide, is my old rule.

We must speak with God in prayer, whether ver­ bally or with our hearts; but we must not only pray, for we must also be silent before God, so that He may speak a little word unto our hearts.

We come now to what makes us men happy: and when I do speak of happiness, I do mean holy-making; for the holier we become, the happier do we become; and as soon as Christ does make us holy, then does He make us happy also.

Reason is, in itself, a noble faculty, so long as it is subservient to the mind; but it is a most harmful thing when it rules the mind. Oh, Reason, be still! The sea is all too wide and all too deep; here is no soil for thy wisdom and thy speculation. The evil neighbor, one’s own mocking, sly reason, is a false advocate which crams men’s heads with all manner of sham reasons for everything.

From the head into the heart, for not in the head but in the heart is there revealed that pure and true under­ standing whereby we may know God and the things of God; for the heart is the eye of the understanding, which must be opened for us by God. We can never find God and truth through the activity of the mind, but through the heart and through love.

We see, we admire, we bury ourselves in things which are not, and Him who is, we leave out of consideration.

In your conduct, try always to move forward with­ out undue deliberation, in simplicity and innocence, like a speechless child. Do not think ahead and do not look back! Both bring unrest and are harmful to you in your present condition. The present moment must be your dwelling-place. There only can we find God and His will.

To pick up a straw with loving intention is more to God than to remove mountains without love.

A certain amount of movement and external affairs are good from time to time. It is not work which brings harm so long as the work goes no farther than your hands and the outer man; but your heart stays with God.

Let our real work be apart from us and everything. All else, even the edification of our neighbor, must only be in passing and with great moderation.

Accept everything then as from the hand of God; do all your work as in God’s sight and in God, in as simple and childlike a spirit as you can. And just as we are glad when the sun shines, so that we can do our work, be glad inwardly that you have God as a close friend in whom everywhere and at all times, outwardly and inwardly, you can work, live, move, die, and love. Now God is, as I have just said, really present everywhere, but, because He is a spirit, He is present in quite a special and more blessed way to our spirit. God is more inward than our most intimate thought. There He calls us, there He waits for us. He wants to impart Himself to us and make us blessed. This presence, too, we must believe in simply, without understanding it, yes, even without wanting to be always conscious of it.

As far as I am concerned, I would lead a completely different kind of life if I had the choice. I have to read, and write, and have intercourse with men, when I would much rather, according to my own wishes, remain almost completely silent, hide myself away, and think only of God.

Whosoever says solitude with God, says also: fundamental withdrawal from oneself and from one’s fellow men. Solitude is the school of godliness; for this reason you must wholly shun needless intercourse with men.

One is too naive, if one thinks that, by conversion, one is completely ready in a few hours or days. It is wrong, however, to speak of an early conversion in which the religious character was wanting and then of a second change, which occurred some years later. Religious development is a constantly deeper submersion into the Divine.

All things can be a help to us, and all things can as­ sist us on our way, yet if everything outside us, not only the good things of our life but all the outward things, cannot conform to the nature of our soul, then can our soul find no peace and no life in them. Oh how often must one grieve to see that so many of us in our exodus from spiritual Egypt take with us such a quantity of large bundles and of packages! Do but see! This can lead but to a most onerous journey; we must go out like pilgrims, free, simple, and truly empty-handed. All this collecting of things together and keeping them only makes our going hard. Whoever does earnestly seek peace for his soul must strive to make his pack as small as possible, so that he will fare even as a pilgrim.

The Lord gives a cross according to strength – or strength according to the cross.

Think and care in no wise about what is to come. Love and suffer in the present moment, thinking more about God and His strength than of yourself and your weakness. If increase of suffering comes, increase of grace will come also.

It is a little thing for Him to let us find in our souls in one moment, without any trouble, what we may have been seeking for years with much trouble outside ourselves.

Just stay where you are and unite yourselves with God as with something there already that you do not need to seek! For God is certainly with you and in you.

Drink then to the very dregs the cup handed to you by no enemy and no stranger, but by your Father.

I do not as yet desire the death of the body, but that death I do desire where I can neither find nor see myself any more.

Death releases God’s children from this anxious world, from the narrow prison of this body of humiliations, from all spiritual perils, when it joyfully moves into the boundlessness of loving, sweet eternity. And indeed, this last birth is often sorely distressing so that the child must moan and weep until it is ended, but it is all for his best.

The storm and tempest of the sufferings of our time rush past us like a short, troubled dream, and then we will rest in God for ever.

Don’t worry if you cannot understand everything I write. You don’t need it all: take a little crumb from the dish for yourself, and let your friends take some too.




The Tired Child

Ah God! the world hath nought to please; One loses strength and light and peace

In needful toil of sense and brain; Would I might here with Thee remain! I am sated with these things of nought,

Wearied with hearing, sight, and thought;

0 Mother-Heart to Thee I turn, Comfort Thy child, for Thee I yearn; Thy love, most gentle-innocent!

Would that each hour might there be spent, That I absorbed in Thee might live,

And childlike to my Father cleave. Like a parched field my soul doth lie Pining beneath a sultry sky;

0 Heavenly Dew, 0 gentle Rain, Descend and bid it bloom again.


The Task

To learn, and yet to learn, whilst life goes by, So pass the student’s days;

And thus be great, and do great things, and die, And lie embalmed with praise.


My work is but to lose and to forget, Thus small, despised to be;

All to unlearn- this task before me set; Unlearn all else but Thee.


The Mote in the Sunbeam

I lose me in the thought!

How great is God- and I how merely nought!

What doth that Sun whence clearest splendors stream Know of the mote that dances in his beam?

Nay, if I may but ever live and move In the One Being who is perfect Love, Th’ Eternal and the Infinite alone,

Let me forget all else, and all I deemed my own! Closer than my own self art Thou to me,

So let me wholly yield myself to Thee; Be Thou my sun, my selfishness destroy, Thy atmosphere of Love be all my joy, Thy presence be my sunshine ever bright,

My soul the little mote that lives but in Thy light!



Within, within, O turn

Thy spirit’s eyes, and learn

Thy wandering senses gently to control;

Thy dearest Friend dwells deep within thy soul, And asks thyself of thee

That heart and mind and sense He may make whole In perfect harmony.

Doth not thy inmost spirit yield

And sink where love stands thus revealed? Be still and veil thy face,

The Lord is here, this is His holy place!

Then back to earth, and ‘mid its toil and throng One glance within will keep thee calm and strong; And when the toil is o’er, 0 God, to flee

Within, to Thee.



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