Purification, illumination and union are traditionally portrayed as distinct stages of the spiritual life. First comes purification, then illumination, then finally, at the most advanced level, union.
Reflection upon this understanding reveals its inadequacy. What could motivate us to embark upon this journey but some sense of our destination? Love is the end of the spiritual journey and also its beginning. The sense of wonder is the beginning of philosophy and also its end. Purification, illumination and union are not sequential phases of the spiritual life but dynamically interdependent aspects of it.
The journey is not linear, but a spiral composed of fractal paths, multi-dimensional.
The awakening into love, which is the awakening into contemplation, is not a once and for all event, but a complex process, a pas de deux between the soul and the Spirit, the courtship dance of a pair of lovers.