EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: The Spiritual Life – Belief And Prayer by Evelyn Underhill

EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: The Spiritual Life – Belief And Prayer by Evelyn Underhill

From The School of Charity

The spiritual life is a stern choice.  It is not a consoling retreat from the difficulties of existence; but an invitation to enter fully into that difficult existence, and there apply the Charity of God and bear the cost.  Till we accept this truth, religion is full of puzzles for us, and its practices often unmeaning: for we do not know what it is all about.  So there are few things more bracing and enlightening than a deliberate resort to these superb statements about God, the world and the soul; testing by them our attitude to those realities, and the quality and vigor of our interior life with God.  For every one of them has a direct bearing on that interior life.  Our prayer and belief should fit like hand and glove; they are the inside and outside of one single correspondence with God.  Since the life of a prayer consists in an ever-deepening communion with a Reality beyond ourselves, which is truly there, and touches, calls, attracts us, what we believe about that Reality will rule our relation to it.  We do not approach a friend and a machine in the same way.  We make the first and greatest of our mistakes in religion when we begin with ourselves, our petty feelings and needs, ideas and capacities.  The Creed sweeps us up past all this to God, the objective Fact, and His mysterious self-giving to us.  It sets first Eternity and then History before us, as the things that truly matter in religion; and shows us a humble and adoring delight in God as the first duty of the believing soul.  So there can hardly be a better inward discipline than the deliberate testing of our vague, dilute, self-occupied spirituality by this superb vision of Reality.

These great objective truths are not very fashionable among modern Christians; yet how greatly we need them, if we are to escape pettiness, individualism, and emotional bias.  For that mysterious inner life which glows at the heart of Christianity, which we recognize with delight whenever we meet it, and which is the source of Christian power in the world, is fed through two channels.  Along one channel a certain limited knowledge of God and the things of God enters the mind; and asks of us that honest and humble thought about the mysteries of faith which is the raw material of meditation.  Along the other channel God Himself comes secretly to the heart, and wakes up that desire and that sense of need which are the cause of prayer.  The awestruck vision of faith and the confident movement of love are both needed, if the life of devotion is to be rich, brave, and humble; equally removed from mere feeling and mere thought.  Christian prayer to God must harmonize with Christian belief about God: and quickly loses humility and sanity if it gets away from that great law.  We pray first because we believe something; perhaps at that stage a very crude or vague something.  And with the deepening of prayer, its patient cultivation, there comes – perhaps slowly, perhaps suddenly – the enrichment and enlargement of belief, as we enter into a first-hand communion with the Reality who is the object of our faith.

 

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