EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: God Makes, Loves, Keeps by Evelyn Underhill

EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: God Makes, Loves, Keeps by Evelyn Underhill

From The School of Charity

If the Reality of God were small enough to be grasped, it would not be great enough to be adored; and so our holiest privilege would go. “I count not myself to have grasped; but as one that has been grasped, I press on,” says Saint Paul.  But if all real knowledge here is a humbly delighted knowledge of our own ignorance – if, as the dying artist said, “The word we shall use most when we get to Heaven will be ‘Oh!'” – still we can realize something of what it means, to consider our world from this point-of-view.  It means that everything we are given to deal with – including ourselves and our psychological material, however intractable – is the result of the creative action of a personal Love, who despises nothing that He has made.  We, then, cannot take the risk of despising anything; and any temptation to do so must be attributed to our ignorance, stupidity, or self-love, and recognized as something which distorts our vision of Reality.

“He showed me a little thing,” says Julian of Norwich, “the quantity of a hazel nut in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball.  I looked thereupon with the eye of my understanding and thought: What may this be?  And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. . . .  In this Little Thing I saw thee properties.  The first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it, the third, that God keepeth it.”

That is a saint’s comment on the first article of her Creed.  It is a vision that takes much living-out in a world in which injustice and greed are everywhere manifest; full too of tendencies which we are able to recognize as evil, and of misery and failure which seem the direct result of corporate stupidity and self-love, offering us ceaseless opportunities for the expression of disapproval and disgust, and often tempting to despair.  “All-thing hath the Being by the Love of God,” says Julian again.  And then we think of a natural order shot through with suffering, marred at every point by imperfection, maintained by mutual destruction; a natural order which includes large populations of vermin, and the flora and fauna of infectious disease. It is easy to be both sentimental and theological over the more charming and agreeable aspects of Nature.  It is very difficult to see its essential holiness beneath disconcerting and hostile appearances with an equable and purified sight; with something of the large, disinterested Charity of God.

To stand alongside the generous Creative Love, maker of all things visible and invisible (including those we do not like) and see them with the eyes of the Artist-Lover is the secret of sanctity.  St. Francis did this with a singular perfection; but we know the price that he paid.  So too that rapt and patient lover of all life, Charles Darwin, with his great, self-forgetful interest in the humblest and tiniest forms of life – not because they were useful to him, but for their own sakes – fulfilled one part of our Christian duty far better than many Christians do.  It is a part of the life of prayer, which is our small attempt to live the life of Charity, to consider the whole creation with a deep and selfless reverence; enter into its wonder, and find in it the mysterious intimations of the Father of Life, maker of all things, Creative Love.

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