EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: The Interior Life by Evelyn Underhill

EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: The Interior Life by Evelyn Underhill

From The House of the Soul

When Saint Paul described our mysterious human nature as a “Temple of the Holy Spirit” – a created dwelling-place or sanctuary of the uncreated and invisible Divine Life – he was stating in the strongest possible terms a view of our status, our relation to God, which has always been present in Christianity; and is indeed implicit in the Christian view of Reality.  But that statement as it stands seems far too strong for most of us.  We do not feel in the very least like the temples of Creative Love.  We are more at ease with Saint Teresa, when she describes the soul as an “interior castle” – a roomy mansion, with various floor and apartments from the basement upwards; not all devoted to exalted uses, not always in a satisfactory state.  And when, in a more homely mood, she speaks of her own spiritual life as “becoming solid like a house,” we at last get something we can grasp.

The soul’s house, that interior dwelling-place which we all possess, for the upkeep of which we are responsible – a place in which we can meet God, or from which in a sense we can exclude God – that is not too big an idea for us.  Though no imagery drawn from the life of sense can ever be adequate to the strange and delicate contacts, tensions, demands, and benedictions of the life that lies beyond sense: though the important part of every parable is that which it fails to express: still, here is a conception which can be made to cover many of the truths that govern the interior life of prayer.

First, we are led to consider the position of the house.  However interesting and important its peculiarities may seem to the tenant, it is not as a matter of fact an unusually picturesque and interesting mansion made to an original design, and set in its own grounds with no other building in sight.  Christian spirituality knows nothing of this sort of individualism.  It insists that we do not inhabit detached residences, but are parts of a vast spiritual organism; that even the most hidden life is never lived for itself alone.  Our soul’s house forms part of the vast City of God.  Though it may not be an important mansion with a frontage on the main street, nevertheless it shares all the obligations and advantages belonging to the city as a whole.  It gets its water from the main, and its light from the general supply.  The way we maintain and use it must have reference to our civic responsibilities.

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