LENT: Love, Joy, Peace, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Fruits of the Spirit

“The fruit of the Spirit,” says Saint Paul, “is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance” – all the things the world most needs.  A clear issue, is it not?  To discover the health and reality of our life of prayer, we need not analyze it or fuss about it.  But we must consider whether it tends, or does not tend, to produce just these fruits, because they are the necessary results of the action of God in the soul.  These are the fruits of human nature when it has opened itself to the action of the eternal love: what the “new creature in Christ” (which if we are really Christians, we are all in process of becoming) is to be like.  So they are very good subjects for meditation.  A good gardener always has an idea of what he is trying to grow; without vision even a cabbage patch will perish.

I do not think that Saint Paul arranged his list of the fruits of the Spirit in a casual order.  They represent a progressive series from one point and that one point is love, the living, eternal seed from which all grow.  We all know that Christians are baptized “into a life summed up in love,” even though we have to spend the rest of our own lives learning how to do it.  Love therefore is the budding point from which all the rest come: that tender, cherishing attitude; that unlimited self-forgetfulness, generosity, and kindness which is the attitude of God to all his creatures and so must be the attitude towards them which his Spirit brings forth in us.  If that is frost-bitten we need not hope for any of the rest.  “Whoso dwelleth in charity dwelleth in God and God in him.”  To be unloving is to be out of touch with God.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace – that threefold formula of blessedness.

First comes love, charity; pure, undemanding, generous love of God in himself and of his creatures, good and bad, congenial and uncongenial, for his sake; a certain share in his generous, loving action, the way he cares for all life.  Each Christian soul who learns that in prayer and teaches it in everyday life, has made a contribution to the peace of the world.  He who loveth not knoweth not God.  In hard, ungenerous hearts, the Spirit cannot grow and increase.  We can understand that bit even though we cannot always practice it.  But then Saint Paul suddenly ascends to the very summit of the Spirit and says, not that the Spirit of Love shall bring forth such suitable qualities as penitence, diligence, helpfulness, unworldliness, good social and religious habits, but that the real sign that God the Giver of Life,has been received into our souls will be joy and peace: joy, the Spirit of selfless delight; peace, the Spirit of tranquil acceptance; the very character of the beatitude of Heaven, given here and now in our grubby little souls, provided only that they are loving little souls.  If, in spite of all conflicts, weakness, sufferings, sins, we open our door, the Spirit is poured out within us and the first mark of its presence is not an increase of energy but joy and peace.

We should not have guessed that.  Yet real love always heals fear and neutralizes egotism, and so, as love grows up in us, we shall worry about ourselves less and less, and admire and delight in God and his other children more and more, and this is the secret of joy.  We shall no longer strive for our own way, but commit ourselves, easily and simply, to God’s way, acquiesce in his will and in so doing find our peace.  And bit-by-bit there grows up in us a quiet but ardent spiritual life, tending to God, adoring God, resting in God.  Peace and joy are necessarily permanent characteristics of true spiritual life, the signs of God’s abiding presence in the soul.  They are not something we achieve in the end, but are there at the very beginning, in our soul’s deeps, long indeed before our restless surface-minds are ready to perceive them.  “He shall have peace whose mind is stayed on thee.”

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