LENT: Abasement And Adoption, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Golden Sequence

His Spirit comes to us, as Caussade said, in “the sacrament of the present moment.”  Joy and pain, drudgery and delight, humiliation and consolation, tension and peace – each of these contrasting experiences reaches us fully charged with God; and does, or should incite us to an ever more complete self-giving to God.  But each experience, as such, is neutral when seen only in natural regard.  It is then merely part of that endless chain of cause and effect of which our temporal lives are made.  It can only touch our deepest selves, help or hinder the growth of the spirit, in so far as we do or do not direct our wills through it in love and reverence to Him.  There is only one life – the “spiritual” life consists in laying hold on it in a particular way; so that action becomes charged with contemplation, and the Infinite is served in and through all finite things.  The twofold experience of Spirit, as a deeply felt inward presence and as the ocean of reality and life, must be actualized in a twofold response of the soul: a response which is at once “active” and “contemplative,” outgoing and indrawing, an adoring gaze on the splendor over against us, and a humble loving movement towards the surrendered union of will and Will.

Thus total abasement before the transcendent Perfect is one side of the spiritual life.  Adoption into the supernatural series – divine sonship, with its obligation of faithful service within the divine order – is the other side.  The Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision, who veiled their faces before the unmeasured glory, were yet part of the economy through which that glory was poured out on the world: and the experience of reality which begins with the prophet’s awestruck vision and utter abasement before the Holy, ends on the words, “Send me!”

The double action of the soul, standing away from the perfect in contemplation and seeking union with it in love, and this double consciousness of the Holy as both our home and our father, are the characters of a fully developed Christian spirituality.  But these characters are not found in their classic completeness in any one individual.  We only discern their balanced splendor in the corporate life of surrendered spirits; the communion of saints.  Not the individual mystic in his solitude, but the whole of that mystical body, in its ceaseless self-offering to God, is the unit of humanity in which we can find reflected the pattern of the spiritual life.  And as regards to the individual, the very essence of that life is contained in a docile acceptance of his own peculiar limitations and capacities, a loyal response to vocation – a response which, though it may sometimes be passive in appearance, is ever charged with the activity of God.  “I see no difference,” said Bérulle, as he bade farewell to his brethren before setting forth upon an onerous mission, “between those who go and those who stay at home.  In one sense all are sent; for there is a double mission, one interior and the other exterior.  And it is on the interior mission of grace, of mercy, and of charity, that I declare all to be sent.”

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