ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Centrality Of Prayer

From The Life of the Spirit and the Life of Today

If the seeking of the Eternal is actuated by love, the finding of it is achieved through prayer.  Prayer, in fact – understood as a life or state, not an act or an asking – is the beginning, middle, and end of all that we are now considering.  As the social self can only be developed by contact with society, so the spiritual self can only be developed by contact with the spiritual world.  And such humble yet ardent contact with the spiritual world – opening up to its suggestions our impulses, our reveries, our feelings, our most secret dispositions as well as our mere thoughts – is the essence of prayer, understood in its widest sense.  No more than surrender or love can such prayer be reduced to “one act.”  Those who seek to sublimate it into “pure” contemplation are as limited as one end of the scale, as those who reduce it to articulate petition are at the other.  It contains in itself a rich variety of human reactions and experiences.  It opens the door upon an unwalled world, in which the self truly lives and therefore makes widely various responses to its infinitely varying stimuli.  Into that world the self takes, or should take, its special needs, aptitudes and longings, and matches them against its apprehension of Eternal Truth.  In this meeting of the human heart with all that it can apprehend of Reality, not adoration alone but unbounded contrition; not humble dependence alone but joy, peace, and power; not rapture alone but mysterious darkness, must be woven into the fabric of love.  In this world the soul may sometimes wander as if in pastures, sometimes is poised breathless and intent.  Sometimes it is fed by beauty, sometimes by most difficult truth, and experiences the extremes of riches and destitution, darkness, and light.  It is not, says Plotinus, by crushing the Divine into a unity but by displaying its exuberance, as the Supreme Himself has displayed it, that we know knowledge of the might of God.

Thus, by that instinctive and warmly devoted direction of its behavior which is love, and that willed attention to and communion with the spiritual world which is prayer, all the powers of the self are united and turned towards the seeking and finding of the Eternal.  It is by complete obedience to this exacting love, doing difficult and unselfish things, giving up easy and comfortable things – in fact by living, living hard on the highest levels – that men more and more deeply feel experience, and enter into their spiritual life.


spiritual-self

 

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