ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Prayer Is Central

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Prayer Is Central

From The Spiritual Life

Prayer means turning to reality, taking our part, however humble, tentative and half-understood, in the continual conversation, the communion, of our spirits with the Eternal Spirit; the acknowledgement of our entire dependence, which is yet the partly free dependence of the child.  For prayer is really our whole life toward God: our longing for him, our “incurable God-sickness,” as Barth calls it, our whole drive towards him.  It is the humble correspondence of the human spirit with the Sum of all Perfection, the Fountain of Life.  No narrower definition than this is truly satisfactory, or covers all the ground.  Here we are, small half-real creatures of sense and spirit, haunted by the sense of a perfection ever calling to us, and yet ourselves so fundamentally imperfect, so hopelessly involved in an imperfect world; with a passionate desire for beauty, and more mysteriously still, a knowledge of beauty, and yet unable here to realize but only able to receive flashes of truth.  Yet we know that perfect goodness, perfect beauty, and perfect truth exist with the Life of God; and that our hearts will never rest in less than these.  This longing, this need of God, however dimly and vaguely we feel it, is the seed from which grows the strong, beautiful, and fruitful prayer.  It is the first response of our deepest selves to the attraction of the perfect; the recognition that he has made us for himself, that we depend on him and are meant to depend on him, and that we shall now know the meaning of peace until our communion with him is at the center of our lives.

Without thee, I cannot live.  Whatever our small practice, belief, or experience may be, nothing can alter the plain fact that God, the Spirit of spirits, the Life-Giving Life, has made or rather is making each person reading these words for himself; and that our lives will not achieve stability until they are ruled by that truth.  All creation has purpose.  It looks towards perfection.  In the volume of the book it is written of me, that I should fulfill thy will, O God.  Not in some mysterious spiritual world that I know nothing about; but here and now, where I find myself, as a human creature of spirit and of sense, immersed in the modern world – subject to time with all its vicissitudes, and yet penetrated by the Eternal, and finding reality not in one but in both.  To acknowledge and take up that double obligation to the seen and the unseen, in however homely and practical way, is to enter consciously upon the spiritual life.  That will mean time and attention given to it; a deliberate drawing-in from the circumference to the center, that “setting of life in order” for which Saint Thomas Aquinas prayed.

 

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