ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: The Focus Of Prayer

From The School of Charity

These great objective truths are not very fashionable among modern Christians; yet how greatly we need them, if we are to escape pettiness, individualism, and emotional bias.  For that mysterious inner life which glows at the heart of Christianity, which we recognize with delight whenever we meet it, and which is the source of Christian power in the world, is fed through two channels.  Along one channel a certain limited knowledge of God and the things of God enters the mind; and asks of us that honest and humble thought about the mysteries of faith which is the source of Christian power in the world, is fed through two channels.  Along one channel a certain limited knowledge of God and the things of God enters the mind; and asks of us that honest and humble thought about the mysteries of faith which is the raw material of meditation.  Along the other channel God, himself, comes secretly to the heart, and wakes up that desire and that sense of need which are the cause of prayer.  The awestruck vision of faith and the confident movement of love are both needed, if the life of devotion is to be rich, brave, and humble; equally removed from mere feeling and mere thought.  Christian prayer to God must harmonize with Christian belief about God: and quickly loses humility and sanity if it gets away from that great law.  We pray first because we believe something; perhaps at that stage a very crude or vague something.  And with the deepening of prayer, its patient cultivation, there comes – perhaps slowly, perhaps suddenly – the enrichment and enlargement of belief, as we enter into a first-hand communion with the Reality who is the object of our faith.

So we begin the overhaul of our spiritual equipment not by thinking about our own needs and shortcomings, but by looking up and out at this One Reality, this Unchanging God, and so gaining a standard of comparison, a “control.”  That remarkable naturalist and philosopher, Dr. Beebe, whose patient study of living things seems to have brought him so near to the sources of life, says in his latest book, NonsuchAs a panacea for a host of human ills, worries, and fears, I should like to advocate a law that every toothbrush should have a small telescope in its handle, and the two used equally.  As far as the life of religion is concerned, if we always used the telescope before we used the toothbrush – looked first at the sky of stars, the great ranges of the beauty and majesty of God, and only then at our own small souls and their condition, needs, and sins – the essential work of the toothbrush would be much better done; and without that self-conscious conviciton of its overwhelming importance, and the special peculiarities and requirements of our own set of teeth, which the angels must surely find amusing.  Where I left myself, I found God; where I found myself, I lost God, says Meister Eckhart.  Our eyes are not in focus for His Reality, until they are out of focus for our own petty concerns.


focus-on-prayer

 

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