CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: The Magi And Prayer

The Magi And Prayer

From The School of Charity

Look at the story of the Magi: those scholars of the ancient world, turning from their abstruse calculations and searching of the heavens because they saw a new star, and driven to seek along fresh paths for a clue to the mystery of life.  What they found does not seem at first sight what we should now call “intellectually satisfying.”  It was not a revelation of the Cosmic Mind, but a poor little family party; yet there they were brought to their knees – because, like the truly wise, they were really humble-minded – before a little, living, growing thing.  The utmost man can achieve on his own here capitulates before the unspeakable and mysterious simplicity of the method of God; his stooping down to us.  His self-disclosure at the very heart of life.  After all, the shepherds got there long before the Magi; and even so, the animals were already in position when the shepherds arrived.  He comes to his own; the God of our natural life makes of that natural life the very material of his self-revelation.  His smile kindles the whole universe; his hallowing touch lies upon all life.  The animal world and the natural world have their own rights and their own place within the thought of God.  There never was a religion more deeply in touch with natural things than Christianity, although it is infinite in its scope.

The essence of the story of the Magi is that it is no use to be too clever about life.  Only in so far as we find God in it, do we find any meaning in it.  Without him it is a tissue of fugitive and untrustworthy pleasures, devices, conflicts, frustrations, and intolerable pains.  Historical Christianity need not involve for us an elaborate philosophy of the Spirit; but it does mean accepting as deeply significant all the great events of the gospel, because conveying God.  And, if we thus recognize the supernatural within these events, some so strange and some so homely; then we also accept all these incidents as carrying a sacramental reference, conveying something of the over-ruling will and thought of God, and having something in them for each of us.  If we are ever to learn all that this record can mean for us, we must never forget that these beyond all other facts of history, are indwelt and molded by the Divine Charity.

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