SPIRITUALITY: The Spiritual Life As Communion With God by Evelyn Underhill

The Spiritual Life As Communion With God by Evelyn Underhill

From The Spiritual Life

So here we get, balancing and completing each other, the two first conditions which are to govern man’s conscious spiritual life. First, the unspeakable perfection, beauty and attraction of God, absolute in his independent splendor, and calling forth our self-oblivious adoration. And next, the fact that this same infinite God, everywhere present, pours out his undivided love on each of his creatures, and calls each into an ever-deepening communion with him, a more complete and confident adherence. The completeness of the Perfect includes a completeness of self-giving which yet leaves his essential Being undiminished and unexpressed. He rides upon the floods. It is because of our own limitations that we seem only to receive him in the trickles. Thus an attitude of humble and grateful acceptance, a self-opening, an expectant waiting, comes next to adoration as the second essential point in the development of the spiritual life. In that life, the spiritually hungry are always filled, if not always with the precise kind of food they expected; and the spiritually rich are sent empty away.

That, of course, is the moral of the story of the Publican and the Pharisee. The Publican’s desperate sense of need and imperfection made instant contact with the Source of all perfection. He stood afar off, saying, “God be merciful, be generous, to me a sinner!” He had got the thing in proportion. We need not suppose that he was a specially wicked man; but he knew he was an imperfect, dependent, needy man, without any claims or any rights. He was a realist. That opened a channel, and started a communion, between the rich God and the poor soul. But the Pharisee’s accurate statement of his own excellent situation made no contact with the realities of the Spirit, started no communion. He was dressed in his own spiritual self-esteem; and it acted like a mackintosh. The dew of grace could not get through. “I thank thee, Lord, that I am a good churchman, a good patriot, a good neighbor.” Along those lines there is absolutely nothing doing. No communion between spirit and Spirit. No adherence to reality. Francisco de Osuna says that God plays a game with the soul called “the loser wins”; a game in which the one who holds the poorest cards does best. The Pharisee’s consciousness that he had such an excellent hand really prevented him from taking a single trick.

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