Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Evelyn Underhill on the Life of God Within Us

In today’s reading in Lent with Evelyn Underhill, I was greatly encouraged by this passage excerpted from The School of Charity:

“All gardeners know the importance of good root development before we force the leaves and flowers. So our life in God should be deeply rooted and grounded before we presume to expect to produce flowers and fruits; otherwise we risk shooting up into one of those lanky plants which can never do without a stick. We are constantly beset by the notion that we ought to perceive ourselves springing up quickly, like the seed on stony ground; show striking signs of spiritual growth. But perhaps we are only required to go on quietly, making root, growing nice and bushy; docile to the great slow rhythm of life. When we see no startling marks of our own religious progress or our usefulness to God, it is well to remember the baby in the stable and the little boy in the streets of Nazareth. The very life was there present, which was to change the whole history of the human race, the rescuing action of God. At that stage there was not much to show for it; yet there is perfect continuity between the stable and the Easter garden, and the thread that unites them is the hidden Will of God. The childish prayer of Nazareth was the right preparation for the awful prayer of the Cross.

So it is that the life of the Spirit is to unfold gently and steadily within us; till at the last the full stature for which God designed us is attained. It is an organic process, a continuous Divine action; not a sudden miracle or a series of jerks. Therefore there should be no struggle, impatience, self-willed effort in our prayer and self-discipline; but rather a great flexibility, a homely ordered life, a gentle acceptance of what comes to us, and a still gentler acceptance of the fact that much we see in others is still out of our own reach. The prayer of the growing spirit should be free, humble, simple; full of confidence and full of initiative too.

The mystics constantly tell us, that the goal of this prayer and of the hidden life which shall itself become more and more of a prayer, is union with God. We meet this phrase often: far too often, for we lose the wholesome sense of its awfulness. What does union with God mean? Not a nice feeling which we enjoy in devout moments. This may or may not be a by-product of union with God; probably not. It can never be its substance. Union with God means such an entire self-giving to the Divine Charity, such identification with its interests, that the whole of our human nature is transformed in God, irradiated by His absolute light, His sanctifying grace. Thus it is woven up into the organ of His creative activity, His redeeming purpose; conformed to the pattern of Christ, heart, soul, mind and strength. Each time this happens, it means that one more creature has achieved its destiny; and each soul in whom the life of the spirit is born, sets out towards that goal.” (p.98-99)

I resonate with this passage because I have noticed that this is the way God works with and through me more often than not. He brings forth fruit in organic ways, using slow rhythmic processes that are for the most part obscured under the surface. Then, all of a sudden, fruit! The glory goes to God, since such growth cannot be tracked to any of my efforts to establish causality. However, in beautiful balance, this does not equal passivity, but a “spirit . . . [that is] free, humble, simple; full of confidence and full of initiative too.”

I am reminded here of Dallas Willard’s principle of indirection, which he defines as “Activities we engage in that are within our power and enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort, because in this way we meet the action of God (grace) with us, and the outcome is humanly inexplicable.” (taken from “Willard Words”)

What do you think?

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