Spirituality, Prayer and Mortification according to Evelyn Underhill

English: Evelyn Underhill. Author given as Wil...

English: Evelyn Underhill. Author given as William Edward Downey (1855–1908) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Any spiritual view which focuses attention on ourselves, and puts the human creature with its small ideas and adventures in the center foreground, is dangerous till we recognize its absurdity. . . .

We mostly spend those lives conjugating three verbs: to Want, to Have, and to Do.  Craving, clutching and fussing, on the material, political, social, emotional, intellectual – even on the religious – plane, we are kept in perpetual unrest: forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by and included in, the fundamental verb, to Be: and that Being, not wanting, having or doing, is the essence of a spiritual life. . . .

[or] Mortification and Prayer.  These are formidable words, and modern humanity tends to recoil from them.  Yet they only mean, when translated into our own language, that the development of the spiritual life involves both dealing with ourselves and attending to God.  Or, to put it the other way around and in more general terms, first turning to Reality, and then getting our tangled, half-real psychic lives – so tightly coiled about ourselves and our own interests, including our spiritual interests – into harmony with the great movement of Reality.  Mortification means killing the very roots of self-love; pride and possessiveness, anger and violence, ambition and greed in all their disguises, however respectable those disguises may be, whatever uniforms they wear.  In fact, it really means the entire transformation of our personal, professional and political life into something more consistent with our real situation as small dependent, fugitive creatures; all sharing the same limitation and inheriting the same half-animal past. That may not sound very impressive or unusual; but it is the foundation of all genuine spiritual life, and sets a standard which is not peculiar to orthodox Christianity.  Those who are familiar with Blake’s poetry will recognize that it is all to be found there.  Indeed, wherever we find people whose spiritual life is robust and creative, we find that in one way or another this transformation has been effected and this price has been paid.

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.

— From The Spiritual Life by Evelyn Underhill

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