ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Love Is An Orientation Toward God

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Love Is An Orientation Toward God

From The Life of the Spirit and the Life of Today

Christians, on the authority of their Master, declare that such love of God requires all that they have, not only of feeling, but also of intellect and of power; since he is to be loved with heart and mind and strength.  Thought and action on highest levels are involved in it, for it means, not religious emotionalism, but the unflickering orientation of the whole self towards him, ever seeking and finding the Eternal; the linking up of all behavior on that string, so that the apparently hard and always heroic choices which are demanded, are made at last because they are inevitable.  It is true that this dominant interest will give to our lives a special emotional color and a special kind of happiness; but in this, as in the best, deepest, richest human love, such feeling-tone and such happiness – thought in some natures of great beauty and intensity – are only to be looked upon as secondary characters, and never to be aimed at.

When Saint Teresa said that the real object of the spiritual marriage was “the incessant production of work, work,” I have no doubt that many of her nuns were disconcerted; especially the type of ease-loving conservatives whom she and her intimates were accustomed to refer to as the pussycats.  But in this direct application to religious experience of Saint Thomas’s doctrine of love, she set up an ideal of the spiritual life which is as valid at the present day in the entanglements of our social order, as it was in the enclosed convents of sixteenth-century Spain.  Love, we said, is the cause of action.  It urges and directs our behavior, conscious and involuntary, towards an end.  The mother is irresistibly impelled to act towards her child’s welfare, the ambitious man towards success, the artist towards expression of his vision.  All these are examples of behavior, love-driven towards ends.  And religious experience discloses to us a greater, more inclusive end, and this vital power of love as capable of being used on the highest levels, regenerated, directed to eternal interests; subordinating behavior, inspiring suffering, unifying the whole self and its activities, mobilizing them for this transcendental achievement.  This generous love will indeed cause the behavior it controls to exhibit both rightful contact with and renunciation of the particular and fleeting; because in and through this series of linked deeds it is uniting and finding its eternal end.  So, in that rightful bringing-in of novelty which is the business of the fully living soul, the most powerful agent is love, understood as the controlling factor of behavior, the sublimation and union of will and desire.



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