CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Life Goes On
From The School of Charity
And now we turn from the central mystery to the clustered events, through which its character is disclosed. We see the new life growing in secret. Nothing very startling happens. We see the child in the carpenter’s workshop. He does not go outside the frame of the homely life in which he appeared. It did quite well for him, and will do quite well for us. It is like the hidden life at Nazareth. We must be content with the wholesome routine of the nursery, doing ordinary things, learning ordinary lessons and eating ordinary food, if we are to grow truly and organically in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man. Growth in God is a far more gradual, less conscious process than we realize at first. We are so raw and superficial in our notions, that we cannot conceive the nature of those tremendous changes by which the child of grace becomes the man of God. We all want to be up and doing long before we are ready to do.
To contemplate the proportions of Christ’s life is a terrible rebuke to spiritual impatience and uppish hurry. There we see how slow, according to our timespan, is the maturing of the thought of God. Ephemeral insects become adult in a few minutes, the newborn lamb gets up and starts grazing straight away, but the child depends for months on its mother’s love. Sanctity, which is childhood in God, partakes of the long divine duration. We often feel that we ought to get on quickly, reach a new stage of knowledge or prayer, like spiritual may-flies. But Christ’s short Earthly life is divided into thirty years for growth and two and a half for action. The pause, the hush, the hiddenness, which intervenes between the Birth and the Ministry, is part of the divine method, and an earnest of the greatness of that which is to come. Only when that quiet growth has reached the right stage is there a revelation of God’s purpose, and the stress and discipline of a crucial choice. Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation come together as signs of maturity. It is much the same with us in the life of prayer. The Spirit fills us as we grow and make room. It keeps pace with us; does not suddenly stretch us like a pneumatic tire, with dangerous results. To contemplate the life of Christ, said Saint Augustine, cures inflation, and nourishes humility. We see in him the gradual action of God, subdued to the material on which it works, and fostering and sanctifying growth – that holy secret process – especially growth in the hidden, interior life, which is the unique source of his power in us.
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