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MEDITATIONS BASED ON THE LORD’S PRAYER
LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO.
LONDON ◊ NEW YORK ◊ TORONTO
LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO. LTD. 39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON, E.C.4. 17 CHITTARANJAN AVENUE, CALCUTTA NICOL ROAD, BOMBAY 36A MOUNT ROAD, MADRAS LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO. 55 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK 221 EAST 20TH STREET, CHICAGO 88 TREMONT STREET, BOSTON LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO. 215 VICTORIA STREET, TORONTO
FIRST PUBLISHED 1940
FOR B. B. G.
Published on the net for the Greater Glory of God ©Copyright 2018 ecatholic2000.com
PRAYER is the substance of eternal life. It gives back to man, in so far as he is willing to live to capacity—that is to say, to give love and suffer pain—the beatitude without which he is incomplete; for it sets going, deepens and at last perfects that mutual in dwelling of two orders which redeems us from un reality, and in which the creative process reaches its goal. There is, as Bremond has said, even in the poorest and crudest prayer “a touch of Pentecost.” It awaits and expects the action of the Spirit, acknowledges the most mysterious and yet the most certain reality of our experience; the intercourse of the Transcendent God with fugitive man, and of fugitive man with the Transcendent God. Yet all our attempts to describe this mysterious reality are like the scientists’ attempts to describe the universe; at worst diagrammatic, at best symbolic and allusive. It eludes definition, refuses to be caught in the meshes of the mind. We cannot say of it on God’s side, “Lo! there the beginning”; nor on man’s side, “Lo! here”; because it comes not with observation, but emerges unperceived from that deep ground of being where we do not know ourselves apart from Him. There, beyond thought, the pressure and invitation of God is experienced by the creature, and thence there filters into consciousness some response to the Unseen; an act of loving attention, a submission, a supplication. Here is the beginning of prayer, and hence it spreads to include at last every level of our being, every aspect of our existence, and bring into conscious expression its fundamental relation with God.
This is a conception of prayer which we easily forget; for the cheap fussiness of the anthropocentric life has even invaded our religion. There too, we prefer to live upon the surface and ignore the deeps. We seldom pause for that awed recognition of pure Being, so steadying and refreshing to the soul, which is the raw material of the interior life. Yet the true growth and development of humanity seems to depend on this constant re-orientation towards the Holy, this deep thrust of the spirit to the unchanging sources of its life. When a seed germinates, first the radicle pushes down into the nourishing earth; its delicate exploring tip penetrates that dense and hidden world, seeking and finding food. After that, the plumule unfolds and emerges into the light and air. Thus it should be with the spirit of man. The small seed of transcendental life in him, which the vicissitudes of circumstance will feed, maim or kill, according to the dispositions of the soul, must thrust its rootlet down into the world of spirit before it pushes its plumule up. Prayer must precede action. A deep adherence in our ground to absolute Beauty and Love is the only condition under which we can manifest beauty and love; and so redeem the world’s ugliness and sin. But we have come to believe that we can ignore this spiritual imperative, have the shoot without the root; Christian action without Christian contemplation, the fruitful ideology without contact with the Idea. The parable of the Sower is there to warn us of the inevitable result; and indeed the whole of the New Testament, once we have discarded our utilitarian prejudices and learnt to look at it with innocence of eye, decisively announces the priority of the spiritual, the mysterious greatness of prayer.
Christ, whose earthly life was both a correction and a completion of human life, taught above all else, by example as well as precept, this supreme art and privilege of the borderland creature. For Him, man was a being set in the world of succession and subject to its griefs and limitations; yet able in his prayer to move out to the very frontiers of that world, to lay hold on the Eternal and experience another level of life. How different such a doctrine and practice were from those of his own or any other time, is shown by the demand of the disciples who had witnessed His nights of solitary prayer in the hills: “Teach us how to pray.” Those who asked this were good and pious Jews, who already accepted the worship of the Name and practice of daily prayer as a normal part of life. But now they realized how far beyond these orderly acts of worship and petition was that living intercourse with the living Father, which conditioned every moment of Christ’s life; His link with the Unseen Reality from which He came and the source of His power in the world to which He was sent. Here for the first time they saw prayer, not as an ordered action, or a religious duty, not even an experience; but as a vital relation between man in his wholeness and the Being of God. Here was one who knew in the full and deep sense how to pray; and in the light of His practice, they perceived the poverty and unreality of their own.
The New Testament has preserved for us, in our Lord’s reply to His followers, a complete description of what Christian prayer should be; its character and objective; its balance and proportion; its quality and tone. As we explore this description and try to realize all that is implied in it, we find the whole world of prayer, its immense demands and immense possibilities, opening before us. Yet in accordance with that steady hold on history, that deep respect for the tradition within which He appeared, which marks the whole of Christ’s teaching, the description was given—as the answer to those who asked for the secret of Eternal Life was given—in words which were already familiar to the askers: in seven linked phrases which were a part of Jewish prayer, and can be traced to their origin in the Old Testament. It is as if we went to a saint and asked him to teach us to pray, and he replied by reciting the Quinquagesima Collect. We can imagine the disappointment of the disciples—”We knew all this before!” The answer to this objection is the same as the answer to the Lawyer: this do and you shall live. You already have all the information. Invest it with realism, translate it into action: phrases into facts, theology into religion. I am not giving you a set formula for repetition, but seven complementary pictures of the one life of prayer.
There is a drawing by William Blake, called “The Prayer of the Infant Jesus,” which seems to show us the response by anticipation to the disciples’ petition “Teach us how to pray.” The Child who kneels upon the bed in the centre of the picture is already a Master of prayer. The radiance of the Uncreated Light, breaking the surrounding darkness, falls upon Him. In His tiny figure, perfect in poise and happiness, human nature—and in human nature all creation—is brought into filial relation with God: a whole poured out in love towards a Whole. Round Him are His pupils visible and invisible; for Love incarnate has its own lessons to teach, even to discarnate spirits. The angels, humbled and exultant, kneel in awe before the mystery of the Word, uttering from within His own creation the praise of the ineffable Name. Behind, with closed eyes and folded hands, devout and recollected, are the earthly forms of Mary and Joseph. Above them their immortal spirits, already citizens of the world of supernatural prayer, bend their piercing gaze upon this Child, who knits together the worship of heaven and earth. On all, men and angels, lies a great silence in which the Divine Wisdom begins, from within humanity, His redeeming work.
If, looking at this picture, we consider the seven clauses of the Lord’s Prayer, we shall find here the link which binds them all together; so that they become seven moments in a single act of communion, seven doors opening upon “the world that is unwalled.” For these seven clauses represent seven fundamental characters of the one indivisible relation between the spirit of man and the Eternal God; they are seven lessons in prayer, forming together a complete direction for the conduct of our inner life. We begin to realize this, when we consider each separately, and see something of what each of them involves.
(1) Our Father which art in heaven: the sublime invocation which establishes our status before God, not merely as His creatures and slaves but as His children. We are the sons and daughters of the Eternal Perfect, inheritors of the Abiding; we have in us the spark of absolute life.
(2) Hallowed be Thy Name: selfless adoration, awestruck worship as the ruling temper of our life and all we do.
(3) Thy Kingdom come: devoted and eager co-operation with His transforming and redeeming action; the defeat of evil and the triumph of love as the first object of our prayer.
(4) Thy Will be done: active self-abandonment to the mysterious purposes and methods of God, and complete subordination to His design, as the perpetual disposition of the soul.
(5) Give us this day our daily bread: confident dependence on God for all the necessities of life. “Without thee I cannot live.”
(6) And forgive us our trespasses, our debts—the too much and the too little—the major types of disharmony with love: the prayer of filial penitence.
(7) Lead us not into temptation: the acknowledgment of our creaturely weakness and trust in His prevenient care.
And then the great affirmation which embraces and justifies our faith, hope and charity: “Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory.” We ask this of you, for only you can do it: no lesser power, no lesser love, will suffice.
“Lover of souls, Great God, I look to thee.”
It is too often supposed that when our Lord said, “In this manner pray ye,” He meant not “these are the right dispositions and longings, the fundamental acts of every soul that prays,” but “this is the form of words which, above all others, Christians are required to repeat.” As a consequence this is the prayer in which, with an almost incredible stupidity, they have found the material of those vain repetitions which He has specially condemned. Again and again in public and private devotion the Lord’s Prayer is taken on hurried lips, and recited at a pace which makes impossible any realization of its tremendous claims and profound demands. Far better than this cheapening of the awful power of prayer was the practice of the old woman described by St. Teresa, who spent an hour over the first two words, absorbed in reverence and love.
It is true, of course, that this pattern in its verbal form, its obvious and surface meaning, is far too familiar to us. Rapid and frequent repetition has reduced it to a formula. We are no longer conscious of its mysterious beauty and easily assume that we have long ago exhausted its inexhaustible significance. The result of this persistent error has been to limit our understanding of the great linked truths which are here given to us; to harden their edges, and turn an instruction which sets up a standard for each of the seven elements of prayer, and was intended to govern our whole life towards God, into a set form of universal obligation.
This is a sovereign instance of that spiritual stupidity with which we treat the “awful and mysterious truths” religion reveals to us; truths of which Coleridge has rightly said, that they are commonly “considered so true as to lose all the powers of truth, and lie bedridden in the dormitory of the soul.” But when we “centre down,” as Quakers say, from the surface of human life to its deeps, and rouse those sleeping truths and take them with us, and ask what they look like there—in the secret place where the soul is alone with God and knows its need of God—then, all looks different. These great declarations disclose their intensity of life, their absolute quality; as a work of art which has hung respected and unloved in a public gallery glows with new meaning when we bring it into the home or the sanctuary for which it was really made. Seen thus, the Paternoster reminds us how rich and various, how deeply rooted in the Supernatural, the Christian life is or should be, moving from awestruck worship to homely confidence, and yet one: how utterly it depends on God, yet how searching is the demand it makes on man. “Every just man”, says Osuna, “needs the seven things for which this prayer—or this scheme of prayer—asks.” Taken together they cover all the realities of our situation, at once beset by nature and cherished by grace: establishing Christian prayer as a relation between wholes, between man in his completeness and God who is all.
And we note their order and proportion. First, four clauses entirely concerned with our relation to God; then three concerned with our human situation and needs. Four hinge on the First Commandment, three hinge on the Second. Man’s twisted, thwarted and embittered nature, his state of sin, his sufferings, helplessness, and need, do not stand in the foreground; but the splendour and beauty of God, demanding a self-oblivion so complete that it transforms suffering, and blots out even the memory of sin. We begin with a sublime yet intimate invocation of Reality, which plunges us at once into the very ground of the Universe and claims kinship with the enfolding mystery. Abba, Father. The Infinite God is the Father of my soul. We end by the abject confession of our dependence and need of guidance: of a rescue and support coming to our help right down in the jungle of life. Following the path of the Word Incarnate, this prayer begins on the summits of spiritual experience and comes steadily down from the Infinite to the finite, from the Spaceless to the little space on which we stand. Here we find all the strange mixed experience of man, over-ruled by the unchanging glory and charity of God.
THE crowds who followed Christ hoping for healing or counsel did not ask Him to teach them how to pray; nor did He give this prayer to them. It is not for those who want religion to be helpful, who seek after signs; those who expect it to solve their political problems and cure their diseases, but are not prepared to share its cost. He gave it to those whom He was going to incorporate into His rescuing system, use in His ministry; the sons of the Kingdom, self-given to the creative purposes of God. “Thou when thou prayest … pray ye on this manner.” It is the prayer of those “sent forth” to declare the Kingdom, whom the world will hate, whose unpopularity with man will be in proportion to their loyalty to God; the apostles of the Perfect in whom, if they are true to their vocation, the Spirit of the Father will speak. The disciples sent out to do Christ’s work were to depend on prayer, an unbroken communion with the Eternal; and this is the sort of prayer on which they were to depend. We therefore, when we dare to use it, offer ourselves by implication as their fellow workers for the Kingdom; for it supposes and requires an unconditional and filial devotion to the interests of God. Those who use the prayer must pray from the Cross.
In other words, this is essentially the prayer of the living Church, the supernatural society of God’s children, the dedicated Body. It is addressed, not to Christ, who indwells and rules that dedicated Body, but to the Absolute God whom He reveals to men. “Because ye are sons, God sent forth the spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying Abba, Father.” By the free action of the Eternal Charity man has been lifted up from creation, and made capable of this word. The Incarnate Wisdom prays with and in us; and our worship as His must look beyond the distractions of the contingent to the eternal Beauty and Truth. In His prayer we seem to discern the perfect working of that “intellectus purus et aequus” of which Bacon said that it is “never distracted by the particulars and never lost in the contemplation of the entirety.”
Yet on the other hand it is Man, haunted by sin, kept in perpetual tension between the pull of heaven and the pull of earth, the victim of the very desires that he repudiates and the distracted citizen of a universe which he cannot comprehend, who takes this word on his lips, and puts filial trust and filial adoration at the heart of his spiritual life. Only in so far as he is gathered into this relationship of worship, confidence and love, does he realize and express his shortcomings and his guilt. So the theme of the first movement of Christian prayer is the Glory of the Father, the shining forth of the Shekinah; and the straightening out of our deformed world so that it matches the “pattern in heaven,” the unmanifest Creative design. But the theme of the second movement, with its humble petition for the support of the Unchanging Spirit in our ever-changing life, is weak and limited man, as he is now; his needs, his errors, his fears. Men have three wants, which only God can satisfy. They need food, for they are weak and dependent. They need forgiveness, for they are sinful. They need guidance, for they are puzzled. Give—Forgive—Lead—Deliver. All their prayer can be reduced to the loving adoration of the Father and the confident demand for His help.
“Our Father, which art in heaven.” We are the children of God and therefore inheritors of heaven. Here is the source alike of our hope and our penitence; the standard which confounds us, the essence of religion, the whole of prayer. “Heaven is God and God is in my soul,” said Elisabeth de la Trinité. It is a statement of fact, which takes us clean away from the world of religious problems and consolations, the world of self-interested worries and strivings, and discloses the infinite span and unfathomable depth of that supernatural world in which we really live. From our distorted life “unquieted with dreads, bounden with cares, busied with vanities, vexed with temptations” the soul in its prayer reaches out to centre its trust on the Eternal, the existent.
In those rare glimpses of Christ’s own life of prayer which the Gospels vouchsafe to us, we always notice the perpetual reference to the unseen Father; so much more vividly present to Him than anything that is seen. Behind that daily life into which He entered so generously, filled as it was with constant appeals to His practical pity and help, there is ever the sense of that strong and tranquil Presence, ordering all things and bringing them to their appointed end; not with a rigid and mechanical precision, but with the freedom of a living, creative, cherishing thought and love. Throughout His life, the secret, utterly obedient conversation of Jesus with His Father goes on. He always snatches opportunities for it, and at every crisis He returns to it as the unique source of confidence and strength; the right and reasonable relation between the soul and its Source.
I thank thee, Heavenly Father, because thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them unto babes.… Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.… I have kept my Father’s commandment and abide in his love.… Father, the hour is come.… O righteous Father! the world knew thee not, but I knew thee.… Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me.… Father, forgive them … into thy hands I commend my spirit.
Though our human experience of God cannot maintain itself on such a level as this, yet for us too as members of Christ these words have significance. They set the standard of realism, of childlike and confident trust which must govern our relation to the Unseen. Abba, Father. The personalist note, never absent from a fully operative religion, is struck at the start; and all else that is declared or asked is brought within the aura of this relationship. Our sins, aims, struggles, sufferings, our easy capitulation to hopelessness and fear, look different over against that truth. Our responsibilities become simplified, and are seen to be one single, filial responsibility to God. Our Father, which art in heaven, yet present here and now in and with our struggling lives; on whom we depend utterly, as children of the Eternal Perfect whose nature and whose name is Love.
“Ye are of God, little children.” Were this our realistic belief and the constant attitude of our spirits, our whole life, inward and outward, would be transformed. For we are addressing One who is already there, already in charge of the situation, and knowing far more about that situation than we do ourselves. Within His span it already lies complete, from its origin to its end “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before you ask him.” The prevenience of God is the dominant fact of all life; and therefore of the life of prayer. We, hard and loveless, already stand in heaven. We open the stiff doors of our hearts and direct our fluctuating wills to a completely present Love and Will directing, moulding and creating us. One aspect of redemption and one meaning of the incarnate life of Christ is to show men how to love this Present God; who comes to us in this thing and that thing, yet who induces in us a thirst and a longing that cannot be satisfied by any other thing than Himself alone.
And moreover in these first words, the praying soul accepts once for all its true status as a member of the whole family of man. Our Father. It can never again enter into prayer as a ring-fenced individual, intent on a private relation with God; for this is a violation of the law of Charity. Its prayer must overflow the boundaries of selfhood to include the life, the needs of the race; accepting as a corollary of its filial relation with God a brotherly relation with all other souls however diverse, and at every point replacing “mine” by “ours.” This wide spreading love, this refusal of private advantage is the very condition of Christian prayer; for that prayer is an instrument of redemptive action, not merely of personal achievement. It is true that there is a bracing solitude of the spirit in which is realized the secret and unique relationship of each soul with God; for each its own place, its own prayer. But these personal responses and experiences, sacred and unrepeatable, take place within that one great movement of man’s prayer of which the Church’s corporate worship is the sacrament. Here my enemy prays by my side, since the world of prayer has no frontiers; and in so doing he ceases to be my enemy, because we meet in God.
When to this classic model we add those other teachings on prayer in which Christ recommends great hiddenness as towards men, and great humility, initiative, persevering faith, as towards God, we get the picture of a secret but most actual supernatural activity, detached from the distractions of earth and set towards another centre of desire. This secret life is to be prosecuted with courage, confidence and zest: asking, seeking, and knocking with the assurance of the child, not with the desperation of the lost and starving slave. The soul that says “Abba” cannot conceive of God as One who treats us worse than we treat the children whom we love. “All is ours.” It is for us to throw down the barriers, quench the flame of separation, accept the unspeakable gift, find the hidden and awaiting treasure, and go forward to the frontier of unspeakable experiences; which fulfil and more than fulfil the utmost cravings of the soul, yet are part of the neglected heritage of man. Then, appeals for rescue and protection, requests for the alleviation of this or that earthly difficulty or pain are perceived to be beside the point: for these pains and difficulties will be the actual occasion of gratitude, once they are seen in spiritual regard as instruments of the perfecting of the soul. Our Father. We appeal by allusion to a character of Reality which is itself mysterious, yet which we can discern, because it is faintly reflected in our human experience. Beyond lies the unknown, the unreflected mystery of the Godhead. Between this homeliness and that transcendence there is no stopping-place for the soul. Yet because there can be no conflict in the simplicity of the Divine Nature, we know that within it these extremes are united. The ultimate mystery is favourable to us; and our truest relation is that of filial trust.
“The Father is our Fount and Origin, in whom our life and being is begun.” If this is our true situation, our relation to supreme Reality, that truth must rule our lives. Whether considered in philosophic or devotional regard, the thought is overwhelming. It rebukes the anthropocentric bias of our theologians, and the petty sentimentalisms of our self-centred piety. We are the children not of earth but of heaven; inheritors of a supernatural world of independent beauty, unaffected by our nursery achievements and untarnished by our nursery sins. Interrogating our deepest nature, we discover in ourselves, as Ruysbroeck says, the Unconfined. In spite of the twist which sin has given to us as a part of the created order, the hard-set deformation of the soul, the violence and cruelties of the life in which we are immersed, our essential kinship with Holiness remains. “The Father,” said St. Paul to his fellow Christians, “has made us fit to share the inheritance of the Saints in light.”
God, who stands so decisively over against our life, the Source of all splendour and all joy, is yet in closest and most cherishing contact with us; and draws us, beyond all splendour and all joy, into Truth. He has created in us such a craving for Himself alone, that even the brief flashes of Eternity which sometimes visit us make all else seem dust and ashes, lifeless and unreal. Hence there should be no situation in our life, no attitude, no pre-occupation or relationship, from which we cannot look up to this God of absolute Truth and say, “Our Father” of ourselves and of all other souls involved. Our inheritance is God, our Father and Home. We recognize Him, says St. John of the Cross, because we already carry in our hearts a rough sketch of the beloved countenance. Looking into those deeps, as into a quiet pool in the dark forest, we there find looking back at us the Face we implicitly long for and already know. It is set in another world, another light: yet it is here. As we realize this, our prayer widens until it embraces the extremes of awestruck adoration and confident love and fuses them in one.
HALLOWED be Thy Name. The modern mind, living sometimes prudently and sometimes carelessly, but never theocentrically, cannot make anything of such words as these; for they sweep the soul up, past the successive and the phenomenal, and leave it in abject adoration before the single reality of God. They mean in all experiences, undertakings and situations, a perpetual reference to that reality as the fact governing all judgments and all activities. This, says our Lord in effect, is the way that you must begin, because this is the essence of religion. For this, and only for this, it exists. When He is asked for the secret of prayer, “the true tent of meeting which the Lord pitched and not man”, this delighted recognition of God’s priority comes first to His mind. Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord! This is what creation is for: and the very object of man’s transformation is that he may become part of this inner life of the universe, which consists in the praise, the glory, the manifestation of God. St. John of the Cross says that creation babbles to us, like a child which cannot articulate what it wants to say; for it is struggling to utter the one Word, the Name and character of God.
Since for Christians the Nature and the Name of God is Love, this means a deep reverence for love in all its manifestations: on one hand as the power which holds the Universe together, on the other as the unearthly glory, the Shekinah, which in every situation declares the presence of the Holy and transfigures earthly life. Love is always to be recognized and adored, for it is the signature of God lying upon creation; often smudged and faded, almost blotted out, yet legible to the eyes which have been cleansed by prayer. It is the peculiar wisdom of the saints that they can read the letters of the Name wherever found and in whatever script; as Francis read them on the face of the Crucified, in the marred features of the leper, and written in the air by the moving wings of the free birds. These hear the utterance of the Name in all the voices of creation, gruff and gentle, the mating cry of lions and the call of the plover to her straying children; for the saints are realists, centred on God, and understand all life at every level in terms of worship. “All created things,” says de Caussade, “are living in the Hand of God. The senses see only the action of the creature; but faith sees in everything the action of God.” Eros no less than Agape proceeds from Him; the stammering utterance, in a world otherwise perverse and violent, of the Name which even angels cannot pronounce aright.
Thus, Christ places at the opening of the life of prayer an aspiration which sums up the desire of the whole created order: an aspiration too great for the mind and therefore great enough for the soul, proclaiming at once the priority and mysterious call of the Supernatural, and the true vocation of Man. Indeed, the very reason for the Church’s existence is the more perfect hallowing of the Name; for the Church is the Body in and through which the Son, the Logos utters the praise of the Father. Men are redeemed out of slavery to time into the freedom of eternal life, that they may take their small part in this eternal act of sacrificial worship.
“Before the glorious seat of thy Majesty, O Lord, and the exalted throne of thine honour and the awful judgment seat of thy burning love and the absolving altar which thy command hath set up, and the place where thy glory dwelleth, we, thy people and the sheep of thy fold, do kneel with thousands of the cherubim singing alleluia, and many times ten thousand seraphim and archangels acclaiming thine holiness, worshipping, confessing and praising thee at all times, O Lord of all!”
Here we are given the direct claim of Eternity on our devotion: embracing and transcending all other aspects of religion, and entincturing with reality all such other expressions of religion as our small spirits can contrive. Our Father … hallowed be Thy Name. With one hand we touch the most secret intimacies of the spirit, our loving and childlike relation to God, with the other the creature’s unlimited awe before His mystery: a mystery which grows deeper, the nearer we approach. As the awe with which we look up at the mountain from the valley, is nothing to the awe which fills us when we stand alone among the glaciers; so the development of our prayer must always bring with it a dim yet certain sense of the great reserves, the dread and secret life, of the Godhead over against us, which kills cheap and familiar sentimentalisms at birth.
“It is those who know most of God,” says St. John of the Cross, “who understand most clearly the infinite reaches of His being which remain uncomprehended by us.” Here, as in every approach to Reality, to Holiness, to Beauty, it is those who see much, not those who see little, who realize how much remains unseen. That is why the theologian always has plenty to say about God; whilst the contemplative can hardly say anything at all. The fluent teacher, with his sharp outlines and his neat list of attributes, is only the man with the telescope, not the Alpine guide. Real prayer must ever be an entering into ignorance, a timid upward gaze towards the splendour which baffles the mind while it satisfies the heart. The ceremonial acts of organized religion are dramatic representations of this bowing down of our fragmentary intelligences before the “intellectual radiance full of love.” Thus worship, since it is always an encounter with perfection, brings with it a Krisis, a judgment; conviction of sin, and the cause of conviction of sin. Here at once we are confronted by the austere element in the life of faith, the utter abasement of the creature before the Holy; and are reminded that Love is a grave and ruthless passion, unlimited in self-giving and unlimited in demand.
And next, this first response of creation to its author, this awestruck hallowing of the Name, must also be the first response of the praying soul. If we ask how this shall be done within the individual life and what it will require of us in oblation and adjustment, perhaps the answer will be something like this: “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed, revered, be Thy mysterious Name in my dim and fluctuating soul, to which Thou hast revealed Thyself in such a degree as I can endure. May all my contacts and relationships, my struggles and temptations, thoughts, dreams and desires be coloured by this loving reverence. Let me ever look through and beyond circumstance to Thee, so that all I am and do may become more and more worthy of the God who is the origin of all. Let me never take such words on my lips that I could not pass from them to the hallowing of Thy Name. (That one principle alone, consistently applied, would bring order and charity into the centre of my life.) May that Name, too, be hallowed in my work, keeping me in remembrance that Thou art the doer of all that is really done: my part is that of a humble collaborator, giving of my best.” This means that adoration, a delighted recognition of the life and action of God, subordinating everything to the Presence of the Holy, is the essential preparation for action. That stops all feverish strain, all rebellion and despondency, all sense of our own importance, all worry about our own success; and so gives dignity, detachment, tranquillity to our action and may make it of some use to Him.
Thus the four words of this petition can cover, criticize and re-interpret the whole of our personal life; cleansing it from egoism, orientating it towards reality, and reminding us that our life and work are without significance, except in so far as they glorify that God to whom nothing is adequate though every thing is dear. Our response to each experience which He puts in our path, from the greatest disclosure of beauty to the smallest appeal to love, from perfect happiness to utmost grief, will either hallow or not hallow His Name; and this is the only thing that matters about it. For every call to admiration or to sacrifice is an intimation of the Holy, the Other; and opens a path leading out from self to God. These words, then, form in themselves a complete prayer; an aspiration which includes every level and aspect of life. It is the sort of prayer that both feeds and expresses the life of a saint, in its absolute disinterestedness and delighted abasement before the Perfection of God.
From one point of view the rest of the Lord’s Prayer is simply about the different ways in which this adoring response of creation can be made more complete; for it asks for the sanctification of the universe. And by universe we do not mean some vast abstraction. We mean everything that exists, visible and invisible; the small as well as the great, the hosts of earth as well as the hosts of heaven; the mouse’s tail as well as the seraph’s wing brought into the circle of holiness and transfigured by the radiance of God. All creatures without exception taking part in the one great utterance of the Name: all self-interested striving transformed into that one great striving for the Glory of God which is the whole life of heaven and should be the whole life of earth.
“If,” says Martin Buber, “you explore the life of things and of conditioned being you come to the unfathomable, if you deny the life of things and of conditioned being, you stand before nothingness, if you hallow this life you meet the living God.” Here is declared that principle of cosmic order which must govern the coming of the Kingdom and doing of the Will; and shall at its term convert the whole world of action into an act of worship. Since this world of action includes the small but powerful movements of the individual soul, here too the law of the Cosmos is to be applied. For this soul’s life, if indeed that soul is truly living, must be that of a spirit standing in adoration before the Lord and Giver of its life; and its response to its surroundings physical and spiritual, in love and pain, fulfilment and sacrifice, in home, work, social contacts, æsthetic and intellectual experience must subserve this, its first duty. All must be brought to the altar and consecrated to the purposes of the Holy. All, directly or overtly, must hallow the Name of God.
If the transforming power of religion is to be felt, its discipline must be accepted, its price paid in every department of life; and it is only when the soul is awakened to the reality and call of God, known at every point of its multiple experience, that it is willing to pay the price and accept the discipline. Worship is a primary means of this awakening.
It follows once more that whole-hearted adoration is the only real preparation for right action: action which develops within the Divine atmosphere, and is in harmony with the eternal purposes of God. The Bible is full of illustrations of this truth, from the call of Isaiah to the Annunciation. First the awestruck recognition of God: and then, the doing of His Will. We cannot discern His Eternal Purpose, even as it affects our tiny lives, opportunities and choices, except with the eyes of disinterested and worshipping love. The hallowing of the Name is therefore the essential condition without which it is not possible to work for the Kingdom or recognize the pressure of the Will. So the first imperative of the life of prayer is that which the humanist finds so hard to understand. We are to turn our backs upon earth, and learn how to deal with its sins and its needs by looking steadfastly up to heaven.
Yet the life of prayer is incomplete if it stops here, in the realm of aspiration. Costly action as well as delighted fervour must form part of it. Like all else in the spiritual life of animal man, it must have its sacramental expression. Heroic sacrifice, peaceful suffering, patient and inconspicuous devotion to uncongenial tasks, the steady fight against sin, ugliness, squalor, and disease, the cleansing of national thought and increase of brotherhood among men: all this is a true part of the hallowing of the Name. It is our response to the impact of Perfection, our active recognition of the claim of God. Awe alone is sterile. But when it is married to sacrificial love, the fruits of the Spirit begin to appear; and the hallowing of the Name and the working for the Kingdom are seen to be two sides of one reality—the response of the creature to the demand of Love.
For Christians, there can be no limit to this consecration of life; in all things and at all costs putting the Holy first. The royal law must govern, even in those situations dark to faith when the demand of God, the call to sacrifice, cuts right across the texture of life and seems to oppose prudence and commonsense. Here our modern humanitarianisms and sentimentalisms, our ceaseless attempts to harness the supernatural in the interests of our dark Satanic mills, look very cheap and thin over against the solemn realities of religion, the awful priority of God, which the Bible forces again and again on our reluctant and utilitarian minds. Abraham leading Isaac up Mount Moriah is perhaps too hard a sacrament of worship for the modern Christian to digest. But the principle is summed up and driven home with less violence, yet with all the weight that history can give, in the story of King David and Oman the Jebusite.
David is told by his seer that he must build an altar to God on Oman’s threshing floor. To a mind bent on man and his legitimate interests, the suggestion is outrageous. All social and economic considerations are against it: for the threshing floor is a necessity of Oman’s livelihood. When the demand comes, he is threshing wheat on it; performing one of the essential duties of his practical farming life. King David, with the hesitation of a prudent monarch forced to make an unpopular demand, asks for the threshing floor and offers an adequate price. And suddenly the simple farmer, in his passionate generosity, his vivid sense of the overruling demand of God, towers over the careful piety of the King; so anxious that religion shall not cause any trouble with the people. Oman is not even content to give what is asked, though this already strikes at a central need of his life. He knows that his only possible answer is total, delighted sacrifice. “And Oman said, Take it to thee … lo! I give thee the oxen for burnt offerings and the threshing instruments for wood, and the wheat for the meal offering. I give it all!”—the final vow, the total consecration, the unconditioned surrender to God. Everything offered in oblation without stopping to count the cost. Hallowed be Thy Name.
Out of the mists of Jewish history, with its savage cruelties, its primitive and uneven reactions to the dawning light of the divine, comes this perfect picture of a flawless response to God’s demand. All the Jebusite farmer’s useful and necessary work, his human achievement and his future needs are offered, the very tools of his craft turned into fuel, the wheat for the coming winter sacrificed. I give it all, that so this place may be holy to the Lord. Thus the site of Solomon’s Temple was sanctified; and a place was prepared for the Holy of Holies, the Ark and the Mercy Seat. Those who stand to-day in the temple area of Jerusalem, stand on the threshing floor which was offered without condition by Ornan the Jebusite. There Isaiah saw the Seraphim; there the child Jesus, near the end of its long history, was presented before God; there He watched the widow give her mite; thence He cast out those who dared to mingle man’s profit with God’s praise. An unbroken chain leads from the farmer’s offering to the Cross.
HAVING recognized and worshipped the Name, we pray next for its triumph: Thy Kingdom come. Here man’s most sacred birthright, his deep longing for perfection, and with it his bitter consciousness of imperfection, break out with power. We want to bring the God whom we worship, His beauty, His sovereignty, His order, into the very texture of our life; and the fundamental human need for action into the radius of our prayer. This is the natural sequel to the prayer of adoration. We have had a glimpse of the mystery of the Holy, have worshipped before the veils of beauty and sacrifice; and that throws into vivid relief the poverty, the anarchy, the unreality in which we live—the resistance of the world, the creature to God, and its awful need of God.
Thy Kingdom come! We open our gates to the Perfect, and entreat its transfiguring presence; redeeming our poor contingencies, our disharmonies, making good our perpetual fallings short. We face the awful contrast between the Actual and the Real, and acknowledge our need of deliverance from sin; especially that sin of the world, that rebellion of creation against the Holy, which has thrust us out of heaven. The Kingdom is the serenity of God already enfolding us, and seeking to penetrate and redeem the whole of this created order; “shattering the horror of perpetual night” by a ray of heavenly brightness. We pray for this transformation of life, this healing of its misery and violence, its confusion and unrest, through the coming of the Holy God whom we adore; carrying through to regions still unconquered the great, the primary petition for the hallowing of His Name. That the Splendour over against us may enter, cleanse and sanctify every level of our existence; give it a new quality, coherence and meaning.
The prayer is not that we may come into the Kingdom, for this we cannot do in our own strength. It is that the Kingdom, the Wholly Other, may come to us, and become operative within our order; one thing working in another, as leaven in our dough, as seed in our field. We are not encouraged to hope that the social order will go on evolving from within, until at last altruism triumphs and greed is dethroned: nor indeed does history support this view. So far is this amiable programme from the desperate realities of our situation, so unlikely is it that human nature will ever do the work of grace, that now we entreat the Divine Power to enter history by His Spirit and by His saints; to redeem, cleanse, fertilize and rule. Nor is this tremendous desire, this direct appeal to the Transcendent, that of one or two ardent and illuminated souls: it is to be the constant prayer of the whole Church, voicing the one need of the whole world. “We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit.”
The world is not saved by evolution, but by incarnation. The more deeply we enter into prayer the more certain we become of this. Nothing can redeem the lower and bring it back to health, but a life-giving incursion from the higher; a manifestation of the already present Reality. “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world”: and this perpetual advent—the response of the eternal Agape to Eros in his need—is the true coming into time of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Pentecostal energy and splendour is present to glorify every living thing: and sometimes our love reaches the level at which it sees this as a present fact, and the actual is transfigured by the real.
What we look for then is not Utopia, but something which is given from beyond: Emmanuel, God with us, the whole creation won from rebellion and consecrated to the creative purposes of Christ. This means something far more drastic than the triumph of international justice and good social conditions. It means the transfiguration of the natural order by the supernatural: by the Eternal Charity. Though we achieve social justice, liberty, peace itself, though we give our bodies to be burned for these admirable causes, if we lack this we are nothing. For the Kingdom is the Holy not the moral; the Beautiful not the correct; the Perfect not the adequate; Charity not law.
With our growth in the spiritual life, we gradually learn this lesson of the complete difference in kind between our kingdom, our aim and achievement even at its best, and the Kingdom and achievement of God: that even the most devoted efforts for the moral and spiritual improvement of the here-and-now stop short of the real need—that total redemption of a distorted world for which “the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth”; its re-harmonizing with reality. The rule of Charity, which is the same as the sovereignty of the Holy, can never be forced on a reluctant world; for this is not consistent with its nature. God will not invade His lost province. His Spirit conquers by penetration, entering by the open door of prayer and spreading to entincture the whole of life. “Our God shall come and shall not keep silence”; but the coming will be very quiet. Without observation, the Eternal slides into the successive by inconspicuous paths, and transforms it to its purpose; the humble birth in a crowded stable-yard outside Jerusalem, the victory of love when a young prophet gave himself to the Father’s purpose on the Cross, when a young scholar capitulated to that same Cross on the road to Damascus, when a young poet kissed a leper outside the gates of Assisi. And many times more when homely heroisms, quiet sacrifices, secret prayers have opened the door. For the action of God is seldom showy; the true energies of the Kingdom are supersensuous—only a little filters through to the visible world.
Thus more and more we must expect our small action to be overruled and swallowed up in the vast Divine action; and be ready to offer it, whatever it may be, for the fulfilment of God’s purpose, however much this may differ from our purpose. The Christian turns again and again from that bewildered contemplation of history in which God is so easily lost, to the prayer of filial trust in which He is always found; knowing here that those very things which seem to turn to man’s disadvantage, may yet work to the Divine advantage. On the frontier between prayer and history stands the Cross, a perpetual reminder of the price by which the Kingdom is brought in. Seen from the world’s side it is foolishness; seen from the land of contemplation, it is the Wisdom of God. We live in illusion till that wisdom has touched us; and this touch is the first coming of the Kingdom to the individual soul.
It is a great thing for any soul to say without reserve in respect of its own life, “Thy Kingdom come!” for this means not only the acknowledgment of our present alienation, our fundamental egoism and impurity, but the casting down of the will, the destruction of our small natural sovereignty; the risk and adventure which accompany an unconditional submission to God, a total acceptance of the rule of love. None can guess beforehand with what anguish, what tearing of old hard tissues and habits, the Kingdom will force a path into the soul, and confront self-love in its last fortress with the penetrating demand of God. Yet we cannot use the words, unless we are prepared to pay this price: nor is the prayer of adoration real, unless it leads on to this. When we said, “Hallowed be Thy Name!” we acknowledged the priority of Holiness. Now we offer ourselves for the purposes of Holiness: handing ourselves over to God that His purposes, great or small, declared or secret, natural or spiritual, may be fulfilled through us and in us, and all that is hostile to His Kingdom done away.
There will be two sides to this: passive and active. The passive side means enduring, indeed welcoming, the inexorable pressure of God’s transforming power in our own lives; for the Kingdom comes upon earth bit by bit, as first one soul and then another is subjugated by love and so redeemed. It means enduring the burning glance of the Holy, where that glance falls on imperfection, hardness, sin. The active side means a self-offering for the purposes of the Kingdom, here and now in this visible world of space and time; the whole drive of our life, all our natural endowments, set towards a furtherance of the purposes of God. Those purposes will not be fulfilled till the twist has been taken out of experience, and everything on earth conforms to the pattern in heaven—that is to say, in the Mind of God: wide-spreading love transfiguring the whole texture of life. Here we have a direct responsibility as regards our whole use of created things: money, time, position, the politics we support, the papers we read. It is true that the most drastic social reform, the most complete dethronement of privilege, cannot of themselves bring the Kingdom in; for peace and joy in the Holy Spirit can only come to us by the free gift of the Transcendent. But at least these can clear the ground, prepare the highway of God; and here each act of love, each sacrifice, each conquest of prejudice, each generous impulse carried through into action counts: and each unloving gesture, hard judgment, pessimistic thought or utterance opposes the coming of the Kingdom and falsifies the life of prayer.
The Coming of the Kingdom is perpetual. Again and again freshness, novelty, power from beyond the world, break in by unexpected paths, bringing unexpected change. Those who cling to tradition and fear all novelty in God’s relation with His world deny the creative activity of the Holy Spirit, and forget that what is now tradition was once innovation: that the real Christian is always a revolutionary, belongs to a new race, and has been given a new name and a new song. God is with the future. The supernatural virtue of hope blesses and supports every experiment made for the glory of His Name and the good of souls: and even when violence and horror seem about to overwhelm us, discerns the secret movement of the Spirit inciting to sacrifice and preparing new triumphs for the Will. In the Church too this process of renovation from within, this fresh invasion of Reality must constantly be repeated if she is to escape the ever-present danger of stagnation. She is not a static institution, but the living Body of the living Christ—the nucleus of the Kingdom in this world. Thus loyalty to her supernatural calling will mean flexibility to its pressures and demands, and also a constant adjustment to that changing world to which she brings the unchanging gifts. But only in so far as her life is based on prayer and self-offering will she distinguish rightly between these implicits of her vocation and the suggestions of impatience or self-will.
Yet the coming of the Kingdom does not necessarily mean the triumph of this visible Church; nor of that which is sometimes called the Christian social order. It means something far more deep, subtle and costly: the reign of God, the all-demanding and all-loving, in individual hearts, over-ruling all the “adverse powers” which dominate human life—the vigorous survivals from our animal past which are nourished by our egotism and support its implicit rebellion against God—fear and anger, greed and self-assertion, jealousy, impatience and discontent. It means the re-ordering, the quieting, the perfecting of our turbulent interior life, the conquest of our rampant individualism by God’s supernatural action; and that same supernatural action gradually making each human life what it is meant to be—a living part of the Body of Christ, a sacramental disclosure of the splendour of God.
This secret and unrepeatable relation of each soul with God in prayer is the true condition of the well-being of the Church; for it is through these individual and derivative spirits that Holy and Absolute Spirit works in time. If the individual Christian depends on the support of the Supernatural Society, no less does that Supernatural Society depend on the quality of the individual Christian; and this quality is conditioned by his prayer—that is, the faithfulness, humility and self-oblivion with which he responds to the pressure of God and offers himself for the purposes of the Will.
To look with real desire for the coming of the Kingdom means crossing over to God’s side; dedicating our powers, whatever they may be, to the triumph of His purpose. The Bible is full of a stern insistence on that action which is ever the corollary of true contemplation. It is here that the praying spirit accepts its most sacred privilege: active and costly co-operation with God—first in respect of its own purification, and then in respect of His creative and redeeming action upon life. Our attitude here must be wide open towards God, exhibiting quite simply our poverty and impurity, acknowledging our second-rateness, but still offering ourselves such as we are. Thy Kingdom come! Here am I, send me. Not the nature-lover’s admiration but the labourer’s hard work turns the corn-field into the harvest-field. Hard work, which soon loses the aura of romantic devotion; and must be continued through drudgery and exhaustion to the end.
When we realize this, and volunteer for it, at once we have about us the tremendous energies of the Saints; the great co-operators with the Holy, the delighted slaves of God at their infinitely varied tasks—yet all in one way or another proclaiming the imminent Kingdom, bringing the Eternal Charity into immediate contact with the creature’s imperfections and needs. If we consider Christ’s own action, as he moves, a man amongst men, declaring the Kingdom of God, we see that He sets about this in the most practical way: not merely inviting men to think of the Transcendent, but bringing down into the texture of their lives the redeeming action of the Transcendent. He is singularly uninterested in lofty ideas and large projects, but greatly interested in redemptive acts. “Jesus,” says St. Matthew, “went about in all Galilee, preaching the good news of the Kingdom and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people.” He was acting as the link between the outpouring love and harmony of the Life of God, and the jangled and defective life of men. “Tell John the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed.” Human life is readjusted and made whole by the healing action of dynamic love, exercised by One whose life is identical with His prayer. His injunctions to His agents follow the same lines. They are to heal disharmony and misery wherever they find it; meeting with an eager and compassionate love the most repulsive aspects of life, touching the leper, ministering to the neurotic, seeking the degraded and the lost.
Christ announced the one and only purpose of His ministry to be the bringing in of the Kingdom of God; by the quiet action of a flawless love giving back to our lost tormented planet its place in the orchestra of heaven. Yet the way in which He spoke of this Kingdom, this victory of the Supernatural, was always allusive, suggestive, poetic—never precise. The Mystery of the Kingdom is sacred and must be reverenced. Again and again we are warned against any attempt to reduce it to a formula, to say, “Lo here! lo there!”, to be dogmatic. Instead of definition we are given a series of vivid contrasting pictures of some of the things that it is like: oblique approaches to a single living Truth. Its inconspicuousness from our point of view and yet its tremendous latent energy—like seed which has in itself the whole life of the tree: like leaven working unseen the transformation of the dough. Its overwhelming attraction for those who recognize it—the Pearl, the Treasure. The Saints selling all they have to buy that Pearl, abandoning everything for the field in which the Treasure is hid: prudence obliterated by love. In telling of the Kingdom, He begins with the homely facts of daily life, but ends upon the summit of romance. The Pearl is like the Grail: something always here, but never actualized save in the experience of certain happy and single-minded souls. Useless to hunt for it. We light upon it suddenly, in its matchless and reticent beauty: then, all hinges upon whether we will sell everything and pay the price.
Again, the Kingdom is present already, mingling disguised with the untransformed and common life; and sometimes the form in which it meets us has no beauty that we should desire it. Then it must be recognized not by its looks but by its fruits. It enters the world that we know, as it were by the action of One who sows broadcast something which is not of the world we know—the good seed of Holiness, the supernatural life. Sows it, not in a nicely prepared corner, but in the open field, exposed to all weathers and all risks. There God’s wheat and the devil’s darnel, which looks at first glance just like wheat, grow together. Real charity and sham charity; the real Christian and the self-occupied devotee. The hurried enthusiast, the keen reformer, eager to apply absolute standards, wants to pull up the darnel and leave the wheat. But the wise tolerance of God leaves both growing together; content that the genuine crop should be known by its yield.
THE graph of Christian prayer conforms very closely to the central action of the Eucharist. First the Sanctus, the type of all adoring worship “with angels and archangels glorifying the Holy Name” and lifting heart and mind to the contemplation of Reality. Then the bread and wine, the ordinary stuff of life raised to the plane of sacrifice and freely offered that it may be blessed and transformed by the action of the Holy, made the food and salvation of the soul. And now we stand at the central point on which all this is poised: where the heavenly prayer and the earthly prayer meet. Our Father, which art in heaven … Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The Will: that mysterious attribute of the Living Godhead of which a little crumb is given to men, in order that it may be united in love to the Whole from which it came. Once again the priority of the Holy, the overruling interests of the Transcendent are re-affirmed as the very substance of the creature’s adoring prayer.
With this prayer for the Will to be done on earth as in heaven, the soul is brought to a more complete self-opening and a new and personal co-operation with God: and with this to a new and creaturely conviction of its own helplessness, its fundamental need. For only the Logos, the express image of His Person, can do in perfection the Father’s Will. So here, we pray for union with His indwelling spirit. Anima Christi sanctifica me! Accept and transform my small energy of desire that it may become part of Thy great energy of desire. Only thus can I achieve the end for which I was made, and make my tiny contribution to the redemption of the world.
Fiat voluntas tua. We cannot miss the dynamic note, the drive, indeed the passion in these words. They should be remembered by those who tell us, with a particularly unfortunate resort to the dangers of arbitrary choice, that our business as immortal spirits is to Be rather than Do. For in fact our very being involves us in activity. We are placed in succession, and within succession must actualize our deep instinct for the Real; must exercise the will, and use our responsibility of choice. We cannot call a halt. On the one hand we hold fast to the Abiding; on the other, we are required to do the Will in and through serial acts. A tension, a duality, is inevitable for us; we are the unstable, striving agents of a quiet unchanging Love. Thus only the Christian synthesis of Grace and Nature, Faith and Works, the working of the eternal within the transitory, meets the situation which is envisaged in this prayer for the unhindered accomplishment of the purposes of God. The true focus of desire for all deeply loving souls must be this triumph of the Will by the self-surrender and arduous perfecting, the deliberate sacrificial deeds of the creature in response to the Light sent forth and the Grace given.
We have come down in the course of our prayer from the Infinite to the Finite, from the splendour of God, His present yet unseizable loveliness, to our distracted world; which is meant to be part of that splendour, to radiate that loveliness. Here is the scene in which His will to perfection must be worked out through us, by us, in spite of us. “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” We do not know what possibilities, what mysteries, may still be hidden in the unexpressed design. Yet because each step of this descending prayer is a movement of faith, obedience and love, we bring the Infinite with us; as did Christ Himself when He came down from His nights of communion on the mountain to His redemptive work among men. Here, again, the life of prayer follows the path of the Incarnation. The “Wisdom that came forth from the mouth of the Most High entered deeply into the common life, and there accomplished His transforming and redeeming work. We too are not to experience eternity and take up our obligations in respect of it in some exalted other-worldly region; but here and now, right down in that common life which is also dear to God, finding in our homely experience the raw material of sacrifice, turning its humble duties and relationships into prayer. Be it unto me according to Thy Word—here, where I am. Not my will but Thine be done. This is the act of oblation which puts life without condition at God’s disposal; and so transforms and sacramentalizes our experience, and brings the Kingdom in.
Here we arrive at a prayer of pure realism, which is also the prayer of confident love: for what the Will may be, and what it may entail for us, we do not know. The enthusiastic forward look towards the coming of the Kingdom, the triumph of the Perfect, is easy; less easy, the acceptance of those conditions through and in which it must enter and dominate the lives of men. But if adoration has indeed done its disentangling work, no hesitations will mar this simple movement of abandonment. Thy Will: I accept the rule of God, whatever it may be, for myself, as well as working for it—the prayer of docility. That means a total capitulation to the mysterious Divine purpose; war declared on individual and corporate self-centredness, death to an earthbound, meticulous or utilitarian piety. It asks of the soul a heroic and liberating dedication to the interests of Reality; that, transcending the problems and needs of our successive existence, we may be made partners in the one august enterprise of the Spirit. This, says St. Paul, is the very meaning of the Passion: “that they which live shall no longer live unto themselves … wherefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature”—his interests have become identical with those of the supernatural world. “Our wills are ours to make them thine” is not a mere bit of Victorian moralizing, but an almost perfect description of man’s metaphysical state. We ask for our own subordination to Reality, the neutralizing of the rebel will, the deep grace of abandonment. For only “in Christ,” are the Absolute Will and the will of the creature plaited together, to make a single cord of love.
We all have a preconceived idea of the path which we are to follow, the way in which we shall use our talents best. But in the world of prayer, our eyes cleansed by adoration, we perceive and acknowledge that the initiative lies with God; and only with us in so far as we give our energy to Him and take up our inheritance as Children of God, recognizing and welcoming His quiet directive action, His steady pressure within life as the only thing that really matters about it. Nor is this recognition possible to any but those whose surrender is complete. “There is no more certain way of going wrong,” says Grou, “than to take for the Will of God all which comes into our hearts or passes through our minds.” This means death to self-will however cunningly disguised; the work that we love done with zest and care, but done God’s way not ours, at His pace not ours, for His glory not ours, and laid down without reluctance, as the movement of the Will demands. Also the drudgery that we do not love done too, because that is His will and not ours. Going into business with the single talent which we would prefer to keep clean and unsullied by the rough and tumble of life. Substituting the discipline of the workshop for the free-lance activities of the gifted amateur. Taking on the job that needs doing, the machine that needs tending, and tending it in the right way, even though it gives little scope to our particular gifts; or accepting the situation quietly, when the job which we seemed to be doing rather well is taken away. “Thy Will be done” means always being ready for God’s sudden No over against our eager and well-meaning Yes: His overruling of our well-considered plans for the increase of His Glory and advancement of His Kingdom, confronting us with His Cross—and usually an unimpressive Cross—at the least appropriate time. All self-willed choices and obstinacy, all feverish intensity drawn out of the work which we supposed to be work for Him; so that it becomes more and more His work in us. “The glorious Majesty of the Lord our God be upon us.” Then our handiwork will prosper; not otherwise.
A strange reversal of fortune, the frustration of obviously excellent plans, lies behind most of the triumphs of Christian history. It was by an unlikely route that Christ Himself, the country carpenter, itinerant preacher, and victim of local politics, carried humanity up into God. It was in defiance alike of the probable and the suitable that St. Paul was chosen, seized, transmuted, and turned to the purposes of the Will. Stephen, full of grace and power, is snatched in the splendour of his faith to God; and His Will is achieved and the Catholic Church is created by the abrupt conversion of a brilliant young scholar to a small revivalist sect. If we think of St. Paul’s situation at the opening of his apostolic life—the humiliating eating of his own words, the long-lived suspicion and unpopularity, and his constancy through it all—it becomes clear that only the immense pressure of God’s Will, overwhelming all natural reluctances and desires, can account for it. Nor did the rest of St. Paul’s life, mostly spent in exhausting, dangerous and often disappointing labours, contain much food for ambition or self-love. Christian history looks glorious in retrospect; but it is made up of constant hard choices and unattractive tasks, accepted under the pressure of the Will. “In the volume of the book it is written of me, that I should fulfil Thy Will, O my God: I am content to do it.”
Sometimes this total dedication to the purposes of the Will means the vigorous, self-sacrificing work of the active life, carried up to heroic levels. Sometimes it means that same life, which seemed so devoted and so effective, turned into the deep and beautiful surrender of the passive life. This is a transformation which the practical Christian finds very hard to understand. What is the good of it? God is the good of it. He is Pure Being as well as Pure Act, and therefore that apparently passive life, since it gives Him undisputed sway, unhindered passage, is in fact the most fully active life; for the action is that of God, and so has nothing in it with which to feed our self-esteem. When our fussy surface activity, our restless volition ceases, we realize beneath it the deep unceasing action of the mysterious Will, Master of the Tides, real doer of all that is done.
Sometimes the mortification of selfhood, the demand for acceptance, docility and trust goes deeper and strikes at the centre of the soul’s action; its willed response in prayer to God. Then, all those practices and feelings which it had too easily identified with its spiritual life are swept away. It is left in a great emptiness and silence, there to learn the ultimate lessons of self-abandonment; the entire subordination of the creature’s small action and choices to the vast Divine action and choices, and therefore a quiet acceptance of God’s firm yet gentle pressures on the life He is moulding to His Will. Thus only can it actualize within experience the truth which rules and clarifies the whole of human existence: the sublime and effortless action of the Eternal Life and Love supporting, penetrating and over-ruling all individual striving and achievement.
“All that is done in us, around us and by us,” says de Caussade, “contains and conceals the action of God. There it is most truly and certainly present, but invisible; so that it always surprises us, and we only recognize its working when it is withdrawn. If we could pierce the veil, and were alert and attentive, God would show Himself to us without ceasing, and we should realize His action in all that happens to us. To each thing we should say, Dominus est. It is the Lord. And we should find in every circumstance that we had received a gift from God. We should consider all creatures as feeble tools in the hands of an all powerful craftsman, and should easily recognize that we lack nothing, and that God’s continual care gives us at each moment that which is best for us.”
So, Thy Will be done, whilst it includes and sanctifies the life of eager co-operation, leads out beyond this to the more difficult and powerful life of active surrender and acceptance. “Crucifying the flesh with the desires thereof,” says St. Paul; a drastic prescription for the redemption of human life. Crucifying, condemning and executing, not sins alone but Sin; all those personal desires, ambitions, plans, preferences and affections which make us separate, self-acting entities instead of living cells of the Body of Christ. Even the deepest desire of the creature, its profound hunger for God, is to be borne unsatisfied; until by His choice and movement, not ours, it is satisfied. An interior life conceived on these lines does not mean an easy peace, a consoling religion. It means the fullest, most unquestioning abandonment possible to the soul as the only path to union with God. This abandonment is learned first through those small tests and deprivations which provide, as it were, a prehminary gymnastic of the Spirit; increasing in difficulty with our growth and gradually producing that suppleness, that easy docility to circumstance, which is a mark of the surrendered soul. All our spiritual and intellectual action is included in the material on which this exacting discipline must work; prayer, thought, movements of love and hate, pity, resentment, patience, wrath. Also darkness, interior suffering and temptation; the tumult, pain, even rebellion which come from the impact of God’s Perfection on the imperfect and unstable soul of man. Indeed, since there is for man no tension and no problem when God’s Will and human preference happen to agree, and in fact the drive and demand of the Will is then hardly perceived by us, it follows that it is most often in suffering, willed and accepted, that the real transcendence of egoism is accomplished. This does not mean that suffering is in itself holy; but that, being what we are, it nearly always accompanies our full acceptance of the Holy and its tremendous demands.
And last the Will is to be done “as in Heaven”; peacefully, joyfully, perfectly, the response of a deep and disciplined love. Here, in this pure and disinterested relation of spirit to Spirit, is the clue to life’s meaning “for to step into pure relation is not to disregard everything, but to see everything in the Thou, not to renounce the world but to establish it on its true basis.” It is not in observing and accepting the drift of the Cosmos, but in replying to the strange Voice which speaks from within and beyond the Cosmos that we are to find our peace. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum. Not “its mysterious laws” but “Thy mysterious Word.”
“This,” says Osuna, “is the fiat of the Blessed Virgin, in which consists the highest perfection of love, whose end is to conform us entirely in all things, whether in prosperity or adversity, with all our heart to the Beloved.… So that we not only suffer patiently and with an entire conformity whatever happens, but we pray that what we did not wish for may be done, for love delights no less in what God does in opposition to its prayer, than in its accomplishment.”
This ultimate Christian temper of joyful abandonment to the hidden purpose of the Wholly Other perfects and establishes the theocentric orientation of the soul. It reflects back to a deep consciousness of the already existent Kingdom, “the mystery of the self-evident, nearer to me than my I”; for there is little in the texture of the successive order to evoke it. Indeed, at every point history offers the Cross for that soul’s acceptance. The cruelty, violence and injustice of men win their apparent triumph; and only within and through that triumph loving acquiescence in the Will achieves, in the teeth of circumstance, a final victory. So too in the individual life, the line droops, creative energy is withdrawn to re-emerge in those who come after; perhaps in a form which we cannot understand or admire. Yet none of this matters. No personal consideration counts, so long as the Will is done. Here egoism dies and the temper of heaven, loving disinterestedness, is born.
Thus the Christian, if he is to find room for the completing opposites of his illogical experience, is obliged on one hand to say, “Thy Will be done on, in and through this world with which Thou art present; which is by declaration the object of thy care and the garment of thy praise. Here I accept in simplicity the mysterious drama of creation and destruction, and with that my own contribution to the great purpose which I cannot discern. And yet too, Thy Will be done by me at all costs here and now, over against this rebel world which so decisively rejects it.” Christian life and prayer must accept this paradox, moving to and fro between abandonment and effort; for whatever we affirm in this sphere must at once be qualified by its opposite. “I have learned,” said Nicolas of Cusa, “that the place wherein Thou art found unveiled is girt round with the coincidence of contradictories.”
IN the first part of the Lord’s Prayer, we are wholly concerned with God’s glory. We pray with angelic spirits; creatures whose purposes are completely harmonized with the Creative Will. In the second part, we turn from the Eternal Splendour to our earthly limitations, and bring before God the burden, neediness and sinfulness of our state. Give us this day our daily bread. With this proclamation of our utter dependence, the presentation before God of the simplest and most fundamental of our needs, we pass from adoration to petition, and enter into the full paradox of Christian prayer: the unspeakable majesty and abiding perfection of the Infinite, and because of that majesty and that perfection, the importance of the claim of the fugitive, the imperfect, the finite.
The Heavens declare the Glory of God …
Lord, I call upon thee, haste thee unto me!
There is a natural tendency in man to reverse this order of approach; to come before God in a spirit of heaviness, greatly concerned with his own imperfections, needs and desires—”my soul and its shortcomings,” “the world and its wants”—and defer the putting on of the garment of praise: that wedding-garment which introduces us into the company of the sons of God and is the only possible beginning of real prayer. Here, Christ’s teaching and practice are decisive. First the heavenly, then the earthly. First ascend in heart and mind to the Eternal, adore the Father, seek the Kingdom, accept the Will: and all the rest shall be added unto you. Again and again the New Testament insists on that. The contrast of the two worlds is absolute; but their interpenetration is complete. No human need, however homely, is negligible; none lies outside the glow of God. There is no point however tiny on which the whole power of the Eternal Love does not play. Yet all the importance of the natural, the deep pathos of its need and imperfection, abides in its relation to God the Perfect and its dependence on Him; all its reality in the extent to which it expresses His Will. “Adam sinned when he fell from contemplation,” because in that moment he lost the clue to the meaning of life. God is the First and the Last. We shall never grasp the meaning of our experience, see it in proportion, unless we begin by seeking His Face.
So now from the august vision of the supernatural order declaring His holiness, and the living Will which moulds, supports and penetrates His creation, “mightily and sweetly ordering all things,” we turn, awed yet encouraged, to our little changing world; the homely arena within which the soul is required to glorify God. That changing world, too, is completely dependent on Him; incapable of embodying His will and beauty, unless fed, cleansed and guided by the other-worldly Love. The second part of the Lord’s Prayer, then, taking our situation as it is, brings before God the humbling realities of that natural life within which He finds us and calls us to the supernatural life, each in our own way and degree.
And first, our entire dependence. Give us this day our daily bread. In natural ways and in spiritual ways, man’s successive spirit is maintained in constant and intimate dependence on the Eternal Spirit; and would fall into nothingness were that support withdrawn. Starvation both of body and soul is an ever present possibility. “Thou feedest thy poor ones abundantly with heavenly loaves!” says an ancient prayer of the Spanish Church; a declaration beginning in man’s Eucharistic experience, which spreads to embrace that primal Charity by which the cosmos is sustained. Indeed, this constant humbling dependence of the natural creature on food from beyond itself is a sacramental expression of a deeper mystery: the ceaseless self-imparting of God, the Food of the full-grown, to that childish soul which is being transformed into His image. Here our poetic symbols and our half-realized prayers move upon the surface of a Fact far too great for us—the substantial identity of Giver and Gift, God Himself as the soul’s food. The prayer for our true Bread is a prayer for His self-imparting; and in the very prayer He is already given, for the petition of the creature and the self-imparting of the Creator are one moment. “He is,” says Jacopone da Todi, “the gran donatore, pastor and pasture of the soul.” This secret prevenience of God, the all-sufficing Food and all-cherishing Love, is the governing fact of the world of prayer. Before Him, in Him, and by Him our spirits live. His pressure on and in the soul and the created world is ceaseless; coming by countless paths, or rather with a total freedom which fills all channels, overflows all paths, and finds its opportunity in every circumstance.
Nevertheless even here, where we know God’s self-giving to be absolute and our poverty to be complete, there is a certain demand upon our own effort. Will must correspond with Grace. Man must use his partial freedom, his power of choice, if he is indeed to grow up and be capable of the Food of the full-grown. God gives without stint all that the creature needs, but it must do its part. He gives the wheat: we must reap and grind and bake it. Even the Eucharistic gifts must cost us trouble, bear the imprint of man’s toil.
As, in the soul’s life, will and grace rise and fall together, so in its prayer effort and abandonment are not alternatives, but completing opposites; and without their rightful balance there is no spiritual health. “If any will not work, neither shall he eat,” said St. Paul; a precept of spiritual as well as practical application. “He gave them angels’ food from Heaven”; but they had to go out and gather the manna daily for themselves. The discipline of God is bracing; He gives the soul’s food and gives it in abundance, but under conditions which make a wholesome demand on us. None are dispensed from taking trouble. And moreover the food is diverse according to the needs of each: “the way in which he is in tune with God, whether in outward good works or in the inward practice of love.” A sustaining and comforting meal for those called to the active life; hard crusts for interior souls. Here again, communion with God is never an experience imposed from without, but always a relation arising from within. On one hand the humble and confident expectation, the up-stretched neck and open beak of the hungry bird; on the other, the mysterious self-imparting of a steadfast and cherishing love: “For we feed upon His Immensity which we cannot devour, and we yearn after His Infinity which we cannot attain.”
Yet in dealing with the ways of God with man, the single image is never adequate to the facts. True, in the earlier stages of the life of prayer the soul is mainly conscious of a certain tension; of the object of desire, the satisfaction of hunger ever lying beyond its reach, the fulness of communion always missed, in spite of its own laborious humble effort. It is committed, as St. Teresa says, to hauling up the living water in its own bucket. The rope is harsh, the well is deep, and it never gets enough to quench its thirst. But presently it begins to realize that these hard and wholesome conditions do not impeach the free generosity of God. They are educational rather than inevitable, and exist chiefly for the soul’s own sake; strengthening the will, developing the muscles, purifying the desire. Beyond and within all this is the steady, unfailing gift under many various disguises of Himself, the Living Water and the Living Food.
“Give us this day for bread the Word of God from Heaven,” says a version of the Lord’s Prayer found in the ancient Irish Gospels. Here man in his ignorance and fragility utters the one and all-sufficing prayer. For he is not fed by bread alone, not even by the appointed Bread of sacramental grace, but “by every word that proceeds from the Mouth of God”—all the utterances of the Spirit, all the messages given to him by and through life, and which make up life’s significance. In all these, bitter or sweet, tasteless and dry or full of savour, God the Father of Spirits feeds our weak and childish spirits; that they may grow and ever more and more feed on Him. Cresce et manducabis me.
God gives Himself mainly along two channels: through the soul’s daily life and circumstances and through its prayer. In both that soul must always be ready for Him; wide open to receive Him, and willing to accept and absorb without fastidiousness that which is given, however distasteful and unsuitable it may seem. For the Food of Eternal Life is mostly plain bread; and though it has indeed all sweetness and all savour for those who accept it with meekness and love, there is nothing in it to attract a more fanciful religious taste. All life’s vicissitudes, each grief, trial or sacrifice, each painful step in self-knowledge, every opportunity of love or renunciation and every humiliating fall, have their place here. All give, in their various ways and disguises, the heavenly Food. A sturdy realism is the mark of this divine self-imparting, and the enabling grace of those who receive.
The offered Christ is distributed among us. Alleluia!
He gives his body as food and his blood he pours out for us. Alleluia!
Draw near to the Lord and be filled with his light. Alleluia!
Taste and see how sweet is the Lord. Alleluia!
The symbolism of food plays a large part in all religions, and especially in Christianity. As within the mysteries of the created order we must all take food and give food—more, must take life and give life—we are here already in touch with the “life-giving and terrible mysteries of Christ”, who indwells that order; for all is the sacramental expression of His all-demanding and all-giving Life. We accept our constant dependence on physical food as a natural and inevitable thing. Yet it is not necessarily so: there are creatures which are free from it for long periods of time. But perhaps because of his border-line status, his embryonic capacity for God, man is kept in constant memory of his own fragility, unable to maintain his existence for long without food from beyond himself; his bodily life dependent on the humble plants and animals that surround him, his soul’s life on the unfailing nourishment of the life of God. “I am the Bread of Life that came down from heaven. He that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.” Eternal Life is the gift, the self-imparting of the Eternal God. We cannot claim it in our own right.
The Biblical writers make plain to us how easily and inevitably men have given spiritual rank to this primitive truth of life’s dependence on food, and seen in it the image of a deeper truth which concerns the very ground of our being.
They give us the strange and haunting figure of Melchizedek, the King and Priest of Salem, of whom we are told so little yet feel we know so much. It is a picture which holds us by something which far transcends historic accuracy; something conveyed yet unexpressed, like the undertones of a great poem. Whilst the other kings are fighting, slaying, disputing their spoils—living the full animal life of self-assertion and self-development—Melchizedek comes forth from his hill-top city, in a quiet majesty which we instinctively identify with holiness; bearing, not any signs of power, but bread and wine. He is the meek and royal minister of a generous God. This thought of the King and Priest, unarmed and undemanding, bearing Bread and Wine from the Holy City to the poor fighters in the plain, cannot have been far from our Lord’s mind when, on the eve of the turmoil and agony of the Passion, He blessed and broke the loaves, took the chalice “into His holy and venerable Hands” and gave thanks; and, with and in this token sacrifice, gave Himself to be for evermore the food of men, “named of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” That noble movement of the ancient King, who did not await His guests within the Holy City, but came forth as one that serveth, bearing bread and wine, is indeed a perfect image of the royal charity which comes to seek men’s souls on the plain where they struggle, bearing the gifts of eternal life. The Eastern Churches have always called the Eucharistic elements the “gifts”; and in the ancient liturgies this emphasis on an unspeakable free gift made to men by God, “one heavenly Bread, one Food of the whole world” is heard as a recurrent melody.
He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Alleluia.
Having in itself all sweetness and all savour. Alleluia.
Throughout His ministry, our Lord emphasized the idea of feeding as something intimately connected with His love and care for souls. The mystery of the Eucharist does not stand alone. It is the crest of a great wave; a total sacramental disclosure of the dealings of the Transcendent God with men. The hunger of man is the matter of Christ’s first temptation. The feedings of the four thousand and the five thousand are more than miracles of practical compassion; we feel that in them something of deep significance is done, one of the mysteries of Eternal Life a little bit unveiled. So too in the Supper at Emmaus, when the bread is broken the Holy One is known. It is peculiar to Christianity, indeed part of the mystery of the Incarnation, that it constantly shows us this coming of God through and in homely and fugitive things and events; and puts the need and dependence of the creature at the very heart of prayer.
IT is part of the economy of mercy, the redemptive and transforming work of God, that the Divine Charity already present within the soul should overflow to make good its shortcomings and blot out its sins. Were this not so, our situation would be hopeless; for we share by nature in the disorder of a fallen world, its implicit resistance to the demands of love. So here we continue our filial and confident claim on that Charity; a claim which our situation, whether as children or as creatures, compels us to make. Forgive us our trespasses—our voluntary share in the world’s sinfulness—as we forgive them that trespass against us. Penitence is ever the fruit of adoring vision. “The more holy I find God,” said von Hügel, “the more wicked I feel myself to be.” “Thou the Holy, Thou the Strong.” I, the unholy, feeble, sinful; yet able in my weakness to perceive Beauty and adore.
Once again the soul is brought to a closer, more personal apprehension of its true situation; is thrown yet more deeply into God. If we cannot live without His Life feeding and supporting us, still less can we live without His loving-kindness; tolerating our imperfections, rectifying our errors, forgiving our perpetual shortcomings and excesses, debts and trespasses, and giving us again and again another chance. His challenge stands over against us, in its eternal beauty and perfection: but we know that the standard of eternal perfection must not be applied to us. The adoring soul which worshipped with the seraphim and said, “Hallowed be Thy Name” now stands by the side of Isaiah and shares his creaturely shame. “Woe is me! for I am a man of unclean lips.” We belong to an imperfect world. That downward pull, that declension from the light, which theology calls original sin, is felt at every level of our being. With the deepening of our experience we become more and more conscious of this. Hence the life of prayer is always a progress in lowliness; and now we arrive at the genuine and life-giving humility which is the fruit of seeing ourselves as we really are. “Glory be to thee! have mercy upon me!” We take our lowly place, acknowledge our wretchedness; and on this poverty and helplessness we base our confident prayer for the indulgent gentleness of God.
Moreover, the scene in which we are placed makes its own drastic demand on prudence and courage. As de Tourville says, it is useless for the Christian to look for a main road on which he can walk safely and steadily to his journey’s end. Like the Swiss, he must learn that rough tracks are the native roads of his country; that we only become sure-footed by long practice, and that slips and falls are sure to occur. Sometimes we lose the path, sometimes trip over a stone, sometimes fall headlong in the mud. We are beset by invitations to stray; by the attractive short cuts suggested by vanity, egoism or fear. We stand in perpetual need of the kindness and patience of that God who is our Guide no less than our Goal, who picks us up, overlooks our frailties and follies, again and again puts us back on the path. “Forgive us our trespasses.” A whole type of prayer, a special and intimate relation with the Unseen, brought into existence by the very fact of our mixed half-animal nature, the ceaseless tension between the pull of earth and the demand of heaven, is summed up in these four words.
The sequence of Antiphons which the ancient Church ordained for the opening days of Lent—a liturgical direction, as it were, for the intention of the penitent Christian soul—shows how many-sided is our creaturely need for the pitying indulgence and redeeming action of God. “Lord, that I may have light!… Wash me throughly from my wickedness, and cleanse me from my sin.… Lord, my servant lieth sick of the palsy.… Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof: but say the word only and my soul shall be healed.”
Each phrase casts its searchlight on our condition. We need light, for the eyes of the mind are darkened, so that we cannot see the reality of our state; we need cleansing, for our very self-hood is sullied and impure. Our souls are sick and helpless, for sin has sapped their energy; we need a new dower of vitality from beyond ourselves if we are to become the sons of the Kingdom and serve the creative purpose of the Will. We end with an act of total and contrite confidence in God’s restoring action—the crown of penitence: “Say the word only, and my soul shall be healed.”
Over against the Glory of God, the Majesty of the Holy, the debtor, the penitent, the publican, the unsatisfactory and unharmonized creature who exists in each of us dares to claim his filial rights. Here stands one who constantly falls short and knows it; who is blinded by prejudice, sick of self-love, capable of hatred and envy, violence and fear; one who could have done more and did not, thought he was strong and turned out weak, should not have trespassed in pursuits of his own ends, and did: a child of God, not an outsider or an outcast, who now faces the facts and says, “Forgive!” Here, in the constant exercise of the divine economy of penitence and pardon, is one of the strongest links which binds the soul to God.
But this is not all. Were the mere escape from consequence, the blotting-out of transgressions, the object of our prayer, how greatly it would fall beneath the level on which Christ has placed man’s relation to God; and how easy a concession it would offer to our inveterate self-love. But instead of an easy concession, the divine forgiveness makes a heroic demand upon our courage. For that forgiveness is not the easy passing of a sponge over a slate. It is a stern and painful process; it means the re-ordering of the soul’s disordered love, setting right what is wrong, washing it from wickedness and cleansing it from sin. Theology declares that original sin, disturbing the balance and harmony of man’s nature, causes especially four kinds of spiritual damage: ignorance, malice, weakness and claimful desire. Here are the roots of our worst de-ordinations; and these the Charity of God must cure. That Charity must compel self-knowledge, kill animosity, brace the will and mortify desire. Playing without hindrance on the soul that craves for forgiveness it burns to heal; redeems, transforms and purifies all at once. The Lord’s Prayer contains no direct demand for purification because pardon, the restoration of a loving relation with the Perfect, involves purification. The penitent soul accepts the jurisdiction of Charity, and Charity will have its perfect and searching work; burning up the chaff in the unquenchable fire of love. The cleansing pains of contrition are part of the mercy of God.
That is one side, but only one side of the situation. What makes the position crucial is the power, the freedom of the sinner; the fact that he does not merely soil his own garments or lose his own way, but inflicts damage and suffering on his fellow creatures when he departs from the order of Charity. He has used his liberty for their destruction. He needs the forgiveness of men as well as the forgiveness of God. Through mere lack of loving imagination, through inveterate self-interest and self-protective hardness, or by deliberate intent, he has inflicted mental, emotional and spiritual injury and added to the confusion and pain of the world. He is a culprit, a debtor. He has abused the sacred gift of freedom, and because of this things are worse than they were before. It is this desperate situation, whether corporate or individual, which we entreat God to accept and resolve: and this He can only do in one way—by making the utmost demand on the charity and humility of the creature, by a universal application of the law of generous love. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. We ask with confidence because we are the children of Love and have accepted its obligations, even though our own worst declensions will always be from Love itself, and our heaviest debts will be arrears of Charity. Yet here too, acknowledging our insufficiency, we are forgiven, if we try to look through the eyes of the divine pity on the failures of our brothers and sisters in love: forgetting our own injuries, however grievous, and remembering only our common tendency to sin.
There is no lesson Christ loves better to drive home, than this disconcerting fact of our common human fragility: which, when we have truly grasped it, kills resentment and puts indulgent pity in its place. Let the man, the group, the nation that is without sin cast the first stone. God’s forgiveness means the compassionate recognition of that weakness and instability of man; how often we cannot help it, how truly there is in us a “root and ground of sin,” an implicit rebellion against the Holy, a tendency away from love and peace. And this requires of us the constant compassionate recognition of our fellow-creatures’ instability and weakness; of the fact that they too cannot help it. If the Christian penitent dares to ask that his many departures from the Christian norm, his impatience, gloom, self-occupation, unloving prejudices, reckless tongue, feverish desires, with all the damage they have caused to Christ’s Body, are indeed to be set aside, because—in spite of all—he longs for God and Eternal Life; then he too must set aside and forgive all that the impatience, selfishness, bitter and foolish speech, sudden yieldings to base impulse in others have caused him to endure. Hardness is the one impossible thing. Harshness to others in those who ask and need the mercy of God sets up a conflict at the very heart of personality and shuts the door upon grace. And that which is true of the individual soul, is also true of the community; the penitent nation seeking the path of life must also conform to the law of charity.
This principle applied in its fulness makes a demand on our generosity which only a purified and self-oblivious love can hope to meet. For every soul that appeals for God’s forgiveness is required to move over to His side, and share the compassionate understanding, the unmeasured pity, with which He looks on human frailty and sin. So difficult is this to the proud and assertive creature, that it comes very near the end of our education in prayer. Indeed, the Christian doctrine of forgiveness is so drastic and so difficult, where there is a real and deep injury to forgive, that only those living in the Spirit, in union with the Cross, can dare to base their claim on it. It means not only asking to be admitted to the Kingdom of Redeeming Love, but also declaring our willingness to behave as citizens of that Kingdom even under the most difficult conditions; the patriot king forgiving the invaders of his country, the merciful knight forgiving his brother’s murderer and sheathing his sword before the crucifix, the parent forgiving his daughter’s betrayer, the devoted reformer forgiving those who have ruined his life’s work, the lover of peace forgiving the maker of war. Cruelty, malice, deceit and violence doing their worst; and seen by us through the eyes of a pitiful God. All this is supernatural, and reminds us again that the Lord’s Prayer is a supernatural prayer; the prayer of the re-born, the realistic Christian who exists to do God’s Will. Even so this clause comes a long way down: after the life of worship, the life of consecration, the prayer that the soul may be fed by the hand of God. Only then is it ready for this supreme test; this quiet and genial acceptance of the wounds of life, all the deliberate injury and the casual damage that come from lack of love; this prayer from the Cross. “Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you.” “The Saints,” says St. Teresa, “rejoiced at injuries and persecutions, because in forgiving them they had something to offer God.”
Yet we may not put off the effort. It is to be made now. Forgive us, as we forgive; or, as another reading has it, “Forgive, and we will forgive.” Not as we hope to be able to forgive presently, when our sense of God is more vivid and our sense of injury, our emotional uproar, has died down: but now. Show us, O Lord, your indulgent charity, and we will try to show it in our turn: bear with our faultiness because we are trying to love, ignoring our bruises and scratches, the small sums that are owed us, the infringements of our rights. “Having already said Thy Will be done,” says St. Teresa again, “it follows that we cannot harbour any kind of grudge.” We can only claim the privilege of sonship because we have already admitted the unqualified rights of brotherhood; mutual tolerance and unlimited forgiveness, even in those cases, indeed specially in those cases, where violence, deceit and injustice seem to triumph, where anger is supposed to be justified and generosity is hard. Blessed are the merciful, the generous, for they shall obtain mercy. The soul can only ask for as much as it is willing to give, or try to give. We say here that we are satisfied if God deals as gently with us at our worst as we deal with our fellows at their worst—no more. We ask to be treated as we treat them; and we must expect to be taken at our word. Our disloyalty, selfishness and hardness, our failure in wide-spreading love, with all the resultant damage, obliterated and forgotten; in so far as we have obliterated and forgotten the disloyalty, selfishness and hardness, the failure in love which has marred our lives or the lives of those we love. It becomes clear that only a very great Christian can dare to say this prayer without qualification. It is the acid test of a life of charity, of true incorporation in the Body of Christ. Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect; indiscriminate and unmeasured in generosity, and in forgiving, healing love.
Mutual forgiveness of each vice,
These are the gates of Paradise.
There is nothing more purifying, more redeeming than the penitent love which is awakened by the generous forgiveness of another love. It opens a door in the brick wall which self-esteem has built between itself and God. But hardness, unpitying resentment, are the gates of hell. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth: the helpless misery of the angry egoist.
There are two perennial situations in which the human creature, whether individually or as a group, has to exercise that self-oblivious charity which is the essence of forgiveness. First the cases in which it considers that its established rights have been infringed—trespasses: where the vigorous self-love of others has threatened its national, social, professional or emotional claims. Secondly the cases in which it considers that its own just demands on affection, deference, consideration, possessions or status, have not been met—debts. Either by attack or by neglect, singly or as a body, the creature’s self-love, its fundamental pride, is injured; and its anger aroused. At once the walls close in; it is inevitably cut off from the society of the sons of God, and is alone with its own wrath, its own rights. But those in whom the life of prayer is operative, whose filial relation with Eternal Love is sure, are required to abandon the standpoint of self-interest whether personal or corporate; quietly and humbly to forgive the trespass, freely remit the debt, if they want to know the living peace of God. St. Teresa makes an easy and prompt forgiveness, in all the ups and downs of daily life, the very test of prayer; and thinks contemplation of little worth if we come from it able to resent anything.
“Forgive us our debts.” In the last resort, the soul’s debt as towards God is Sanctity: for man’s supernatural life, with its unspeakable possibilities, its obligations, its goal, is a trust held from the Eternal. The lord of the unmerciful bond-slave forgave him a debt beyond repayment; the ten thousand talents of the parable, two million pounds and more. That too is the soul’s situation, entrusted with the seed of sanctifying grace to cherish, the talent of holiness to increase; incorporated in the Mystical Body of the Incarnate, fed with His abundant life. It has received the unpriced gifts of the Spirit that it may bring forth the fruits of the Spirit; not in the interests of any personal beatitude, but because they are demanded by the eternal purposes of God. Love, Joy, Peace, Long-suffering: these are a part of man’s debt, and here he can hardly say in his own strength, “Have patience with me and I will pay you all.” Here, then, he cannot dare to say, “Pay what thou owest!” to other faulty men.
Again and again in the Gospels we find Christ insisting on the hopeless situation of the exacting, unforgiving soul, who dares to ask from God what he is not willing to give in his turn. Again and again He points out that the rigorist is a fool as well as a knave. By his own act he has put himself under the hard law of retribution which he chooses to exercise, instead of the easy and generous love which he refuses to show. For it is by the very existence of the Divine Compassion that the soul is judged. Every time that a veil is torn and it draws a little nearer to Reality, there is a fresh judgment over against the standard of God. We are judged by love, not only at the end of life, but in every crisis and opportunity of life. Everything which asks us for forgiveness judges us; and only if we pass that examination, can we safely ask to be ourselves reinstated in the kingdom of love. “In making up His accounts with us,” says St. Teresa, “God is never strict but always generous. However great our debt, He thinks it a small matter if through it He can gain us.” That generosity is the principle which runs through the New Testament. There, forgiveness is not an effort, a stern duty; but the delighted overflow of a compassionate, self-oblivious charity. It is the joy with which, after long exhausting search, the tiresome sheep is found, the lost coin hunted down; the delight of the father receiving safe and sound the worthless son who has disgraced the family name, wasted the family money, and only remembered family affection when all other resources failed. Even here, forgiveness means music and dancing; no hint of disapproval, all memory of folly and ingratitude drowned in love. Mercy and grimness cannot live together. The truly contrite soul is joyful in its shame: made glad by a confident remembrance of the infinite goodness of the Eternal, the “multitude of tender mercies” dominating its horizon and reducing to their proper proportion its poor little follies and sins.
“LEAD us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” May that strange directive power of which from time to time we are conscious as the controlling factor of life, have pity on our weakness and lead us out of confusion into peace.
This abject confession of helplessness seems at first sight to be meant for the untried and bewildered neophyte, in whom the gifts of the Spirit have not yet had time to grow. Actually, it is the culmination of the prayer which was given to the Church of God in the persons of her Apostles; those through whom the sanctification of human history was to be set going, the handful of men to whom we owe our Christian inheritance. It is this picked band, these channels of the Spirit, already surrendered to the Creative Will, who, as the very crown of filial worship, are taught to acknowledge their own fragility, their childlike status; their utter dependence on the ceaseless guiding and protecting power of God. “My times are in Thy hand.… Hold Thou up my going in Thy path that my footsteps slip not.…” All my small movements, tests, struggles and apparent choices take place within the grasp of Creative Love. “Thou shalt answer for me, O Lord my God.”
Thus the movement of prayer brings man to a double sense of the overruling power and wisdom of God, directing at every point in small things as in great the movement of His creature, and of that creature’s ignorance and weakness. If a realistic and full acknowledgment of sinfulness—the awful gap between the divine and the human—comes late in the life of prayer, later still comes this complete downfall of self-sufficiency and acceptance of our true situation. Though the soul may not seek God for any utilitarian reason, yet now at the apex of her prayer, because of her entire dependence on the unseen, she can ask with the assurance of a child for personal guidance and rescue; for the intimate concern of the Transcendent with her small and struggling life. Her faith, hope and love converge to produce this state of abandoned trust.
The action of that overruling love fails not. It is we that resist, ignore, are lost and bewildered because we do not abandon ourselves to the steady guiding power; become lost in multiplicity, and forget the universals which condition our real life. Regret for the past, its errors and evil, and anxiety and bewilderment as regards the future, keep us enchained by succession, and our contact with the Abiding is lost. Nevertheless, as the life of prayer deepens it brings a gradual realization of the twofold character of all our experience; each event truly a part of this unceasing storm of succession, and yet each event directly linked with the quiet action of God. Through all vicissitudes of trial, sin and conflict, the ground of the soul is rooted in His life; that country from which we are exiled, yet which is our home. For we do not in our essence belong to the world of confusion, the meaningless torrent of circumstance which so easily obsesses us. We are “sons of light and sons of the day.” part of a charismatic order, members of Christ and inheritors of heaven. But we fall short of our calling, share the sin and confusion of the troubled world; which “groaneth and travaileth even until now” because of its alienation from God.
We accept that double situation with all that it involves for us. We do not ask for some impossible spirituality, some miraculous deliverance from this our creaturely state. We are committed to the life of the senses with all its risks and deceits; and we know well our own weakness, our inclination to sin. Yet we know too that in this confusion the rescuing power of the Holy is already active, and that if we are supple to His pressure we shall be kept from the temptations and delivered from the evil of a world in which grace and nature struggle together; in which the spirit of man, in spite of confusions and bewilderments, is never left alone.
The journey of the soul through life is strangely like the progress of the child Alice through Looking-glass Land. For both the plot has an active, visible and obvious side, and a quiet, deeply-hidden mysterious side. Alice, that small representative of the spirit of man, finds herself wandering through a strange, unstable world of circumstance, and undergoing many bewildering experiences which seem, as the experiences of our life often do, chaotic and unmeaning. She travels through a country which is divided like a chessboard into light and dark patches. She has no map and little sense of direction; and she passes for no apparent reason, and in no apparent sequence, from square to square. The odd people whom she meets, and the odd things which happen, seem quite unconnected with the game. Everything is in a muddle; most disconcerting to those who expect to find the clue to life’s meaning in the tangle of daily events.
But if we turn back to the first page of this bewildering story, we find there what Alice wanted but could never discover: a plan of the chessboard as the Player sees it, with each piece in its right place in relation to the whole. Then we see that everything which happened to Alice, however unmeaning, disconcerting or apparently hostile to her interests, was a real move in a real game. All these changes and chances, these pains and frustrations, were queer but deliberate devices for getting the child, who began as a pawn, to the eighth square, where she must end as a Queen. The help and direction she received from the creatures that she encountered, the imperceptible pressure of events never varied in intention. However great the obstacles, the apparent confusions and absurdities, the goal was always the eighth square. The best advice was often that which seemed most foolish; as when the Rose told Alice to walk away from the Red Queen if she wanted to meet her. The really important moves were not recognized till long after they were made. It is true that Alice went through one of the earlier squares by train; but she was actually passing through another, almost at the end of her journey, when she thought herself hopelessly lost in the dark forest with nothing to help her but the muddled statements of the White Knight. Once she was called right off the path to befriend the silly and untidy old White Queen. Yet it was in running after the Queen’s lost shawl, and jumping the little brook over which it had floated, that Alice made her next move, and reached the fifth square. Here we easily recognize our own experience; and so too in that puzzling phase when life sometimes seemed to Alice to be a shop full of possessions, and sometimes to be a river on which she had to row. When it seemed to be a shop, the egg moved away directly she wanted to buy it; and when she looked hard at anything, it ceased to be real. When it seemed to be a river the flowering rush that she wanted was always just out of reach, and those she managed to pick soon faded and died. Yet in spite of her bewilderment the child caught in the web of circumstance was never really lost; each baffling experience contributed something to the whole. The hand of the Player was hovering over the pawn.
This seems a childish allegory to use as the veil of so great a mystery; the ultimate mystery of faith. But its inner meaning gives new significance to the jumble of incidents, the alternation of drift and bustle, the competing claims, the griefs and joys, the errors and recoveries, frustrations and compulsions, which seem to make up most of our life. “That thou being our ruler and guide we may so pass through things temporal”—the dark and light patches, field and forest, and sudden changes that lead to a new square—”that we lose not the things that be eternal”: our constant hold on Thine unchanging presence, our dependence on Thy wisdom and love. “Deliver us from evil”—not from the pain and trial which test and brace us, but from all that can damage our relation to Thee. “It is faith,” says Grou, “which says this prayer; and faith recognizes only those supernatural evils which wound the Holiness of God and tarnish the purity of the soul.”
The way on which we are set is difficult and obscure; the friction of life, the action of others, and our own tangled and inordinate desires make ceaseless demands on our patience and courage. We are often fed on bitter and unappetizing food: are invited to envy and covetousness, ambition and pride—all the unpurified energies of our lower nature struggling for expression. But the calm splendour of God penetrates, overrules, harmonizes all this changing experience. We ask to be kept in remembrance of that; especially in those crucial moments when the mystery seems too great, bewilderment overwhelms us, and we are tempted to lose our nerve. Natural man partakes of the struggles and confusions of the natural order. Everything about him contradicts the Eternal. But the man of prayer, because of his personal adherence to God, asks to be delivered from all that:
In thee, O Lord, have I put my trust, let me never be put to confusion:
But rid me and deliver me in thy righteousness; incline thine ear unto me and save me.
It is from our own evil tendencies above all, our inveterate egotism with its million cunning disguises, our pride, greed and anger, our steady downward drag to self-satisfaction that we need deliverance: for this we can never vanquish in our own strength. Do not let us be swamped in the strange tumult and conflict; the evil that results from the clash of wills unharmonized with Thy will. Deliver us by keeping clear that single relation with Thee which is our peace. We want the firm resistance of the over-ruling Spirit always present in the soul’s deeps to the sudden up-rushes from lower centres of consciousness, the personal devils lodging in the basement, the interior hurly-burly of desires and dislikes; so easily aroused, so hard to quell. Our amphibious state is so delicately poised, so perilous, that only help from the higher can save us from being conquered by the lower. Deliver us from our share in the world’s sin, our twist away from Holiness; reinforcing by your energetic grace our feeble will towards the good. We have reached now a vivid consciousness of “that deep abyss of perversity” of which de Caussade speaks, into which, with so many others, we should fall if God did not hold us. “It is only through their practical knowledge of this, taught by a repeated personal experience, that the Saints have acquired that fundamental humility, that utter contempt and holy hatred of themselves of which we see so many proofs in their lives, and which have been the true source of their perfection.” With them we ask that our divergent lives may be brought into line with that one Life in which evil did not operate; which escaped the doom laid upon this planet, and even in the extremity of suffering never faltered in its perfect response to the Father’s Will.
Thus the movement of prayer brings the soul to this realization and this petition; to the status of a supernatural creature, tightly bound in this present life to all the vicissitudes of succession, yet deeply aware of its own distinctness and its own true life as consisting in a total dependence, the closest of personal links with Creative Love. That being so, it must commit itself without reserve to the hidden directive power; not presuming to ask that it may be tested to the uttermost, knowing its own fragility and the perils which wait for presumptuous souls. This is the life of faith; and in the consummation of faith, the life of prayer is fulfilled. “In faith,” says Kierkegaard, “the self bases itself transparently on the power which created it.” The whole life of prayer is indeed a committal of our separate lives into God’s hand, a perpetual replacing of the objective attitude by the personal and abandoned attitude: and though a certain tension, suffering and bewilderment are inevitable to our situation, yet there is with this a deep security. The pawn does not know what will be required of it or what may be before it; but its relation with the Player is always direct and stable, and the object of the Player is always the good of the pawn. “Our souls are God’s delight, not because of anything they do for Him, but because of what He does for them. All He asks of them is to accept with joy His indulgence, His generosity, His fatherly love. Consider all your devotion to God in this way, and do not worry any more about what you are or are not. Be content to be the object of His mercy and look at nothing else.”
“Lead us not into temptation.” Temptation is that sphere in which the evil dispositions which are present in the world—its whole trend towards self-satisfaction, self-fulfilment, and away from God—appear in their attractiveness and dominate the situation. We are not to presume on our strength and deliberately seek contact with that. This spoils the perfection of our meek abandonment to the Spirit; the subordination of our restless will to the steady pressure of God. To live by faith is to pursue quietly and in peace the path on which we are set, in the midst of the conflicts and confusions of the creature. In that quiet subordination is fulness of life; not in the passion for self-expression which tries every situation and every relationship and confuses pride with courage and initiative.
Christ seems to have been deeply aware of the fragility of human nature; the folly of heroics, the danger of demanding or attempting too much. Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit may be willing; but do not forget your lowly origin, the flesh is weak. Therefore, even in your abandonment, remain spiritually alert. Watch steadily. Gaze at God: keep your minds attuned to His reality and His call, and so elude the distractions that surround you. Pray. Seek His face. Lift up to Him your heart and speak to Him as one friend to another. Reach out towards Him in confident love. “By two wings,” says Thomas a Kempis, “is man borne up from earthly things, that is to say with plainness and cleanness: plainness is in the intent and cleanness is in the love. The good, true, and plain intent looketh toward God, but the clean love maketh assay and tasteth his sweetness.” So doing, you are drawn more and more deeply into His life, and have less and less to fear from competing attractions, longings and demands.
The crucial moment for the soul is not when the crown of jewels and the crown of thorns are set before it, as before St. Catherine of Siena, and it is required to choose between them. Here none but the utterly unloving could hesitate. It is the moment when it comes suddenly on the crown of jewels in its full attraction, and does not see the crown of thorns. To watch and pray means such a quiet and steady concentration on the Eternal as defends us against these perilous moments; and with this an acceptance of weakness and limitation, a meek willingness to learn that way of prudence which is taught by the Wisdom of God. It means putting aside all ambition to find out how much we can endure; being docile and avoiding the path which is for us marked “dangerous,” even though it be a path that has been trodden by the saints. Our idea of our own power of resistance usually exceeds what we shall really manage when the pinch comes. “If all shall be offended in thee, I shall never be offended!” said St. Peter. We know what happened to the one who said that. All we dare to ask is that God will reinforce our will by the energy of His grace, and bring us safely through those normal temptations which none escape.
Nor does this humble moderation, this matter-of-fact dependence, which is the final position of the developing life of prayer, come to us from a religion of Safety First. It is the teaching of One who knew in the wilderness the full temptation which comes with the possession of great powers, and in Gethsemane the awful face to face encounter with the forces of destruction, the horror and trembling of spirit before approaching agony, darkness and death. So austere, so arduous is the Christian programme, so real the struggle and so rough the journey to which the soul is called, that only when guided by a Spirit who knows the route better than we do, can we hope to get through without disaster. Any self-willed addition to life’s difficulties brings its own punishment. There will be plenty of opportunity for courage, staying power and initiative as well as for humble obedience, for those who follow the guide’s footsteps and are docile to His direction; some narrow ledges and treacherous slopes before we finish. All will be well if we do not yield to the temptation to tackle them alone; but there is every reason to fear the attractive short cut, the opportunity to satisfy our thirst for private spiritual adventure. The saints were driven on by rough tracks and awful darkness, in suffering and loneliness, by cloud and storm. They reached the summits; but never in their own strength or by following their own ideas—often indeed by taking what seems to onlookers the most unlikely route, because their feet were set upon a supernatural path which others cannot see.
What a deep and beautiful confidence it means if we are to accept this truth; not as a religious notion, but as the most massive fact of our strange mixed life, the culmination of our prayer. The ultimate humble trust of the little creature which first dared to say Abba, Father, is placed in the Absolute Love; and finds in the simple return to God the Unchanging, that personal and permanent relation which is the ground of prayer, the sovereign remedy against temptation, and defence against the assaults of the world’s ill.
THINE is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory. The prayer in which is contained the whole movement of man’s interior life, the substance of his communion with God, is summed up in this delighted declaration of the independent perfection, the unspeakable transcendence of the Holy. Before that reality, that majesty, that energy, that splendour, his own needs, his own significance vanish. Abba, Father. It is true that the Infinite God is the Father of my soul, that I have a certain kinship with the Abiding, a privilege of co-operation. Higher than my highest, He is yet nearer than my inmost part. But in the last resort, I stand entranced and abased before the majesty, the otherness of that Infinite God.
“He calleth the stars by their names.” All things, all mysteries, are brought to Him as their test and meaning. Thine is the Kingdom, hidden from our sight yet already present in perfection; Thy secret rule working from within, Thine unseen pattern imposed on our chaos, Thy Spirit brooding on the deep, turning all things to Thy purpose, and even through conflicts, sin and anguish conditioning and transforming every aspect of human life. Thine is the Power, the inexhaustible energy streaming forth from Thy hidden Being, by which the universe visible and invisible is sustained. Thine is the Glory, the self-revealed splendour of the Eternal Perfect filling and transcending creation; seen in its humblest beauties, yet never fully known. We look beyond the ramparts of the world to that triune Reality, the goal of our faith, hope and love.
On all this, at the end of its prayer, the eyes of the faithful soul are opened. Here life is lost and found again in God. The whole drive of will and desire is carried out beyond the changing to the Changeless; and summed up in Him, our only need. More and more, acts and petitions fall from us. The agony of our supplication is silenced, and one simple and confident movement of surrender to the total purpose takes its place. We end on the acknowledgment that all we can see, love and delight in, all that crushes and bewilders, shames or reassures us, is nothing beside that which we do not and cannot comprehend: “the mystery which from all ages hath been hid in God.” Glory, said the Rabbis—that brightness on the face of man, in which the created order gave back a faint reflection of the Eternal Radiance—was the first thing lost by Adam at the Fall. But through the incarnation of the Holy in that created order, it is restored to humanity in Christ. “We beheld His glory, the glory of the Only Begotten full of grace and truth.” He is the “first and only fair,” the sacramental disclosure of the Beauty of God. By one of the strange reversals which are the peculiar secret of love, the supreme manifestation upon earth of that Absolute Beauty is seen in the sacrifice of the Cross; the Perfect, the Strong, the Radiant, self-offered for the sinful, the murky, the weak, and achieving His victory through suffering, failure, death. On the face of the Crucified “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” is revealed. Here then we reach the summit of man’s prayer, in this recognition of the self-existent supernatural Glory, the radiance of Reality lying beyond us, yet already with us and awaiting us. In this we achieve an entire release from the earth-centred life with its disharmonies and griefs, its fears and cravings, and anchor our souls in the Unchanging. “Through faith,” says St. Paul, “we stand already in grace. But we look towards glory”; and in that contemplation we are already gathered into the liberty of the children of God.
Glory is the final word of religion, as joy is its final state. The sparks and trickles of the Supernatural which come to us, the hints received through beauty and through sacrifice, the mysterious visitations and pressures of grace reaching us through the conflicts, rebellions and torments of the natural world—all these are earnests of a Perfection, a Wholeness yet unseen: as the small range of sound and colour revealed by the senses witness to the unseen colour and unheard music of a Reality which lies beyond their narrow span. All within the created order points beyond itself, to the uncreated Kingdom, Power and Glory. No life, no intelligence reaches perfection; yet in each there is a promise of the Perfect. Each comes up to its limit, and in so doing testifies to that which lies beyond it; the unlimited splendour of the Abiding, the Glory of the living God. So too the creature’s prayer comes up to its limit, and ends upon a word, a reality, which we can neither define nor apprehend.
All thy works praise thee, O Lord,
And thy saints give thanks unto thee.
They shew the glory of thy kingdom,
And talk of thy power:
That thy power, thy glory, and mightiness of thy kingdom
Might be known unto men.
Yet even this Kingdom, Power and Glory, this threefold manifestation of the character of God, is not ultimate. The appeal of man’s prayer is to a Reality which is beyond manifestation. All these are Thine; but we reach out to Thee. Beyond the wall of contradiction, beyond the “Light that is not God,” almost imperceptible to the attentive creature and yet the ground of its being and goal of its prayer, is the secret Presence; the Thou in whom all things inhere, by whom all live. Behind every closed door which seems to shut experience from us He is standing; and within every experience which reaches us, however disconcerting, His unchanging presence is concealed. Not in the wind which sweeps over the face of existence to change it, not in the earthquake which makes sudden havoc of our ordered life, not in the overwhelming splendour and fury of the elemental fire: in none of these, but in the “voice of gentle stillness,” speaking from within the agony and bewilderment of life, we recognize the presence of the Holy and the completing answer to the soul’s completed prayer. We accept Thy Majesty, we rejoice in Thy Power and Thy Glory; but in Thine unchanging quiet is our trust. We look beyond the spiritual to Spirit, beyond the soul’s country to the personal Origin and Father of its life.
“This is our Lord’s will,” says Julian of Norwich, “that our prayer and our trust be both alike large.” Step by step we have ascended the hill of the Lord; and here at the summit of our beseeching, conscious of our own littleness and the surrounding mystery, we reach out in confidence to the All. The last phase of prayer carries the soul forward to an entire self-oblivion, an upward and outward glance of awestruck worship which is yet entinctured with an utter and childlike trust. Abba, Father. Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. Thou art the Beginning and the End of the soul’s life.
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