Monday, December 06, 2010

reading and eating

I am in the thick (and thin) of finishing my reading course on Evelyn Underhill and early 20th century spirituality. It has taken me through more than 60 sources over the course of 6 months, and in the process I have learned something about reading. I was used to leisurely literary meals with ample time to digest the contents. No such luxury to be had here, I soon found out.

I have learned to sip chapters quickly through a big straw in order to gain maximum content with minimum chewing. I have learned to take just a bite of everything offered at the book buffet so as not to get bloated and sleepy. I have learned that unavoidably, sometimes it is necessary to eat on the run, so picking a few lighter topics when this is the case helps to avoid indigestion. And then there are the times when it is worth setting the table, lighting the candles, and sitting down to a full-course meal, enjoying every bite. Here are a few samples from some of the fine meals I have enjoyed this past week. Savour the richness, and digest slowly.

from Evelyn Underhill on the preparation for a spiritual retreat:

We come here again, as most of us have come before, to be quiet if we can in the Presence of God: to review our lives in Him, the little lives He made for Himself and allows to minister to His Glory, but which we have twisted out of the true; till now they mainly minister to ourselves or the people we happen to like. Some are more distorted than others but none are really the right shape, the shape for which they were meant by God.

So we begin our self-examination by looking back at the past [week, month, year]…
What tests did he [God] administer to our courage and our trust?
What opening for generosity, self-denial, forgiveness?
What events have tested our supposed good qualities and showed up their weakness under strain?
What sudden joy gave a chance for gratitude?
What things or people humbled us?
What disappointments and sorrows gave us a chance to practise the resignation we always talk about, and what annoyances braced our self-control?
Look at them! Every one of them are graces, ‘touches of God’ as the mystics say, chances of growing a bit in the Christian Life. Did we take them? Or waste them? Let us enter God’s presence this evening and answer that question as honestly as we can.

“The whole wisdom of the Saints,” says St. John of the Cross, “consists in directing the will vigorously towards God.” And the way that is done by ordinary people like ourselves is by aiming at Him in all the circumstances of life. [1]

from Baron Friedrich von Hugel on the different occupations of life, a letter to his niece while she was busy with packing and moving:

At one moment, packing;
at another, silent adoration in Church;
at another, dreariness and unwilling drift;
at another, the joys of human affections given and received;
at another, keen suffering of soul, of mind, in apparent utter loneliness;
at another, external acts of religion;
at another, death itself.
All these occupations every one can, ought, and will …become the means and instruments of loving, of transfiguration, of growth for your soul, and of its beatitude.
But it is for God to choose these things, their degrees, combinations, successions; and it is for you just simply, very humbly, very gently and peacefully, to follow that leading. [2]

[1] Evelyn Underhill, The Mount of Purification. The Inner Life Series. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1960. p. 7-8.

[2] Baron Friedrich von Hugel, Spiritual Counsel and Letters. Edited with introduction by Douglas V. Steere. New York: Harper & Row: 1964. Letter from September 1, 1919. p. 82.
This is a picture at the beginning of a meal with friends at Bofinger in Montreal. Salad, meat, and a large drink. No, it wasn't my meal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very Ignatian. One who speaks from deep spiritual practice of things she knows. I'm looking forward to reading your thesis when it shows up on Justor.