The Frame of the Homely Life

From The Light of Christ (1932)

We see the new life growing in secret. Nothing very startling happens. We see the child in the carpenter’s workshop.  He does not go outside the frame of the homely life in which he appeared. It did quite well for him and will do quite well for us.

There is no need for peculiar conditions in the spiritual life. Our environment itself, our home and job, are part of the molding action of God. Have we fully realized all that is unfolded in this? How unchristian it is to try to get out of our frame, to separate our daily life from our prayer? That third-rate little village in the hills with its limited social contacts and monotonous manual work reproves us when we begin to fuss about opportunities and scope. And that quality of quietness and ordinariness, that simplicity with which he entered into his great vocation, endured from the beginning to the end.

The child Jesus grows as other children, the lad works as other lads. Total abandonment to the vast divine purpose working at its own pace in and through ordinary life and often, to us, in mysterious ways.

We often feel we ought to get on quickly to a new stage like spiritual mayflies. Christ takes thirty years to grow and two and half to act. Only the strange dreams Joseph and Mary had, warned a workman and his young wife that they lay in the direct line of God’s action, that the growth committed to them mattered supremely to the world. And when his growth reached the right stage, there is the revelation of God’s call and, after it, stress, discipline, and choice. Those things came together as signs of maturity and they were not spectacular things. It is much the same with us in our life of prayer: the Spirit fills us as we grow, develop, and make room.

We get notions sometimes that we ought to spring up quickly like seed on stony ground, we ought to show some startling sign of spiritual growth. But perhaps we are not only asked to go on quietly, to be a child, a nice stocky seedling, and not shooting up in a hurry, but making root, being docile to the slow rhythm of life. When you don’t see any startling marks of your own religious condition or your usefulness to God, think of the baby in the stable and the little boy in the streets of Nazareth. The very life was there which was to change the whole history of the human race. There was not much to show for it. But there is entire continuity between the stable and the Easter garden and the thread that unites them is the will of God. The childlike simple prayer of Nazareth was the right preparation for the awful privilege of the cross. Just so the light of the Spirit is to unfold gently and steadily within us, till at last our final stature, all God designed for us, is attained.

Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) was a twentieth century Anglican mystic and teacher, highly regarded during her lifetime as a spiritual director and conductor of retreats. She wrote many books on mysticism and Christian spirituality and is commemorated on the calendars of several Anglican churches on June 15. This text has been slightly adapted for contemporary readers.

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