“Most of our conflicts and difficulties come from trying to deal with the spiritual and practical aspects of our life separately, instead of realising them as parts of one whole.” I encountered these words in today’s reading with something of a sinking sense of familiarity. Yes, that is how it is for me. I recognise that temptation in myself, to parcel of the spiritual from the material, even though I know perfectly well that to do so is theological nonsense.
Alongside it comes the parallel temptation: to rely on God only when I feel I can’t rely on myself. This one is insidious, it slips itself into our prayer language: “God, help me to do those things which are too difficult for me”. And yet, apart from God, nothing is possible. God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being, and all our action rests on God’s eternal action. God is not just there to fill in the gaps when our self-sufficiency runs out. We are never self-sufficient, however much we might like to pretend otherwise.
But if Underhill acutely diagnoses the problem, she also offers something of the remedy. Engaging in the spiritual life, for Underhill, “means the entire transformation of our personal, professional and political life into something more consistent with our real situation as small, dependent, fugitive creatures”. And this too I found startlingly recognisable. We are all creatures of God the creator. We are all dependent creatures. But to what extent are we willing to live as if that is true? Or are we tempted, time and again, to try to live in our own strength, turning to God only when our ever-present insufficiency becomes apparent to us?
Acknowledging our creaturely dependence on God has the potential to be liberating. It has the potential to free us from the continual anxiety of our own shortcomings. I quoted a few days ago from Teresa of Avila: “God alone is enough.” If God alone is enough, then we do not have to be enough. If God alone is enough then we do not have to constantly strive for control and perfection. If God is enough then we can rest in our creaturehood, in our dependence on God whose love is absolutely steadfast and trustworthy and always, always enough.
This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading ‘Music of Eternity: meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill’ by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. Join the conversation in the Facebook group, or by following the hashtag on Twitter.