The Response of the Creature to the Eternal
Evelyn Underhill, 1941
Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 971)
Psalms 69:1-23(24-30)31-38 (morning) // 73 (evening)
Ecclesiastes 11:9 - 12:14
Galatians 5:25 - 6:10
[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]
Every time I teach an Inquirers Class on worship, I turn to Evelyn Underhill's exquisite definition: "Worship is the response of the creature to the eternal." In their own way, the rocks, the plants and the animals make their own response to the eternal by being what they are, but in humanity, the creation can respond with a deeper consciousness to the eternal. From the first primitive sense of awe to a saint's experience of divine union, worship points us to the divine mystery, the deepest reality.
Evelyn Underhill said, "The first or central act of religion is adoration, the sense of God, his otherness though nearness, his distinctness from all finite beings though not separateness, his aloofness from them. In this great sanctus, all things justify their being and have their place. God alone matters, God alone is: creation only matters because of God."
She said worship might be our greatest mistake -- our human fantasy futilely trying to come to terms with the mystery that surrounds us. Or worship "may be accepted as the most profound of man's responses to reality; and more than this, the organ of his divine knowledge and the earnest of eternal life."
When we come to Eucharist, we respond to the eternal as God has been revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. We participate in the wisdom that Jesus gave us, an example of how to be fully human, how to live in community with one another and with God. We share in the mysterious reality of his life through the sacrament of bread and wine, a foretaste of the divine union that God intends for us. We are healed and made whole -- forgiven, loved and free. We become one -- with Christ, with one another, with God, with all creation.
Here is a prayer of Evelyn Underhill's --
O Lord, penetrate those murky corners
where we hide memories and tendencies
on which we do not care to look,
but which we will not disinter
and yield freely up to you,
that you may purify and transmute them:
the persistent buried grudge,
the half-acknowledged enmity
which is still smouldering;
the bitterness of that loss
we have not turned into sacrifice;
the private comfort we cling to;
the secret fear of failure which saps our initiative
and is really inverted pride;
the pessimism which is an insult to your joy, Lord;
we bring all these to you,
and we review them with shame and penitence
in your steadfast light.