Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Union and Wisdom

We know a thing only by uniting with it; by assimilating it; by an interpenetration of it and ourselves. It gives itself to us, just in so far as we give ourselves to it; and it is because our outflow towards things is usually so perfunctory and so languid, that our comprehension of things is so perfunctory and languid too.    –Evelyn Underhill, Practical Mysticism: A Little Book for Normal People

This wordy quote actually makes a lot of sense. Underhill defines mysticism as the art of union with Reality. Before you dismiss this as some vague and esoteric practice akin to “navel-gazing” she goes on to assert that union is a natural part of life, because union is what happens when we devote ourselves to something or someone. When we surrender ourselves to a thing or a person, we unite with it.

Union is much more than being an observer, as playing tennis is much different than watching a tennis match. I am not likely to be changed by being an observer, but to participate in an activity is to open myself to becoming different. Participation is surrender, whether or not we consciously recognize it as such.

I wonder if the ease with which we dismiss tragedy around the world through our own “perfunctory and languid” comprehension is what keeps our knowledge limited to the level of “sound bites” and social media messages. Although Underhill lived well before our modern forms of information transmission, I believe her words apply to our time: Wisdom is the fruit of communion; ignorance the inevitable portion of those who “keep themselves to themselves,” and stand apart, judging, analyzing the things which they have never truly known.” How often are we exposed to “talking heads” who judge and analyze people and circumstances without truly knowing the objects of their analysis? How often do we do likewise?

Communion, uniting ourselves with one another, is necessary if one is to develop wisdom. We have to do more than be an observer, standing apart from people or situations. We have to get our “hands dirty” by giving ourselves to one another. For those of us who claim to follow Jesus, our observation and analysis are insufficient to make us followers. Like Jesus, we have to give our lives to others if we want to be united to Christ. This can be as simple as being fully present to another, fully involved in their joy or sorrow. A simple act, but one that requires us to lay aside our schedules, our to-do lists and our desire to “fix” another and simply be present, listening and loving the person in front of us. It’s what Jesus did every day.

May I spend less time analyzing and more time pouring myself out in communion with others, that I may be united with Christ.

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