Eternity is with us, inviting our contemplation perpetually, but we are too frightened, lazy, and suspicious to respond: too arrogant to still our thought, and let divine sensation have its way. –Evelyn Underhill, Practical Mysticism: A Little Book for Normal People
Those who see heaven as the prize awaiting us for living right (whatever that means) miss the wonderful freedom of living in heaven right now. Evelyn Underhill reminds us that what keeps us from experiencing eternity now are our own self-limiting attitudes of fear, laziness, suspicion and arrogance.
Fear may manifest itself in our unwillingness to relinquish our agendas, possessions and our security to “let divine sensation have its way.” We come to Christ, not laying ourselves at his feet, but with a list of prayer requests, if not for us, for others. Intercessory prayer is good, but what makes it good is not the result it garners but the way it softens our hearts to be compassionate toward others. When we question whether we are “praying right” that may be a sign that our prayer is about manipulating God rather than communion with God.
Our attempts to control people, situations or even God keep us in a state of anxiety. We even want to control what others think of us, so we create a life pattern of trying to meet the expectations of others. This way of living means that we are without any rootedness, for expectations are a constantly moving target. There is no freedom in such a way of living. Whether motivated by fear or arrogance, it’s impossible to still our thought when we think we have to keep up appearances, control outcomes or meet unattainable standards.
Some will say, “How can I trust that what I call divine sensation is not just me seeking to dress my thoughts and actions in divine garb?” This takes discipline—the discipline of study, silence, and daily examen (the practice of reviewing one’s day to assess how and when one was aware or unaware of God’s presence and guidance and whether or not one’s words and actions were Christlike). These may not seem terribly productive to us, and certainly we will not see instant results. That is why it takes discipline. The weeds of the world’s distractions will return again and again. We have to keep pulling them up if we choose the discipline of loving God.
Ad hoc study and silence, practiced only when one thinks about it, is not discipline and will not result in an ability to trust divine sensation. We have to enter into discipline because we love God, not because we want to see results. When we love God, the discipline itself brings us joy because it is our gift to the one who loves us. We love God for who God is, not for what God can do for us.
Discipline is what leads us to freedom, not because we fulfill items on a checklist but because we give up our desire to control outcomes. And when we are free, heaven—eternity—is here and now!