Monday, May 6, 2013

Piper on Women, Underhill on Prayer

John Piper was recently asked whether it was OK for men to read biblical commentaries that were written by women. (Find the podcast here.) He ruled that it is probably OK to read them as long as the women aren't there physically to assert their leadership or authority over a man directly.  Evidently indirect influence of an absent woman won't stain us men too badly or otherwise overturn the cosmic hierarchy God established, so I felt the freedom to read a book by a woman.  Instead of a commentary, I opted for a devotional classic in the mystical vein, assuming that Mr. Piper would put them into the same category.  The book is Evelyn Underhill's The Spiritual Life, and I feel that I've protected myself adequately from her direct influence since she has been dead for 70 years.

I think her words on the nature of prayer are particularly insightful:
"For prayer is really our whole life towards God: our longing for Him, our 'incurable God-sickness', as Barth calls it, our whole drive towards Him.  It is the humble correspondence of the human spirit with the Sum of all Perfection, the Fountain of Life.  No narrower definition than this is truly satisfactory, or covers all the ground.  Here we are, small half real creatures of sense and spirit, haunted by the sense of a Perfection ever calling to us, and yet ourselves so fundamentally imperfect, so hopelessly involved in an imperfect world; with a passionate desire for beauty, and yet unable here to realize perfect beauty; with a craving for truth and a deep reverence for truth, but only able to receive flashes of truth.  Yet we know that perfect goodness, perfect beauty, and perfect truth exist in God; and that our hearts will never rest in less than these.  This longing, this need for God, however dimly and vaguely we feel it, is the seed from which grows the strong, beautiful and fruitful plant of prayer.  It is the first response of our deepest selves to the attraction of the Perfect; the recognition that He has made us for Himself, that we depend on Him and are meant to depend on Him, and that we shall not know the meaning of peace until our communion with Him is at the centre of our lives."  
Thank you Evelyn.  Too often I sense the half-reality of my own existence and take it for the real thing, dismissing the haunting of the Real as nothing more than wishful thinking or the effects of some bad guacamole.  May my attraction to the Perfect, my communion with the One who made us all for Himself, my life of prayer, be kindled anew this summer.

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