Therefore contemplation, even at its highest, dearest, and most intimate, is not to be for you an end in itself. It shall only be truly yours when it impels you to action: when the double movement of Transcendent Love, drawing inwards to unity and fruition, and rushing out again to creative acts, is realised [sic] in you. You are to be a living, ardent tool with which the Supreme Artist works: one of the instruments of His self-manifestation, the perpetual process by which His Reality is brought into concrete expression.
This week, I am attending the Tri-History Conference on historical encounters between the Episcopal and Anglican Church and indigenous people, being held at Oneida (Green Bay) in the Diocese of Fond du Lac.
At the end of the Eucharist last night at Church of the Holy Apostles (pictured) we stood to sing the Te Deum in the Oneida language, a practice predating their arrival in Wisconsin in the 1820s.
At Morning Prayer today we commemorated Evelyn Underhill, the English writer and mystic whose book Practical Mysticism was published at the beginning of World War I.
The excerpt above, which we read during the office, really struck me for two reasons.
Not an end in itself
Perhaps responding to the charge that promoting contemplation in time of war would lead people to quietism, Underhill writes that “contemplation, even at its highest, dearest, and most intimate, is not to be for you an end in itself.”
Various presenters at the conference noted the strong tradition of hymn-singing among the Iroquois, and the Oneida Singers graced us with several lovely hymns.
Dean Stephen Peay of Nashotah House says that French Jesuits noted the singing of the Iroquois predating their arrival. Laurence Hauptman (citing Michael McNally’s book on Ojibwe singing) suggests perhaps 80% of the Oneida were baptized because of the hymn-singing even more than the claims of the institutional church.
Our praise of God is not for ourselves alone. We sing the Lord’s song in order to draw others not only into the worship and praise of God, but also into the life and ministry of the Body of Christ.
A living, ardent tool
Underhill writes, “You are to be a living, ardent tool with which the Supreme Artist works.”
Discipleship is about modeling our lives on the life of Jesus, becoming what Underhill describes as an “instrument of God’s self-manifestation.”
That “perpetual process” of becoming a disciple is renewed every day as we pray that we may be clothed in Jesus’ spirit, “reaching forth our hands in love” (BCP 100).
The specific shape of our discipleship will take many forms — from collecting oral histories to maintaining archives to serving at a meal program or coordinating disaster relief. Some will serve in public ways or in church settings, others in private or at home.
At all times, though, our work is best done with a song in our hearts.
A Prayer for Mission
Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of your faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before you for all members of your holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.