Editor's note:

In his clas­sic book, A Tes­ta­ment of Devo­tion, Thomas Kel­ly quotes Meis­ter Eck­hart: There are plen­ty to fol­low our Lord half-way, but not the oth­er half. They will give up pos­ses­sions, friends and hon­ors, but it touch­es them too close­ly to dis­own them­selves.” Kel­ly goes on to say, It is just this aston­ish­ing life which is will­ing to fol­low Him the oth­er half, sin­cere­ly to dis­own itself, this life which intends com­plete obe­di­ence, with­out any reser­va­tions, that I would pro­pose to you in all humil­i­ty, in all bold­ness, in all seri­ous­ness. I mean this lit­er­al­ly, utter­ly, com­plete­ly, and I mean it for you and for me — com­mit your lives in unre­served obe­di­ence to Him.”

—Miriam Dixon

Excerpt from A Testament of Devotion

The first step to the obe­di­ence of the sec­ond half is the flam­ing vision of the won­der of such a life, a vision which comes occa­sion­al­ly to us all, through biogra­phies of the saints, through the jour­nals of Fox and ear­ly [Quak­ers], through a life lived before our eyes, through a haunt­ing verse of the Psalms — Whom have I in heav­en but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee” (Ps. 73:25) — through med­i­ta­tion upon the amaz­ing life and death of Jesus, through a flash of illu­mi­na­tion or, in Fox’s lan­guage, a great open­ing.” But what­ev­er the earth­ly his­to­ry of this moment of charm, this vision of an absolute­ly holy life is, I am con­vinced, the invad­ing, urg­ing, invit­ing, per­suad­ing work of the Eter­nal One. It is curi­ous that mod­ern psy­chol­o­gy can­not account whol­ly for flash­es of insight of any kind, sacred or sec­u­lar. It is as if a foun­tain of cre­ative Mind were welling up, bub­bling to expres­sion with­in pre­pared saints. There is an infi­nite foun­tain of lift­ing pow­er, press­ing with­in us, lur­ing us by daz­zling visions, and we can only say, The cre­ative God comes into our souls. An incre­ment of infin­i­ty is about us. Holy is imag­i­na­tion, the gate­way of Real­i­ty into our hearts. The Hound of Heav­en is on our track, the God of Love is woo­ing us to His Holy Life.

Once hav­ing the vision, the sec­ond step to holy obe­di­ence is this: Begin where you are. Obey now. Use what lit­tle obe­di­ence you are capa­ble of, even if it be like a grain of mus­tard seed. Begin where you are. Live this present moment, this present hour as you now sit in your seats, in utter, utter sub­mis­sion and open­ness toward Him. Lis­ten out­ward­ly to these words, but with­in, behind the scenes, in the deep­er lev­els of your lives where you are all alone with God the Lov­ing Eter­nal One, keep up a silent prayer, Open Thou my life. Guide my thoughts where I dare not let them go. But Thou darest. Thy will be done.” Walk on the streets and chat with your friends. But every moment behind the scenes be in prayer, offer­ing your­selves in con­tin­u­ous obe­di­ence. I find this inter­nal con­tin­u­ous prayer life absolute­ly essen­tial. It can be car­ried on day and night, in the thick of busi­ness, in home and school. Such prayer of sub­mis­sion can be so sim­ple. It is well to use a sin­gle sen­tence, repeat­ed over and over and over again, such as this: Be Thou my will. Be Thou my will,” or I open all before Thee. I open all before Thee,” or See earth through heav­en. See earth through heav­en.” This hid­den prayer life can pass, in time, beyond words and phras­es to mere ejac­u­la­tions, My God, my God, my Holy One, my Love,” or [pure ado­ra­tion], O Won­der­ful, O Won­der­ful, O Won­der­ful.” Words may cease as one stands and walks and sits and lies in word­less atti­tudes of ado­ra­tion and sub­mis­sion and rejoic­ing and exul­ta­tion and glory. 

And the third step in holy obe­di­ence, or a coun­sel, is this: If you slip and stum­ble and for­get God for an hour, and assert your old proud self, and rely upon your own clever wis­dom, don’t spend too much time in anguished regrets and self-accu­sa­tions but begin again, just where you are. 

Yet a fourth con­sid­er­a­tion in holy obe­di­ence is this: Don’t grit your teeth and clench your fists and say, I will! I will!” Relax. Take hands off. Sub­mit your­self to God. Learn to live in the pas­sive voice — a hard say­ing for Amer­i­cans — and let life be willed through you. For I will” spells out obedience. 

The fruits of holy obe­di­ence are many. But two are so close­ly linked togeth­er that they can scarce­ly be treat­ed sep­a­rate­ly. They are the pas­sion for per­son­al holi­ness and the sense of utter humil­i­ty. God inflames the soul with a crav­ing for absolute puri­ty. But He, in His glo­ri­ous oth­er­ness, emp­ties us of our­selves in order that He may become All. 

…He who walks in obe­di­ence, fol­low­ing God the sec­ond half, liv­ing the life of inner prayer of sub­mis­sion and exul­ta­tion, on him God’s holi­ness takes hold as a mas­ter­ing pas­sion of life. Yet ever he cries out in abysmal sin­cer­i­ty, I am the black­est of all the sin­ners of the earth. I am a man of unclean lips, for mine eyes have seen the King, Jeho­vah of Hosts.” For humil­i­ty and holi­ness are twins in the aston­ish­ing birth of obe­di­ence in the heart of men. So God draws unwor­thy us, in lov­ing ten­der­ness, up into fel­low­ship with His glo­ri­ous self. 

Life from the Cen­ter is a life of unhur­ried peace and pow­er. It is sim­ple. It is serene. It is amaz­ing. It is tri­umphant. It is radi­ant. It takes no time, but it occu­pies all our time. And it makes our life pro­grams new and over­com­ing. We need not get fran­tic. He is at the helm. And when our lit­tle day is done we lie down qui­et­ly in peace, for all is well. 

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Excerpt­ed from Thomas Kel­ly’s A Tes­ta­ment of Devo­tion, pp.59 – 67; 124. Harper­One, 1994.