Wednesday of the Third Week in Lent: Another Letter – The Cross; Evelyn Underhill

I do not think you have ever made the Cross the centre of your life really.  I do not quite know what you have made the centre, but it looks as though it cannot be that.  And you have got to, you know.  Nothing else will do.  And if you do not accept it deliberately, why then it will be forced upon  you in some subtle and ingenious way, as it is at the present moment.  And by struggling and tiring yourself out, you make it worse and add physical and mental fatigue to your spiritual troubles.  Accept what you are having, quite simply and obediently.  Take it as it comes.  Do not “will” or “want” this or that; however virtuous and edifying your wishes may be.  All such willings presuppose that you know better than the Spirit of God.  And do not get into a despairing condition.  These experiences are a perfectly normal part of the spiritual life: which is not designed on the lines of a “Pleasant Sunday Afternoon.”

As to what you ought to do, it is very difficult to advise anyone else in this sort of condition.  But I feel pretty sure you ought not to shirk church and your ordinary times of prayer.  Only, do not on any account struggle AT ALL to feel things or get into communion or anything like that. 

Surrender yourself altogether and be quite quiet.  The thing is not in your hands at the present.  You are just to remain true to your colours.  Leave off mental prayer and meditation.  Stick to formal prayer.  And it would be well to leave those you ordinarily use, and take for the time to quite fresh ones.  I do not know how long you spend in prayer, but very likely now you will NOT be able to spend so long.  There is no object in exhausting yourself.  You have been long poring over the whole thing to much; instead of letting it happen, like a spell of bad weather.

I would rather you did some external good works, and thought less for the present about your soul.  {I do not mean by this that I think grate-cleaning a proper substitute for Church.}  I wonder whether you have let your physical health run down and got nervous: because of course that accounts for a lot, and must not be confused with the other.

This sounds an odiously unsympathetic letter, and sort of easy and superior.  But it is not meant to be really.

I know quite well what these states are like, and how dreary it is; and do not behave at all well under them.  But I know too that surrender is the ONLY way out of them.  Humility and WILLING suffering have got to be learned if we want to be Christians, and some people learn them by boredom instead of by torture.  But once you really surrender it is extraordinary how the nastiness goes and you perceive that it was the “the shade of His Hand outstretched caressingly.”

  • The Letters of Evelyn Underhill
  • Letter dated February 7, 1911

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