Evelyn Underhill: Self-Occupation is Always Wrong
Just plain self-forgetfulness is the greatest of graces
Underhill1 reminds me that spiritual growth is not about obsessing over my flaws or achievements, but about waiting patiently for the grace of self-forgetfulness. She encourages a childlike dependence on God, a theme echoing through the Christian tradition in the writings of saints and mystics. It's a call to simplicity in our spiritual journey – a concept that may seem elusive in our complicated lives, especially as we navigate the responsibilities and challenges of our technological world. So, here’s what Underhill is helping me see: Simplicity of practice, gentleness with oneself, and patience for grace are the ingredients of a happy and holy life.
May 3, 1941
People sometimes get St. John of the Cross by the tail!
Self occupation, including religious self-occupation, is always wrong, though often disguised as an angel of light.
This is the first thing I should say – Just plain self-forgetfulness is the greatest of graces. The true relation between the soul and God is the perfectly simple one of a childlike dependence.
Well then, be simple and dependent, acknowledge once for all the plain fact that you have nothing of your own, offer your life to God and trust Him with the ins and outs of your soul as well as everything else. Cultivate a loving relation to Him in your daily life; don't be ferocious with yourself because that is treating badly a precious (if imperfect) thing which God has made.
As to detachment – what has to be cured is desiring and hanging on to things for their own sake and because you want them, instead of offering them with a light hand and using them as part of God's apparatus; people seem to tie themselves into knots over this and keep on asking themselves anxious questions on the subject – but again, the cure is more simplicity!
They must shake themselves out of their scruples.
The whole teaching of St. John of the Cross is directed to perfecting the soul in charity, so that all it does, has, says, is, is transfused by its love for God.2
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Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) was a British author and spiritual teacher who wrote extensively on the topics of mysticism and meditation. Her best known book, Mysticism, published in 1911, remains a profound and classic text. Underhill championed the contemplative life, believing that only by stilling and quietening the soul can one come to true knowledge and understanding. She once wrote: “Mysticism is the art of union with Reality.”
Underhill, Evelyn. The Letters of Evelyn Underhill. United Kingdom: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1991.