A wise friend’s counsel

Daily Reading for June 15 • Evelyn Underhill, 1941

You must settle down and quiet yourself. Your present state if encouraged will be in the end as bad for you spiritually as physically. I know it is not easy to do. Nevertheless it will in the nature of things come about gradually and I want you to help it all you know. If you allow rapture or vehemence to have its way too much, you risk a violent reaction to dryness, whereas if you act prudently you will keep the deep steady permanent peace, in the long run more precious and more fruitful than the dazzling light. But you won’t do it by direct struggle—did you ever quiet a baby, or your dog, or any other excited bit of life, by direct struggle? You will do it, please, by steadily, gradually and quietly turning your thoughts and prayers not so much to the overwhelming joy and wonder, as to the deep steadfastness of God, get gently accustomed to it, at home with it, rest in it. Let your night prayers be rather short, very quiet, more or less on a set form, not too “mental” and in the line of feeling of Psalm xxiii. Let yourself sink down into God’s Love in complete dependence, and even though the light does seem to rush in on you, keep as it were the eyes of your soul shut, intent on falling asleep in Him. . . . During the day, doing your work, etc., it is I know very hard not to be distracted and absorbed. But remember you have no more right to be extravagant over this than over any other pleasure or craving. It is true you can and probably will find a balance in which you will live in a quiet spirit of prayer, able at all leisure moments—and in the middle of your work—to turn simply and gently to God. But this will come only when all vehemence is eliminated.

Consider the sequence of daily acts, and your external interests as part of your service, part of God’s order for you, and as having a proper claim on your undivided attention. Take special pains now to keep up fully or develop some definite non-religious interest, e.g., your music. Work at it, consider it an obligation to do so. It is most necessary to your spiritual health; and you will very soon find that it has a steadying effect. “Good works” won’t do—it must be something you really like for its own sake. . . . .

Otherwise, just for the present, do go as quietly as you can, about your work, etc., I mean. Avoid strain. If you could take a few days off and keep quite quiet it would be good, but if this is impossible at any rate go along gently, look after your body, don’t saturate yourself the whole time with mystical books. I know you do feel tremendously stimulated all round; but remember the “young presumptuous disciple” in the Cloud! Hot milk and a thoroughly foolish novel are better things for you to go to bed on just now than St. Teresa.

From a letter to a friend dated February 7, 1923, in The Letters of Evelyn Underhill, edited with an introduction by Charles Williams (Westminster, Md.: Christian Classics, 1943).

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