From The School of Charity, by Evelyn Underhill
Everyone who is engaged on a great undertaking, depending on many factors for its success, knows how important it is to have a periodical stocktaking. Whether we are responsible for a business, an institution, a voyage, or an exploration – even for the well-being of a household – it is sometimes essential to call a halt; examine our stores and our equipment, be sure that all necessaries are there and in good order, and that we understand the way in which they should be used. It is no good to have tins without tin openers, bottles of which the contents have evaporated, labels written in an unknown language, or mysterious packages of which we do not know the use. Now the living-out of the spiritual life, the inner life of the Christian – the secret correspondence of his soul with God – is from one point-of-view a great business. It was well called “the business of all businesses” by Saint Bernard; for it is no mere addition to Christianity, but its very essence, the source of its vitality and power. From another point-of-view it is a great journey; a bit-by-bit progress, over roads that are often difficult and in weather that is sometimes pretty bad, from “this world to that which is to come.” Whichever way we look at it, an intelligent and respectful attitude to our equipment – seeing that it is all there, accessible and in good condition, and making sure that we know the real use of each item – is essential to its success. It is only too easy to be deluded by the modern craving for pace and immediate results, and press on without pausing to examine the quality and character of our supplies, or being sure that we know where we are going and possess the necessary maps. But this means all the disabling miseries of the unmarked route and unbalanced diet; and at last, perhaps, complete loss of bearings and consequent starvation of the soul.
Lent is a good moment for such a spiritual stocktaking; a pause, a retreat from life’s busy surface to its solemn deeps. There we can consider our possessions; and discriminate between the necessary stores which have been issued to us, and must be treasured and kept in good order, and the odds and ends which we have accumulated for ourselves. Most of us are inclined to pay considerable attention to the spiritual odds and ends; the air-cushions, tabloids, and vacuum flasks, and various labor-saving devices which we call by such attractive names as our own peace, our own approach, our own experience, and so forth. But we leave the superb and massive standard equipment which is issued to each baptized Christian to look after itself. There are few who cannot benefit by a bit-by-bit examination of that equipment, a humble return to first principles; for there we find the map and road-book of that spiritual world which is our true environment, all the needed information about the laws which control it, and all the essentials for feeding that inner life of which we talk so much and understand so very little.