I want to use another post to further reflect upon mortification. Last week, we followed Underhill in identifying it as an essential element in entering the Mystery. But we did not say much about “how” we actually go about de-throning the false self.
Obviously, one blog post will not do the job, but I think there are a couple of things that can be said, and Underhill alludes to them both. First, we must understand that mortification is an ongoing process, sometimes with setbacks as well as advancements. When Underhill uses words like “transformation,” she is understanding mortification to be a process.
Charles Wesley captured it in his hymn I Want A Principle Within, calling it “a watchful, godly, fear—a sensibility to sin, a pain to feel it near.” And he goes on to say, “if to the right or left I stray, that moment God reprove.” Mortification is the action we take when the warning light goes off on the dashboard of our soul. We don’t procrastinate until we blow an engine; we make repairs as soon as we realize they need to be made. We call this repentance.
Because we are finite, we can never accomplish this all at once, even though there will be significant moments and “mountain top experiences” that provide a lot of grace. Nevertheless, mortification is more a spirit of renunciation than any single action we may take to move into it.
The second thing about mortification is that it is pervasive. Underhill speaks of “the entire transformation of our personal, professional, and political life.” (p. 60) That’s her way of saying that mortification is needed in every area of our lives.
One of the great errors in some spiritual formation is the limitation of it to the “religious domain” of life. I actually believe that God more often wants to make us better human people than better religious ones. In other words, all the other facets of life are equal candidates for the conviction of the Spirit. As I’ve said before, salvation means wholeness, not just going to heaven when you die.
So…let us practice mortification, not just experience it. As some of our predecessors have put it, “let us engage ourselves to the Lord.” The door into Mystery swings open to those who willfully attend to the lifelong process of making every thought and behavior captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).