The Richness of the Unwalled World
Saturday, June 11, 2022, 9:30am-3:30pm
Nourse Hall, St. Albans Parish
On the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral
3001 Wisconsin Ave. N.W., Washington DC 20016
Please bring a sack lunch
Registration begins May 1, 2022
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“What would it mean for a soul that truly captured [the contemplative life], in which the emphasis should lie on the immediate percepts, the messages the world pours in on us, instead of on the sophisticated universe into which our clever brains transmute them? Plainly, it would mean the achievement of a new universe, a new order of reality: escape from the terrible museumlike world of daily life, where everything is classified and labeled, and all the graded fluid facts which have no label are ignored. It would mean an innocence of eye and innocence of ear impossible for us to conceive; the impassioned contemplation of pure form, freed from all the meanings with which the mind has draped and disguised it; the recapturing of the lost mysteries of touch and fragrance, most wonderful among the avenues of sense. It would mean the exchanging of the neat conceptual world our thoughts build up, fenced in by the solid ramparts of the possible, for the inconceivable richness of that unwalled world from which we have subtracted it.”
—From Practical Mysticism: A Little Book for Normal People by Evelyn Underhill, 1914
“There is another world, but it’s the same as this one.” This quotation has been attributed to several people, perhaps because at some point on our journey in this life many have had the same realization.
Evelyn Underhill directed people to discover another world exactly where they are. She asks us to escape from “the terrible museumlike world of daily life, where everything is classified and labelled” to a new way of seeing and being. To use a computer metaphor, we seekers need to move beyond our operating system and experience the world firsthand, so that we might “proclaim the Eternal Reality by [our]… existence.”
In this era of political discord, disorientation, deaths from Covid-19, and war crimes in Europe, Evelyn Underhill is a crucial aid. She calls us to rediscover the “richness of that unwalled world” that can only come from deep contemplation.
During the Vietnam War, many anti-war activists urged the Trappist monk Thomas Merton to leave the monastery and come and protest. Although he supported the peace movement with his writings, he refused to leave Gethsemane Abbey because, he said, “There needs to be one sane person left.” This is also the charge Evelyn Underhill gives us. Amidst social and political rancor, anxiety over a lethal virus, and unimaginable violence in Ukraine, there needs to be more than one sane person left.
Evelyn Underhill also defined our calling as nothing less than “to bring Eternity into time.” She said, “God is our only reality, and we are only real insofar as we are in God’s order and God is in us….So those who wonder where they are to begin might begin here, by trying to give spiritual quality to every detail of their everyday lives.” But our calling is not only to be connected to God. “We are transmitters as well as receivers,” Underhill wrote. We are also called to be “agents of the Creative Spirit in this world.”
Our time together on June 11 will focus on becoming open to the other world that is the same as this one, by encountering and embracing the wisdom of Evelyn Underhill and discerning how her wisdom can equip us to experience the richness of that other world.
Bishop Taylor joined the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia as Assisting Bishop in July 2020 after retiring as Bishop of the diocese of Western North Carolina in 2016. In retirement, he also joined the faculty of Wake Forest University divinity School. He holds a Master of Divinity and a Ph.D in Theology and Literature.