By Jane Shaw
Many people today think of themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious.’ What riches and resources does the Anglican tradition have to offer to those who are spiritually curious but on the margins of, or outside, the church, as well as to those inside the church?
Pioneers of Modern Spirituality introduces four Anglicans who identified the ways in which people were disaffected with institutional religion across the twentieth century, and yet remained on a spiritual quest. All four sat at the edges of the church – sometimes even outside it – at moments during their own spiritual journeys. Each called the church to an engagement with the world and a rediscovery of the depths of its own tradition. Each, in their own sphere, encouraged a revival of spirituality, and a renewal of the great Anglican heritage of prayer, … Read more
Reviewed by Carl McColman
March 12, 2018
Evelyn Underhill, Ordinary Mystic
It’s no secret that I consider Evelyn Underhill one of the most important Christian mystics of the twentieth century.
She’s nowhere near as well-known as Thomas Merton or Simone Weil or Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, but her contribution to Christian spirituality is as great as each of those more renowned figures. Evelyn Underhill’s biographer Dana Greene has called her an Artist of the Infinite Life. For Underhill, Christian mysticism is shaped by two key characteristics: artistry and ordinariness.
She recognized that one of the essential features of the contemplative life is beauty: we are drawn to God not only because God is good, and true, but also because God is beautiful.
If God’s truth inspires philosophy and God’s goodness inspires ethics, then God’s beauty inspires art — and mysticism, … Read more
ed. Robyn Wrigley-Carr
London: SPCK, 2018
Reflections: Ann Loades
Robyn Wrigley-Carr wrote her doctoral thesis in the Divinity School, St Andrews University, having discovered there the primary location of books and other materials relating to Friedrich von Hügel, focussing on his work as a ‘spiritual director’. It was almost inevitable that she would also develop a focus on the work of Evelyn Underhill, and some familiarity with the work of Evelyn’s friend, Lucy Menzies. The latter became Evelyn Underhill’s collaborator as writer, researcher and co-‘retreat director’ at Pleshey in the Chelmsford Diocese from 1924 onwards (p.8). It is all too easy to overlook the importance of what they achieved together given the long- standing discomfort in Christian institutions about women as authoritative teachers and guides, notwithstanding the unambiguous evidence provided by the publication of Evelyn’s major work on Mysticism in … Read more
Deborah Smith Douglas
Have you ever had the opportunity, maybe at a wedding or a folk-art festival, to observe or take part in a traditional circle dance?
From outside the circle, the dancers appear to be moving in opposite directions: those in the foreground moving to the right, those on the far side moving to the left.
Only by being part of the circle can one see and experience the unity and shared direction beneath the external appearance of opposition and contradiction.
So it is with the life of Evelyn Underhill.
Viewed from the outside, Underhill’s life can be seen as having two different patterns and trajectories, both of them partial, superficial, and misleading.
One of these errant perspectives on her life suggests that it was one of smooth unruffled professional and public success amid privileged circumstances. That view goes … Read more
International Conference on Jacopone da Todi - Selections from Presentations by Dana Greene and Aindrias ó hAilpin - In Memoriam: Milo Coerper - A Different Kind of Christmas List by Catherine Ann Lombard - Mystical Concepts, Artistic Contexts by Michael Stoeber
Evelyn Underhill: The Hidden Life by Deborah Smith Douglas - Reflections on the Underhill Prayer Book by Ann Loades and Carol Poston - Three Evelyn Underhill Anthologies Reviewed by Carl McColman - Pioneers of Modern Spirituality by Jane Shaw - Into the Reign of Awe: The Mysticism of C. S. Lewis Reviewed by Ron Dart
In January, 2018, Evelyn Underhill’s Prayer Book will be published by SPCK, London. I wanted here to give you a tiny glimpse of how the Prayer Books were found, plus a taste of some of Evelyn’s prayers.
Last year, while on a research trip examining ‘echoes of von Hügel in Evelyn Underhill’, I visited The Retreat House at Pleshey (near Chelmsford, UK). While looking through some papers and books there, I stumbled upon Evelyn Underhill’s Prayer Book. It had been found at an Oxfam Bookshop many decades before by a Canadian priest who had posted it to Pleshey. Several Underhill scholars had assumed it had been lost decades before. As I read through the Prayer Book, I had the words of Grace Adophsen Brame echoing in my heart and mind:
…that little book of prayers which Underhill had … Read more
Nearly all Christian mystics maintain that an essential characteristic of Christian mysticism is participation in the Body of Christ, which is to say, in the Christian community of faith. In other words, to be a Christian mystic, it is as important to be a follower of Christ as it is to be a mystic. And to be a follower of Christ means to express spirituality in a communal way. The above statements annoy a lot of people. Sorry about that, but that’s how it rolls.
Community. If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for us. Recently a reader of this blog forwarded me an email from a friend of his who criticizes some of Evelyn Underhill’s ideas in her book Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness. These two people, whom … Read more
Although Evelyn Underhill (1875–1941) was baptized and confirmed in the Church of England, the Underhill family could be considered Christians in only the most social of terms. Underhill had little formal religious education and no theological training.1 In fact, Underhill’s first commitment to any sort of religious group was a hermetic sect known as the “Golden Dawn,” a most inauspicious beginning for one who would later be called “the spiritual director for her generation.”2
Underhill’s spiritual journey is a fascinating one, and one which has been well chronicled.3 Her career began with her classic work Mysticism (1911)4 and can be said to have concluded with her other classic Worship (1936).5 These studies are similar in that they were comprehensive in their scope and pioneering in their approach, and both volumes are standard works … Read more
In This Newsletter:
Evelyn Underhill’s Prayer Book
Is it Possible to be a “Do It Yourself” Christian Mystic?
Life as Prayer: The Development of Evelyn Underhill’s Spirituality
The 2017 Underhill Quiet Day
Retreat and Lecture Offerings on Evelyn Underhill
YouTube Resources on Evelyn Underhill
New and Noteworthy Scholarship on Evelyn Underhill