Esther Moir de Waal is a foremost scholar in the Benedictine and Celtic traditions and a beloved spiritual writer who pioneered the application of monastic spirituality to everyday life. A historian trained at Cambridge University and the mother of four adult sons, she has lectured and offered retreats in her native United Kingdom and globally. She is the author of many articles and eight books on spiritual life. The Evelyn Underhill Association is grateful she agreed to a brief interview with Dana Geene, president emerita of the EUA, on her memories of reading Underhill, her recollections of the sense of place she associates with Underhill, and the importance of Evelyn Underhill in her own world–and ours.
My first encounter with Evelyn Underhill was by way of Pleshey, and I remember it vividly. I was a graduate … Read more
I begin with a disclaimer. I am not a theologian or historian of spirituality but rather a biographer. I mention this because one of the descriptors of a biographer is as detective, one who searches for every clue in order to understand a life. I say this because it will help explain why I have chosen to speak about a great lacuna of EU life, the period after the Great War, 1918-1920. We know little about this time, but it is an axial point in Underhill’s life, a turning from her life as a scholar of mysticism to a vocation as retreat leader and spiritual guide. By 1921 she has returned to the Anglican church from which she had been estranged for many years and she sought out the counsel of Baron F. von Hugel, … Read more
In his talk on Evelyn’s feast day, June 15, 2021, Bishop Frank Griswold both modeled and reflected on what it means to be a “person of prayer.” He said he does not study Evelyn Underhill, but that he has found her to be a companion, experiencing in her teaching the way that Christ comes to us through the saints.
He began by reflecting and expanding on the importance of worship and adoration in the life of prayer, so foundational to all of Underhill’s work. A person of prayer is someone who is attached to God at the very deepest level, and who is learning that praise, worship and service are all part of our “yes” to the Holy Spirit praying in us, a “yes” to who God has made us to … Read more
“The intense silence seemed to slow down one’s far too quick mental time and give one’s soul a chance. To my surprise a regime of daily communion and four services a day with silence between, was the most easy, unstrained and natural life I had ever lived. One sank down into it, and doing it always with the same people, all meaning it intensely, and the general atmosphere of deep devotion – for the whole house seemed soaked in love and prayer – cured solitude. 
This was the experience of the writer Evelyn Underhill when she went on her first retreat in the summer of 1922. She went to Pleshey, a recently established retreat house in Essex, alongside a group of elementary school teachers from the East … Read more
June 15th 2021 was the 80th anniversary of the death of a remarkable woman, Evelyn Underhill. She is one of only 18 modern women whose lives are commemorated in the Church of England’s Calendar of Holy Days.
As a gifted writer and retreat leader she helped, and still helps, countless people around the world who are searching for a relationship with God. She asked the questions that Christians and others seeking God are still asking, and through her writing was able to address them in a way that is still meaningful in the 21st century.
A new memorial
Evelyn Underhill is buried in the Additional Burial Ground of Hampstead Parish Church. Followers from all over the world come looking for her grave, but it is hard to spot because she is described simply as ‘Evelyn’, ‘the wife … Read more
During World War 2, the British, Anglican, mystical theologian and spiritual director, Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), encouraged a small “Prayer Group” to pray for world leaders, calling it their “spiritual war-work.”
Our current pandemic has often been referred to as a “war,” yet a battle against an invisible enemy that is somehow uniting us all in our common humanity—regardless of nationality, race, gender or sexuality. The language of “war” when referring to COVID-19, has caused me to reflect upon Underhill’s insights—written during our last world war—as a challenge to our Christian response to this current global health crisis.
During World War 1, Underhill contributed to the war effort through writing and translating guide-books for Naval Intelligence. But towards the end of that war, Underhill (in her words) “went to pieces.” The reality of war … Read more
Ron Dart – Canada Ron Dart has taught in the department of political science/philosophy/religious studies at the University of the Fraser Valley, BC, since 1990. He has published forty books and was on staff of Amnesty International in the 1980s. Ron has been reading Evelyn Underhill for many a decade and has been on the national board of the Thomas Merton Society of Canada for more than twenty years. email@example.com
Louise Nelstrop – United Kingdom Louise Nelstrop is Director of Studies at the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology and a Lecturer in Theology at St. Benet’s Hall. She is also an Associate of the Ruusbroec Institute in Antwerp. She works on English mysticism, and has recently published a monograph with Routledge: On Deification and Sacred Eloquence: Richard Rolle and Julian of Norwich. She is also one of the convenors of the Mystical … Read more
For the last decade, I have collaborated with undergraduate students in doing research about Evelyn Underhill and the Edwardian literary movements of which she was a part. At Lake Forest College, the small Illinois liberal arts college where I teach, each summer, students who have finished their first year with distinction have the opportunity to participate in what we call the Richter Honors Program. This program permits students to spend the summer working with a faculty member on his/her research, contributing to the professor’s ongoing projects and in turn receiving mentoring to learn the moves professional scholars make.
In 2007, I was looking for a new scholarly project to begin. I’d always been interested in the nexus between literature and spirituality, and I happened to recollect a course on “Mystics and Visionaries” that I’d taken years ago … Read more
By M. T. Crowley 2008 Doctoral thesis, Australian Catholic University
The written works of the English religious writer, spiritual director and exponent of Christian spirituality, Evelyn Underhill (1875 – 1941), contain numerous references to visual art and church architecture. This thesis explores the influence of art on her spirituality by examining her interpretation and understanding of various works of religious art, cathedrals, churches and chapels. The controlling methodology of the thesis is within the discipline of spirituality. This hermeneutical approach, which seeks to investigate and understand the phenomena of the Christian spiritual life as experience, is structured on three processes: observation and description of the phenomena under investigation, critical analysis of the data, and constructive interpretation of its transformative and integrational character. The study presents Underhill’s early life, reading and education within the Anglican tradition as the backdrop against which … Read more
This essay suggests that a deeper understanding of the relationship between artistry and spirituality in Evelyn Underhill’s work depends upon examining how the Arts and Crafts movement, as a vehicle for translating and modernizing idealized aspects of medieval culture, shaped Underhill’s novels and, ultimately, her unique spiritual ethos. Her fiction is everywhere marked by medievalism and, more specifically, by the Arts and Crafts movement’s distinctive reception of medieval culture. A study of Underhill’s complex response to the Arts and Crafts movement illuminates why she sees God as a tool maker and the human soul as a craftsman for whom the material things of this world –architecture, stained glass, jewelry, books – can become vehicles for making this life meaningful and for practically accessing the beauty of a divine Reality beyond. I argue, therefore, that … Read more