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
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
by Ron Dart
It is this capacity for giving imaginative body to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity that seems to me one of the most remarkable things about your work.
~ Evelyn Underhill letter to C.S. Lewis, January 13 1941
Many with a minimal literary background will have read articles or books by C.S. Lewis. The Lewis of popular consumption is certainly not the more nuanced and layered Lewis. The more popular books by Lewis were, mostly, published in the 1940s-1950s and up to his death in 1963. There have been many letters, books, articles by Lewis published since his death, but, the C.S. Lewis of the 1930s was still in the budding phase with a few blossoms that hinted further fruit.
The rather abstract and initial autobiography of Lewis’ journey to Christian faith, The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology … Read more
by Susan Dean
One spring about twenty-five years ago, when my family still lived in Minnesota, I was trying to decide what to give up for Lent. My friends were mostly giving up chocolate or wine. Those choices would have been perfectly appropriate for me too, but I wanted something different that year, so I went to our associate priest to ask his advice. He suggested that instead of giving anything up, I read a book, and what he came up with for me was Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill.
It may help to know that I had only been back at church for a few years, having not attended for about twenty. I knew very little about theology or spirituality. So Mysticism — with its 519-page description of the unitive life, purification, voices and visions and a whole bunch of … Read more
by Donyelle C. McCray, Ph.D.
Delivered at the Underhill Quiet Day
June 18, 2016
I. The Soft White Bed
I’m often curious about how teachers like Evelyn Underhill spend their leisure time. Somehow it gives me a much-needed window into the personality. I was intrigued when I learned she enjoyed trips to Spain and Italy. Fondness for travel suggests something expansive about her. The fact that she liked the Norwegian mountains said something hardy about her. It helped me even more to learn that she liked sailing. That pointed to an adventurous streak – an interesting complement to an inner life characterized by doubts and insecurity. But I was really blown away when I discovered that during the 1920s, she and her husband Hubert owned a motorcycle with sidecar. They would ride out into the countryside in it together for … Read more
by Carol H. Poston
Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) was a guiding light in Anglican spirituality in the twentieth century, and her best-known works, Mysticism (1911) and Worship (1936) are still read and studied today. Aprolific writer-theologian, poet, novelist, she is frequently anthologized. Her early life and writings—those undertaken before she became an actively-committed member of the Church of England in the 1920s—are, with the exception of Mysticism, less well-known. This article examines the early works that treat the Virgin Mary, and explain how that subject may have influenced the pacifism she later embraced. A feminist reading of those early works also suggests biographical links to her “care for souls,” or spiritual direction, and to her own family. The dutiful child of somewhat remote and distant parents, herself in a childless marriage, Underhill’s spiritual nurture by way of Mary helps explain both … Read more
by Evelyn Underhill
“He that believeth shall not make haste.” Isaiah 28:16
“He that believeth shall not make haste.” That is to say, he won’t get rattled or hustled; he won’t let time get on top of him or dictate to him. Doesn’t that speak to all of us of something which deep down we wish were true of ourselves? Time, the enemy. . . How often do you hear people saying, — how often do you hear yourself saying, “Oh, I haven’t got time!” I haven’t got time. . . No, we haven’t, for time has got us, or most of us.
In this western world we have planned to master time. We think we have got it where we want it — around our wrists or on the wall, there at our disposal by turning a radio knob … Read more
by Chris Glaser
Daily we behold terrible and diminishing things, not just in the newspaper and on the news, but in films, television programs, books, plays, even music. Daily we also behold our “golden calves” of consumer products in ads, commercials, and our neighbor’s latest acquisition. Daily we are bombarded and distracted by e-mails, text messages, and the multiple layers of the internet. If, as in Evelyn Underhill’s estimation, we become what we behold, we are becoming a mess of noise, violence, and greed with little room for the divine, the holy, and God.
Saints are to be found in “the mess,” as Underhill suggests, but not overwhelmed by it. The reason? Saints, mystics, and everyday fellow travelers take time to be present and available to the eternal, to the inbreaking commonwealth of God, to God. Not for self-improvement, but … Read more