by Kathy Staudt
(Quiet Day 2009)
In her introduction to “The Call of God” (also used as introduction to an earlier retreat on “Inward Grace and Outward Sign,”) Evelyn suggests how questions about vocation emerge naturally as soon as we do the sort of thing we’re doing today – as we make space and time to turn our hearts wholly to God, moving out of ourselves and resting in that loving presence, in a spirit of adoration. She is speaking to people who have gathered in a beautiful place – the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral — to place themselves, as we are doing, in the presence of the beauty and holiness and insistent love of God The result of taking this kind of time for retreat, she writes, “will be a new and more vivid sense of His reality and … Read more
In January 2010 a new edition of the letters of Evelyn Underhill will be published by the University of Illinois Press. The Making of a Mystic is edited and with an introduction by Dr. Carol Poston, professor emerita of St. Xavier University, a scholar of English literature and author of Reclaiming Our Lives and editor of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. The Evelyn Underhill Association (EUA) is grateful to Dr. Poston for her willingness to be interviewed for its newsletter.
EUA: Dr. Poston, you spent ten years completing this volume. Why did you undertake this work?
Carol Poston: I was reading one of the excerpted Underhill books for my own Lenten discipline, and I found myself asking where this wonderful and wise woman came from, being interested always in how women manage to educate … Read more
by Kathleen Henderson Staudt
For many years now an important spiritual resting-point in my life has been the annual day of quiet reflection in honor of Evelyn Underhill, sponsored by the Evelyn Underhill Association at the Washington National Cathedral. It is always held in mid-June, on a Saturday close to the day when the Episcopal Church calendar observes Evelyn’s feast day, June 15. It is a beautiful time of year on the Cathedral close, usually with lovely weather, the roses blooming in the Bishop’s Garden, quiet places to walk and pray on the grounds or in the Cathedral. Always the day has included several hours of communal silence, punctuated by a leader’s reflections on some theme from the writings of this 20th century mystic, spiritual director and retreat leader.
Evelyn Underhill’s gift to the Church may best be summarized by … Read more
by Bishop Robert Morneau
Evelyn Underhill (December 6, 1875 – June 15, 1941) was a married lay-woman of the Anglican tradition. Her writings on mysticism, worship, and the spiritual life continue to influence individuals who are interested in the Christian tradition. Underhill wrote over thirty books, conducted retreats for laity and clergy, and was, like the rest of us, a struggling pilgrim seeking to understand and respond to the mystery we call God.
One of her greatest legacies was the retrieval of the Christian mystics. Her study of and love for the writings of such individuals as St. John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, and Meister Eckhart grounded Underhill in one of the richest dimensions of Christian spirituality.
Although attracted to Catholicism and receiving spiritual direction from Baron Friedrich von Hugel, Evelyn Underhill remained in the Anglican tradition. … Read more
At the Evelyn Underhill Quiet Day in June 2008, Rev. Canon Dr. Gerald Loweth presented the following insights:
Evelyn Underhill is well known for her writings on the subject of Christian mysticism. She began her work in the early twentieth century at a time when this tradition was being looked at afresh. Among other writers of her time she was able to describe and define the mystic experience in terms of the encounter with God and its transforming affects on the person. She put this down in such works as Mysticism and Practical Mysticism.
Following the turmoil of the First World War, Underhill began to undergo a change in her thinking. The fruits of her research into the mystical tradition were still alive and present in her new writings, but she expanded her thinking towards a more socially conscious and … Read more
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by Nadia Delicata
“What is it to be holy?” This question fashioned Evelyn Underhill’s life. The young Underhill struggled with lack of intimacy and a disembodied spirituality. Her arduous spiritual searching drove her from pursuing magic, to a meticulous empirical study of the mystics, to facing personal tragedy in the First World War. Her gradual purification and transformation flourished in her encounter with Baron Friedrich von Hiigel, her spiritual mentor. In the process, she rediscovered her Anglican roots, and gave her ultimate assent to Christ. Underhill’s mature witness to the Christian life is revealed in her final “personal little hook” and testament, “The Golden Sequence: A Fourfold Study of the Spiritual Life.”
Nadia Delicata is a doctoral candidate in systematic theology at Regis College, University of Toronto.… Read more
by Martha Gross
In her writings, Evelyn Underhill challenges the reader to go deeper—beyond words, beyond labels, and even beyond dogma—to encounter Living Reality, The Absolute Fact, God. She identifies the human tendency to miss the symbolic or sacramental dimension of things, and to cling to labels as if they are reality itself. She likewise faults Christians for not looking deeply enough and hence not finding the self-disclosure of the Living God in Creed, liturgy, scripture and religious imagery. Throughout her writings Underhill invites us to open ourselves to the sacramentality of life. It is there we can find the Transcendent God – a God who is present, active and communicating in both the secular and religious moments of our lives.
How, one might reasonably ask, can people open themselves to perceiving the Living God in ordinary, secular experiences? Underhill … Read more
by Stephanie Ford
On June 15, 1941, the British spiritual writer Evelyn Underhill, fragile from debilitating asthma, succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage. Meanwhile, a youthful World War II raged outside—her fellow Brits engaged in the feverish struggle to stop the spread of German domination. For Underhill, however, the question of security had been settled long before bombs damaged her beloved home city of London. Some years earlier, the Anglican spiritual guide had gone against the grain of national loyalties: she had become a pacifist. Persuaded by contemplation on the meaning of the cross, Underhill had in her own words, “crossed over to God’s side.” She became convinced that the law of charity alone sufficed.
What were the sources of Underhill’s conversion to a security in love, unfettered by the gut-wrenching fear that must have welled up in anyone who endured … Read more
by Dana Greene
Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) is best known for her pioneering work, Mysticism: A Study of the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness. First published in 1911, it saw twelve editions and established Underhill as the leading authority on mysticism writing in English. She was a prolific writer, authoring or editing thirty-nine books and hundreds of articles and essays. She came to the subject of mysticism with a bias against institutional religion, but later recognized the human need for participation in some collective expression of worship of the Divine. Her sympathy for the mystical tradition nuanced her understanding of what it meant to participate in the Body of Christ and was the basis for her ongoing critique of the foibles of institutional religion. Her major achievement was a life-long pursuit of the love of God and her … Read more
by Robert Gail Woods
Dr. Woods serves as minister of two United Methodist Churches in Missouri. This article appeared in the Christian Century May 16, 1979, p. 553. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Although most libraries have copies of some of her books—the two celebrated ones are Mysticism and Worship—Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) is but a name to many people, even among the theologically informed. Imagine my consternation a few years ago when, my dissertation on her concept of worship just completed, I talked with an Episcopal bishop who insisted that Evelyn Underhill, a fellow Anglican, was a man! He only tentatively accepted my explanation that in nonliterary circles she was known as … Read more