by Mary Brian Durkin, O.P.
When Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) began to study and write about the meaning of mysticism, she immersed herself in the writings of St. John of the Cross. Her monumental volume, Mysticism (1911), reveals her knowledge and appreciation of his teachings concerning mystical life. In The Mystic Way (1913), Practical Mysticism (subtitled “A Little Book for Normal People, 1914), and Mystics of the Church (1925), she continued to expound on John’s wisdom concerning ways to achieve union with the Absolute.
It was particularly in retreat conferences and in letters to advisees that Underhill utilized and with keen discernment, presented ways to develop a practical and balanced spiritual life based on the teachings of St. John of the Cross, who, she claims, is “at once the sanest of saints and the most penetrating of psychologists.” (Mysticism. … Read more
by Mary Brian Durkin, OP
Evelyn Underhill is recognized as one of Great Britain’s outstanding religious writers. Her books, lectures, retreat conferences, and letters of spiritual advice offer insights into ways to develop and maintain a sane spiritual life. In these works, often in homey and humorous ways, Underhill shows how the natural and supernatural life are compatible and can be fully integrated by anyone willing to make the effort. “You don’t have to be peculiar to find God,” she insists, “but you do have to make a willed commitment to make Him the center of your life, all aspects of it!” (House of the Soul, p. 90).
Adoration and charity must be paramount, she states: “Adoration is caring for God above all else. Charity is the outward swing of prayer toward all the world…embracing and caring for … Read more
by Mary Brian Durkin, O.P.
The following is excerpted from an article that first appeared in Spiritual Life, Spring 1995. It illustrates the extent to which Teresian wisdom permeates, supports, and enhances Underhill’s ideas of how ordinary people, leading ordinary lives, can, by selfless prayer and sanctified work, become forces for good, channels of God’s grace flowing out t improve God’s world.
What is the spiritual life? Inspired by Teresa’s analogy of the soul as an “interior castle,” a spacious mansion with various floors, rooms, and apartments—many in poor condition—Underhill expands and adapts the simile to emphasize the Teresian principle that there should be no distinction between the spiritual and the practical life. Underhill pictures the soul, not as a lofty castle, diamond bright and imposing, but as a simple two-story house; the ground floor is the natural life, … Read more