Evelyn Underhill


December 20, 2016

From The School of Charity These great objective truths are not very fashionable among modern Christians; yet how greatly we need them, if we are to escape pettiness, individualism, and emotional bias.  For that mysterious inner life which glows at the heart of Christianity, which we recognize with delight whenever we meet it, and which is the source of Christian power in the world, is fed through two channels.  Along one channel a certain limited knowledge of God and the things of God enters the mind; and asks of us that honest and humble thought about the mysteries of faith which is the source of Christian power in the world, is fed through two channels.  Along one channel a certain limited knowledge of God and the things of God [...]


December 19, 2016

From The School of Charity Think of the span and the depth which is required of a full Christian life of prayer.  For one part of prayer associates us with that creative and supporting Love, and requires us to give ourselves as open channels through which it can be poured out on all life; and the other part of prayer keeps us in humble awareness of our own complete dependence, plastic to the pressure of the molding Charity.  When we consider our situation like this, we realize that the very best we are likely to achieve in the world of prayer will be a small part in a mighty symphony; not a peculiarly interesting duet.  When our devotional life seems to us to have become a duet, we should listen more carefully.  Then we shall hear a [...]


December 18, 2016

From The Spiritual Life When we lift our eyes from the crowded bypass to the eternal hills; then, how much the personal and practical things we have to deal with are enriched.  What meaning and coherence come into our scattered lives.  We mostly spend those lives conjugating three verbs: to Want, to Have, and to Do.  Craving, clutching, and fussing, on the material, political, social, emotional, intellectual – even on the religious – plane, we are kept in perpetual unrest: forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by and included in, the fundamental verb, to Be; and that Being, not wanting, having, and doing, is the essence of a spiritual life.  But now, with this [...]


December 17, 2016

From The Spiritual Life Prayer means turning to reality, taking our part, however humble, tentative and half-understood, in the continual conversation, the communion, of our spirits with the Eternal Spirit; the acknowledgement of our entire dependence, which is yet the partly free dependence of the child.  For prayer is really our whole life toward God: our longing for him, our “incurable God-sickness,” as Barth calls it, our whole drive towards him.  It is the humble correspondence of the human spirit with the Sum of all Perfection, the Fountain of Life.  No narrower definition than this is truly satisfactory, or covers all the ground.  Here we are, small half-real creatures of sense and spirit, haunted by the sense of a [...]

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Spiritual Life Begins With Prayer

December 16, 2016

From The School of Charity God, not man, is the first term of religion: and our first step in religion is the acknowledgement that He Is.  All else is the unfolding of those truth about his life and our life, which this fact of facts involves.  I believe in One God.  We begin there; not with our own needs, desires, feelings, or obligations.  Were all these abolished, his independent splendor would remain, as the Truth which gives its meaning to the world.  So we begin by stating with humble delight our belief and trust in the most concrete, most rich of all realities – God.  Yet even the power to do this reflects back again to him, and witnesses to his self-giving to the soul.  For Christianity is not a pious reverie, a moral [...]


December 15, 2016

From The Life of the Spirit and the Life of Today If the seeking of the Eternal is actuated by love, the finding of it is achieved through prayer.  Prayer, in fact – understood as a life or state, not an act or an asking – is the beginning, middle, and end of all that we are now considering.  As the social self can only be developed by contact with society, so the spiritual self can only be developed by contact with the spiritual world.  And such humble yet ardent contact with the spiritual world – opening up to its suggestions our impulses, our reveries, our feelings, our most secret dispositions as well as our mere thoughts – is the essence of prayer, understood in its widest sense.  No more than surrender or love can [...]

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Corporate Life And Mysticism

December 14, 2016

From Mystics of the Church As the life and growth of the church proceed, her corporate consciousness, enriched by all the discoveries of the saints, grows richer: so that she has more and more to give to each of her sons.  The beautiful interdependence of all Christian souls, living and dead, everything that is meant by the doctrine of the “Communion of Saints,” is here strongly illustrated, and refutes the common idea that mysticism is individualistic, and can nourish independently of history or tradition.  Thus all Christian mysticism is soaked in the language and ideas of the Bible; is perpetually taught and re-taught by Saint Paul and Saint John.  In addition to this, it reflects the special religious color of the period [...]

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Christ Changes Circumstances

December 13, 2016

From Light of Christ More and more as we go on with the Christian life we learn the strange power of the Spirit over circumstance; seldom sensationally declared but always present and active – God in his richness and freedom coming as a factor into every situation, overruling the ceaseless stream of events which make up our Earthly existence and, through those events, molding our souls.  The radiation of his love penetrates, modifies, quicken our lives. This general action of the Power of God in life is what we rather vaguely call Providence.  Its pressure and action is continuous in and through the texture of that life but usually it is unseen.  It conditions our whole career from birth to death just as the invisible lines of force [...]

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Facing Reality As Baptized Christians by Evelyn Underhill

December 12, 2016

From Light of Christ You and I are committed, as baptized Christians, to what has been given his deep and touching Earthly revelation, to the steady loyal effort, in our own small place and way, towards bringing that mounting vision a little nearer completeness, bringing a little more of that Kingdom in.  Each faithful upward glance, each movement of trust, each act of selfless love, helps it on.  The Hallowing of the whole Universe, physical, mental, and spiritual, in all its grades, the infinitely great and the infinitely small, giving our lives at whatever cost to the helping of the fulfillment of their sacramental promise – we must take sides in some way for that, because we are the Children of God. Those thoughts kill all [...]


December 11, 2016

From The Spiritual Life When we consider the evil, injustice, and misery existing in the world, how can we claim that the ultimate Reality at the heart of the universe is a Spirit of peace, harmony, and infinite love?  What evidence can we bring to support such a belief?  And how can we adore a God whose creation is marred by cruelty, suffering, and sin? This is, of course, the problem of evil; the crucial problem for all realistic religion.  It is no use to dodge this issue, and still less use to pretend that the church has a solution of the problem up her sleeve.  I would rather say with Baron von Hügel that Christian spirituality does not explain evil and suffering, which remain a mystery beyond the reach of the human mind, but [...]


December 10, 2016

From The Spiritual Life Most of our conflicts and difficulties come from trying to deal with the spiritual and practical aspects of our life separately instead of realizing them as parts of one whole.  If our practical life is centered on our own interests, cluttered up by possessions, distracted by ambitions, passions, wants, and worries, beset by a sense of our own rights and importance, or anxieties for our own future, or longings for our own success, we need not expect that our spiritual life will be a contrast to all this.  The soul’s house is not built on such a convenient plan: there are few sound-proof partitions in it.  Only when the conviction – not merely the idea – that the demand of the Spirit, however [...]


December 9, 2016

From The Spiritual Life More is required of those who wake up to reality, than the passive adoration of God or intimate communion with God.  Those responses, great as they are, do not cover the purpose of our creation.  The riches and beauty of the spiritual landscape are not disclosed to us in order that we may sit in the sun parlor, be grateful for the excellent hospitality, and contemplate the glorious view.  Some people suppose that the spiritual life mainly consists in doing that.  God provides the spectacle.  We gaze with reverent appreciation from our comfortable seats, and call this proceeding Worship. No idea of our situation could be more mistaken than this.  Our place is not the auditorium but the stage – or, as the [...]


December 8, 2016

From The School of Charity A genuine inner life must make us more and more sensitive to that molding power, working upon his creation at every level, not at one alone: and especially to the constant small but expert touches, felt in and through very homely events, upon those half-made, unsteady souls which are each the subject of his detailed care.  A real artist will give as much time and trouble to a miniature two inches square, as to the fresco on the cathedral wall.  The true splendor and heart-searching beauty of the Divine Charity is not seen in those cosmic energies which dazzle and confound us; but in the transcendent power which stoops to an intimate and cherishing love, the grave and steadfast Divine action, sometimes painful [...]


December 7, 2016

From The Spiritual Life We are the agents of the Creative Spirit in this world.  Real advance in the spiritual life, then, means accepting this vocation with all it involves.  Not merely turning over the pages of an engineering magazine and enjoying the pictures, but putting on overalls and getting on with the job.  The real spiritual life must be horizontal as well as vertical; spread more and more.  It must be larger, richer, fuller, more generous in its interests than the interests of the natural life alone can ever be; must invade and transform all homely activities and practical things.  For it means an offering of life to the Father of life, to whom it belongs; a willingness – an eager willingness – to take our small [...]


December 6, 2016

From The Spiritual Life It is this constant correlation between inward and outward that really matters; and this has always been the difficulty for human beings, because there are two natures in us, pulling different ways, and their reconciliation is a long and arduous task.  Many people seem to think that the spiritual life necessarily requires a definite and exacting plan of study.  It does not.  But it does require a definite plan of life; and courage in sticking to the plan, not merely for days or weeks, but for years.  New mental and emotional habits must be formed, all our interests rearranged in new proportion round a new center.  This is something which cannot be hurried; but, unless we take it seriously, can be infinitely [...]

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Intimations Of Spiritual Depths

December 5, 2016

From The Spiritual Life Many Christians are like deaf people at a concert.  They study the program carefully, believe every statement made in it, speak respectfully of the quality of the music, but only really hear a phrase now and again.  So they have no notion at all of the mighty symphony which fills the universe, to which our lives are destined to make their tiny contribution, and which is the self-expression of the Eternal God. Yet there are plenty of things in our normal experience, which imply the existence of that world, that music, that life.  If, for instance, we consider the fact of prayer, the almost universal impulse to seek and appeal to a power beyond ourselves, and notice the heights to love – the power it exerts, [...]


December 4, 2016

From The Life of the Spirit and the Life of Today All normal men and women possess, at least in a rudimentary form, some intuition of the transcendental; shown in their power of experiencing beauty or love.  In some it is dominant emerging easily and without help; in others it is latent and must be developed in the right way.  In others again it may exist in virtual conflict with a strongly realistic outlook; gathering way until it claims its rights at last in a psychic storm.  Its emergence, however achieved, is a part – and for our true life, by far the most important part – or that outcropping and overflowing into consciousness of the marginal faculties which is now being recognized as essential to all artistic and creative [...]


December 3, 2016

From The Fruits of the Spirit Humility and moderation at the heart of our prayer quiet the soul and protect us against the spiritual itch.  It sometimes comes into my head, says De Caussade, to wonder whether I have ever properly confessed my sins, whether God has ever forgiven me my sins, whether I am in a good or bad spiritual state.  What progress have I made in prayer or in the interior life?  When this happens I say to myself at once, God has chosen to hide all this from me, so that I may just blindly abandon myself to his mercy.  So I submit myself and adore his decision.  He is the Master: may all that he wills be accomplished in me; I want no grace, no merit, no perfection but that which shall please him.  His will alone [...]


December 2, 2016

From Light of Christ Christ never seems at first sight to be giving pure truth; yet in the end he is the only teacher who manages to give it in a way that feeds souls of every level and type.  Whenever he comes, he brings the life-giving mystery of God: but giving the mystery in and with the homeliness, weaving together both worlds. What a lesson for us!  And especially for those who have a secret arrogant craving for what they call “purely spiritual things.”  There is nothing abstract or high-brown about him.  To all he gives parables capable of simple interpretation and to some revelations within them of the Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven.  There is no overfeeding or straining of souls and, above all, no hurry to [...]


December 1, 2016

From The Fruits of the Spirit Now Christ, who so seldom gave detailed instruction about anything, did give some detailed instruction for that withdrawal, that recollection which is the essential condition of real prayer, real communion with God. “Thou when thou prayest, enter into thy closet – and shut the door.” I think we can almost see the smile with which he said those three words: and those three words define what we have to try to do.  Anyone can retire into a quiet place and have a thoroughly unquiet time in it – but that is not making a Retreat!  It is the shutting of the door which makes the whole difference between a true Retreat and a worried religious weekend. Shut the door.  It is an extraordinary [...]

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Spiritual Life—Begin With Objective Fact

November 30, 2016

From The School of Charity The spiritual life is a stern choice.  It is not a consoling retreat from the difficulties of existence; but an invitation to enter fully into that difficult existence, and there apply the Charity of God and bear the cost.  Till we accept this truth, religion is full of puzzles for us, and its practices often unmeaning: for we do not know what it is all about.  So there are few things more bracing and enlightening than a deliberate resort to some basic statement about God, the world, and the soul; testing by them our attitude to those realities, and the quality and vigor of our interior life with God.  For every one of them has a direct bearing on that interior life.  Lex credendi, lex orandi [the law of [...]


November 29, 2016

From The School of Charity Everyone who is engaged on a great undertaking, depending on many factors for its success, knows how important it is to have a periodical stocktaking.  Whether we are responsible for a business, an institution, a voyage, or an exploration – even for the well-being of a household – it is sometimes essential to call a halt; examine our stores and our equipment, be sure that all necessaries are there and in good order, and that we understand the way in which they should be used.  It is no good to have tins without tin openers, bottles of which the contents have evaporated, labels written in an unknown language, or mysterious packages of which we do not know the use. Now the living-out of the spiritual [...]


November 28, 2016

From The Fruits of the Spirit We should think of the whole power and splendor of God as always pressing in upon our small souls.  In him we live and move and have our being.  But that power and splendor mostly reach us in homely and inconspicuous ways; in the sacraments, and in our prayers, joys, and sorrows, and in all opportunities of loving service.  This means that one of the most important things in our prayer is the eagerness and confidence with which we throw ourselves open to his perpetual coming.  There should always be more waiting than striving in a Christian’s prayer – an absolute dependence on the self-giving charity of God.  As dew shall our God descend on us. As we draw near Christmas, this sense of our own [...]

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Recognition And Expectancy

November 27, 2016

From The Fruits of the Spirit At the beginning of her course the Church looks out towards Eternity, and realizes her own poverty and imperfection and her utter dependence on this perpetual coming of God.  Advent is, of course, first of all a preparation for Christmas; which commemorates God’s saving entrance into history in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Whilst all things were in quiet silence and night was in the midst of her swift course: thine Almighty Word leapt down from Heaven out of thy royal throne.  Alleluia. A tremendous spiritual event then took place; something which disclosed the very nature of God and his relation to his universe.  But there was little to show for it on the surface of life.  All men saw was a [...]

MYSTICISM: The Mirror Of Simple Souls (part one), by Evelyn Underhill

November 27, 2015

From The Essentials of Mysticism The Mirror of Simple Souls – a rare work on the spiritual life, of which manuscripts exist in the British Museum, the Bodleian, and one or two other public libraries – has so far received little or no attention from students of religious literature.  Yet it may turn out to possess great importance, as one of the missing links in the history of English mysticism: for it is a middle-English translation, made at the close of the fourteenth century or beginning of the fifteenth, of the lost work of a French thirteenth-century mystic.  It shows, therefore, that the common view of French medieval religion as unmystical needs qualification; and further indicates a path by which the contemplative tradition [...]


April 4, 2015

From The Fruits of the Spirit (Letter to the Prayer Group, Eastertide, 1941) I am writing to you at the moment in the Christian year when, as it were, we pause and look back on the richest cluster of such spiritual facts ever revealed to man.  Paschal Time, to give its old name to the interval between Easter and Ascension, marks the end of the historical manifestation of the Word Incarnate, and the beginning of His hidden life within the church.  But the quality of that hidden life, in which as members of the Body of Christ we are all required to take part, is the quality which the historic life revealed.  From the very beginning the church has been sure that the series of events which were worked out to their inevitable end in Holy [...]


April 3, 2015

From Light of Christ “It is not the act of a good disciple,” says Saint John of the Cross, “to flee from the cross in order to enjoy the sweetness of an easy piety.”  So here above all, by the crucifix and what it means to us, we test the quality of our discipleship.  What we think about the cross means ultimately what we think about life, for “seek where you will,” says à Kempis, “everywhere you will find the cross.”  And when you have found it, what are you going to do about it?  That is the question: look at it with horror or with adoration? It has been said that the whole life of Christ was a cross.  I think that saying does grave injustice to its richness of response, to the real [...]


April 2, 2015

From The Mystery of Sacrifice For the fully Christian life is a Eucharistic life: that is, a natural life conformed to the pattern of Jesus, given in its wholeness to God, laid on His altar as a sacrifice of love, and consecrated, transformed by His inpouring life, to be used to give life and food to other souls.  It will be, according to its measure and special call, adoring, declaratory, intercessory, and redemptive: but always a vehicle of the supernatural.  The creative spirit of God is a redemptive and cherishing love; and it is as friends and fellow workers with the Spirit, tools of the divine redemptive action that Christians are required to live.  “You are the Body of Christ,” said Saint Augustine to his [...]


April 1, 2015

From The School of Charity All gardeners know the importance of good root development before we force the leaves and flowers.  So our life in God should be deeply rooted and grounded before we presume to expect to produce flowers and fruits; otherwise we risk shooting up into one of those lanky plants which can never do without a stick.  We are constantly beset by the notion that we ought to perceive ourselves springing up quickly, like the seed on stony ground; show striking signs of spiritual growth.  But perhaps we are only required to go on quietly, making root, growing nice and bushy; docile to the great slow rhythm of life.  When we see no startling marks of our own religious progress or our usefulness to God, it is well to [...]


March 31, 2015

From Abba There is no lesson Christ loves better to drive home, than this disconcerting fact of our common human fragility: which, when we have truly grasped it, kills resentment and puts indulgent pity in its place.  Let the man, the group, the nation that is without sin cast the first stone.  God’s forgiveness means the compassionate recognition of the weakness and instability of a man; how often we cannot help it, how truly there is in us a “root and ground of sin,” an implicit rebellion against the Holy, a tendency away from love and peace.  And this requires of us the constant compassionate recognition of our fellow-creatures’ instability and weakness; of the fact that they too cannot help it.  If the [...]