Evelyn Underhill

MYSTICISM: The Need Of Retreat by Evelyn Underhill

July 12, 2017

From Light of Christ A first retreatant lately told me that when she confessed to her husband what she intended to do, he took his pipe from his mouth and said earnestly: “Go my dear.  Go, by all means!  You’re just about due for a spot of re-birth.”  That man, it seems to me, had a very clear idea of one function of a retreat: its power of causing the re-birth of our spiritual sense, quickening that which has grown dull and dead in us, calling it out into light and air, giving it another chance. Most of us are bitterly conscious of the extent in which we are at the mercy of our surroundings: which grow ever more and more insistent in their pressure, their demands on our attention and time; less and less suggestive of [...]

THE LORD’S PRAYER: Glory, by Evelyn Underhill

June 12, 2017

Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory.  The prayer in which is contained the whole movement of man’s interior life, the substance of his communion with God, is summed up in this delighted declaration of the independent perfection, the unspeakable transcendence of the Holy.  Before that reality, that majesty, that energy, that splendor, his own needs, his own significance, vanish.  Abba, Father.  It is true that the Infinite God is the Father of my soul, that I have a certain kinship with the Abiding, a privilege of cooperation.  Higher than my highest, He is yet nearer than my inmost part.  But in the last resort, I stand entranced and abased before the majesty, the otherness of that Infinite God. “He calleth the [...]

THE LORD’S PRAYER: Prevenience, by Evelyn Underhill

June 5, 2017

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  May that strange directive power of which from time-to-time we are conscious as the controlling factor of life have pity on our weakness and lead us out of confusion into peace. This abject confession of helplessness seems at first sight to be meant for the untried and bewildered neophyte, in whom the gifts of the Spirit have not yet had time to grow.  Actually, it is the culmination of the prayer which was given to the Church of God in the persons of her Apostles; those through whom the sanctification of human history was to be set going, the handful of men to whom we owe our Christian inheritance.  It is this picked band, these channels of the Spirit, already surrendered to the [...]

THE LORD’S PRAYER: Forgiveness, by Evelyn Underhill

May 29, 2017

It is part of the economy of mercy, the redemptive and transforming work of God, that the Divine Charity already present within the soul should overflow to make good its shortcomings and blot out its sins.  Were this not so, our situation would be hopeless; for we share by nature in the disorder of a fallen world, its implicit resistance to the demands of love.  So here we continue our filial and confident claim on that Charity; a claim which our situation, whether as children or as creatures, compels us to make.  Forgive us our trespasses – our voluntary share in the world’s sinfulness – as we forgive them that trespass against us.  Penitence is ever the fruit of adoring vision.  “The more holy I find God,” said [...]

THE LORD’S PRAYER: Food, by Evelyn Underhill

May 22, 2017

In the first part of the Lord’s Prayer, we are wholly concerned with God’s glory.  We pray with angelic spirits; creatures whose purposes are completely harmonized with the Creative Will.  In the second part, we turn from the Eternal Splendor to our Earthly limitations, and bring before God the burden, neediness, and sinfulness of our state.  Give us this day our daily bread.  With the proclamation of our utter dependence, the presentation before God of the simplest and most fundamental of our needs, we pass from adoration to petitions, and enter into the full paradox of Christian prayer: the unspeakable majesty and abiding perfection of the Infinite, and because of that majesty and that perfection, the importance of the [...]

THE LORD’S PRAYER: The Will, by Evelyn Underhill

May 15, 2017

The graph of Christian prayer conforms very closely to the central action of the Eucharist.  First, the Sanctus, the type of all adoring worship “with angels and archangels glorifying the Holy Name” and lifting heart and mind to the contemplation of Reality.  Then the bread and wine, the ordinary stuff of life raised to the plane of scarifice and freely offered that it may be blessed and transformed by the action of the Holy, made the food and salvation of the soul.  And now we stand at the central point on which all this is poised: where the Heavenly prayer and the Earthly prayer meet.  Our Father, which art in Heaven….  Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.  That Will: that mysterious attribute of the Living [...]

THE LORD’S PRAYER: The Kingdom, by Evelyn Underhill

May 8, 2017

Having recognized and worshiped the Name, we pray next for its triumph: Thy Kingdom come.  Here man’s most sacred birthright, his deep longing for perfection, and with it his bitter consciousness of imperfection, break out with power.  We want to bring the God whom we worship, his beauty, his sovereignty, his order, into the very texture of our life; and the fundamental human need for action into the radius of our prayer.  This is the natural sequel to the prayer of adoration.  We have had a glimpse of the mystery of the Holy, have worshiped before the veils of beauty and sacrifice; and that throws into vivid relief the poverty, the anarchy, the unreality in which we live – the resistance of the world, the creature, to God, and [...]

THE LORD’S PRAYER: The Name, by Evelyn Underhill

May 1, 2017

Hallowed Be Thy Name.  The modern mind, living sometimes prudently and sometimes carelessly, but never theocentrically, cannot make anything of such words as these; for they sweep the soul up, past the successive and the phenomenal, and leave it in abject adoration before the single reality as the fact governing all judgments and all activities.  This, says our Lord in effect, is the way that you must begin, because this is the essence of religion.  For this, and only for this, it exists.  When he is asked for the secret of prayer, the true tent of meeting which the Lord pitched and not man, (Hebrews 8:2), this delighted recognition of God’s priority comes first to his mind.  Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord!  [...]

THE LORD’S PRAYER: The Father, by Evelyn Underhill

April 24, 2017

The crowds who followed Christ hoping for healing or counsel did not ask him to teach them how to pray; nor did he give this prayer to them.  It is not for those who want religion to be helpful, who seek after signs; those who expect it to solve their political problems and cure their diseases, but are not prepared to share its cost.  He gave it to those whom he was going to incorporate into his rescuing system, use in his ministry; the sons of the Kingdom, self-given to the creative purposes of God.  Thou when thou prayest, pray ye on this manner.  It is the prayer of those “sent forth” to declare the Kingdom, whom the world will hate, whose unpopularity with man will be in proportion to their loyalty to God; the apostles [...]

THE LORD’S PRAYER: Introductory, by Evelyn Underhill

April 17, 2017

Prayer is the substance of eternal life.  It gives back to man, insofar as he is willing to live to capacity – that is to say, to give love and suffer pain – the beatitude without which he is incomplete; for it sets going, deepens, and at last perfects that mutual indwelling of two orders which redeems us from unreality, and in which the creative process reaches its goal.  There is, as Henri Bremond has said, even in the poorest and crudest prayer, “a touch of Pentecost.”  It awaits and expects the action of the Spirit, acknowledges the most mysterious and yet the most certain reality of our experience; the intercourse of the Transcendent God with fugitive man, and of fugitive man with the Transcendent God.  Yet all our [...]

CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: The Magi And New Birth

January 6, 2017

From The School of Charity The story of the Magi shows the new life which has appeared within the rich texture of our normal experience, casting its purifying radiance upon the whole existence of man, the Light of the world, not the sanctuary lamp of a well-appointed church.  Cozy religious exclusiveness is condemned in this mystery.  It is easy for the pious to join the shepherds, and feel in place at the crib, and look out into the surrounding darkness saying, Look at those extraordinary intellectuals wandering about after a star; they seem to have no religious sense.  Look what curious gifts and odd types of self-consecration they are bringing; not at all the sort of people one sees in church.  Yet the child who began by receiving [...]

CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Light Of The World

January 5, 2017

From Light of Christ You know how sometimes on a pitch black night in the country, you see far off one glimmer of light and you follow it and it turns out to be just a candle in a cottage window – but it was enough to assure you of life ahead, to give you the lead you wanted in the dark.  In the same way, when the Magi turned from their abstruse calculations in search of Heaven and followed a star, they did not arrive at a great mathematical result or revelation of the cosmic mind.  They found a poor little family party and were brought to their knees – because, like the truly wise, they were really humble-minded – before a baby born under most unfortunate circumstances, a mystery of human life, a little living growing thing. [...]

CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: The Magi And Prayer

January 4, 2017

From The School of Charity Look at the story of the Magi: those scholars of the ancient world, turning from their abstruse calculations and searching of the heavens because they saw a new star, and driven to seek along fresh paths for a clue to the mystery of life.  What they found does not seem at first sight what we should now call “intellectually satisfying.”  It was not a revelation of the Cosmic Mind, but a poor little family party; yet there they were brought to their knees – because, like the truly wise, they were really humble-minded – before a little, living, growing thing.  The utmost man can achieve on his own here capitulates before the unspeakable and mysterious simplicity of the method of God; his [...]

CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: The Magi

January 3, 2017

From Light of Christ Now to accept historical Christianity as God’s supreme self-revelation does not mean some elaborate philosophy of the spirit.  It means accepting the gospel story as touching our lives significantly at every point, because it is conveying God.  If we are ever to learn all that this record can mean for us, we must never forget that these, beyond all other facts of history, are indwelt, molded, brought into being by the Living Spirit of God, while plastic to his creative thought.  And if we thus feel God within these events, some so strange and some so homely, inspiring this action and record, then we also accept all these incidents as conveying something of his overruling will and thought, having something in [...]

CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Shepherds And Magi

January 2, 2017

From Light of Christ The Christmas Mystery has two parts: the Nativity and the Epiphany.  A deep instinct made the church separate these two feasts.  In the first, we commemorate God’s humble entrance into human life, the emergence and birth of the Holy, and in the second its manifestation to the world, the revelation of the supernatural made in that life.  And the two phases concern our inner lives very closely, too.  The first only happens in order that the second may happen; and the second cannot happen without the first.  Christ is a light to lighten the Gentiles as well as the glory of his people, Israel.  Think of what the Gentile was when these words were written – an absolute outsider.  All cozy religious [...]

CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Holy Name—Born For A Purpose

January 1, 2017

From Light of Christ Beholding his glory is only half our job.  In our souls, too, the mysteries must be brought forth; we are not really Christians till that has been done.  The Eternal Birth, say Eckhard, must take place in you.  And another mystic says human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice; animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet.  And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid – and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him.  Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God. The [...]

CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Life Goes On

December 31, 2016

From The School of Charity And now we turn from the central mystery to the clustered events, through which its character is disclosed.  We see the new life growing in secret.  Nothing very startling happens.  We see the child in the carpenter’s workshop.  He does not go outside the frame of the homely life in which he appeared.  It did quite well for him, and will do quite well for us.  It is like the hidden life at Nazareth.  We must be content with the wholesome routine of the nursery, doing ordinary things, learning ordinary lessons and eating ordinary food, if we are to grow truly and organically in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man.  Growth in God is a far more gradual, less conscious process than we realize [...]

CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Nativity

December 30, 2016

From The School of Charity Nothing in this story, perhaps, is more significant than the quietness and simplicity of its beginning.  The birth of the Child, the Shepherds, and the Magi, the little boy of Nazareth and his wonderful experience in the Temple, and the long quiet years in the carpenter’s shop; there seems at first sight nothing very supernatural in these things.  Indeed, one of the most convicting aspects of Christianity, if we try to see it in terms of our own day, is the contrast between its homely and inconspicuous beginnings and the holy powers it brought into the world.  It keeps us in perpetual dread of despising small things, humble people, little groups.  The Incarnation means that the Eternal God enters our [...]

CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Incarnation (2)

December 29, 2016

From The School of Charity No amount of description really tells us anything about Holiness; but an encounter with it shames, amazes, convinces, and delights us all at once.  Thou art the Christ! says Saint Peter.  My Lord and my God! says Saint Thomas.  They recognize something from beyond the world: One who enters our mixed life in his perfect beauty; and accepts all the normal conditions of an existence which is so much at the mercy of seasons and weather, thirst and hunger, so afflicted by distresses we do not understand, so vexed by devils we cannot cast out, and tainted by sins we cannot forget.  Through all this that Figure is walking; radiating in and through every situation a selfless charity, an untiring interest and love. [...]

CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: The Example Of The Christ Child

December 28, 2016

From Light of Christ The mystics keep telling us that the goal of that prayer and the goal of that hidden life which should itself become more and more of a prayer, is “union with God.”  We use that phrase often, much too often to preserve the wholesome sense of its awe-fulness.  For what does union with God mean?  It is not a nice feeling we get in devout moments.  That may or may not be a by-product of union – probably not.  It can never be its substance.  Union with God means every bit of our human nature transfigured in Christ, woven up into his creative life and activity, absorbed into his redeeming purpose, heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Each time it happens it means that one of God’s creatures has [...]

CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Maturing

December 27, 2016

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 of our usefulness to God, it is well to [...]

CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Incarnation

December 26, 2016

From The School of Charity Not long ago, I was standing in an artist’s studio before an altarpiece which she had just made.  It represented the Nativity: or rather, the eternal incarnation of the Holy, self-given for the world.  In the foreground one saw the Blessed Virgin, its ordained instrument, and Saint Joseph, watching by her bed.  There was a patient grave simplicity about them both; reflected in the serious young angels, whose majestic scale suggested the greatness of that world of spirit from which they had been drawn.  Below, the sheep were feeding very quietly too: innocent nature entirely at home among the mysteries of the supernatural order, one lamb turning from its mother to press more closely to the mother of the [...]

CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Incarnation And Childhood

December 25, 2016

From Light of Christ We are being shown here something profoundly significant about human life – “God speaks in a son,” a baby son, and reverses all our pet values.  He speaks in our language and shows us his secret beauty on our scale.  We have got to begin not by an arrogant other-worldliness, but by a humble recognition that human things can be very holy, very full of God, and that high-minded speculations about his nature need not be holy at all; that all life is engulfed in him and he can reach out to us anywhere at any level. As the Christmas Day gospel takes us back to the mystery of the Divine Nature – In the beginning was the Word – so let us begin by thinking of what Saint Catherine called the [...]

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: The Vision Of Love

December 24, 2016

From The School of Charity When we look out towards this Love that moves the stars and stirs in the child’s heart, and claims our total allegiance and remember that this alone is Reality and we are only real so far as we conform to its demands, we see our human situation from a fresh angle; and perceive that it is both more humble and dependent, and more splendid, than we had dreamed.  We are surrounded and penetrated by great spiritual forces, of which we hardly know anything.  Yet the outward events of our life cannot be understood, except in their relation to that unseen and intensely living world, the Infinite Charity which penetrates and supports us, the God whom we resist and yet for whom we thirst; who is ever at work, [...]

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Love Is An Orientation Toward God

December 23, 2016

From The Life of the Spirit and the Life of Today Christians, on the authority of their Master, declare that such love of God requires all that they have, not only of feeling, but also of intellect and of power; since he is to be loved with heart and mind and strength.  Thought and action on highest levels are involved in it, for it means, not religious emotionalism, but the unflickering orientation of the whole self towards him, ever seeking and finding the Eternal; the linking up of all behavior on that string, so that the apparently hard and always heroic choices which are demanded, are made at last because they are inevitable.  It is true that this dominant interest will give to our lives a special emotional color and a special [...]

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Love In Creation

December 22, 2016

From The School of Charity He shewed me a little thing, says Julian of Norwich, the quantity of a hazel nut in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball.  I looked thereupon with the eye of my understanding and thought: “What may this be?”  And it was answered generally thus: “It is all that is made.”  In this Little Thing I saw three properties.  The first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it, the third, that God keepeth it. That is a saint’s comment on the first article of her Creed.  It is a vision that takes much living-out in the world in which injustice and greed are everywhere manifest; full, too, to tendencies which we are able to recognize as evil, and of misery and [...]

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Contemplation

December 21, 2016

From Light of Christ Contemplation of Christ does not mean an emotional sort of pious daydream; it means entering by a deliberate, self-oblivious, and humble attention into the tremendous mysteries of his life – mysteries which each give us some deep truth about the life and will of God and the power and vocation of a soul that is given to God – mysteries which each one of us in particular is called to make part of our very lives.  They will break up, into colors we can deal with, that white light of God’s holiness at which we cannot look. You know sometimes how one goes to see a church which one is told has magnificent windows – and seen from outside they all look alike – dull, thick, grubby.  We probably say, Well! [...]

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: The Focus Of Prayer

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 [...]

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Life Of Prayer

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 [...]

ADVENT WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Prayer Gives Our Lives Focus

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 [...]