Evelyn Underhill Through Lent


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 [...]


March 30, 2015

From The Golden Sequence His Spirit comes to us, as Caussade said, in “the sacrament of the present moment.”  Joy and pain, drudgery and delight, humiliation and consolation, tension and peace – each of these contrasting experiences reaches us fully charged with God; and does, or should incite us to an ever more complete self-giving to God.  But each experience, as such, is neutral when seen only in natural regard.  It is then merely part of that endless chain of cause and effect of which our temporal lives are made.  It can only touch our deepest selves, help or hinder the growth of the spirit, in so far as we do or do not direct our wills through it in love and reverence to Him.  There is only one life – the [...]


March 29, 2015

From The School of Charity In his letter to the Romans, we find Saint Paul asking his converts if they realize what it means to be part of the church.  It means, he says (and we can imagine their surprise when they heard it), being received into the death of Christ – the unconditional sacrifice of the cross – in order to walk in newness of life: transformed through self-loss into a bit of that body which is indwelt and ruled by the Spirit of Divine Charity.  No easy application for membership, then, fulfills the demands of real Christianity.  It is a crisis, a radical choice, a deep and costly change.  When we judge our own lives by this standard we realize that full entrance into the church’s real life must for most of us [...]


March 28, 2015

From The Fruits of the Spirit “Though I give my body to be burned,” said Saint Paul, “and have not love, I am nothing.”  I do not as a supernatural being exist.  And now he gives us another and much more surprising test of spiritual vitality.  Though you feel an unconquerable love, joy, and peace, though you are gentle, long-suffering, good in all your personal relationships, though you are utterly faithful in your service of God – in the end the only proof that all this is truly the fruit of the Spirit, Christ in you and not just your own idea, is the presence of the last two berries on the bunch: not showy berries, not prominently placed, but absolutely decisive for the classification of the plant. [...]


March 27, 2015

From The Fruits of the Spirit This time we have two quite positive qualities.  If on one hand the Spirit brings forth a quiet and patient acquiescence in God’s purpose, on the other hand it brings forth a quality of personal fitness of His service.  Goodness, of course, does not merely bear our cheap modern meanings of either goodness or pleasantness; the “good woman” or the “good fellow.”  It has no special reference to correct moral behavior.  It is a word that denotes perfection of quality: a good run, good cheese, good vintage, good stuff, good garden soil – the opposite number to every kind of imperfection, shoddiness, and cheapness.  The fruit of God’s presence and action in the soul is an [...]


March 26, 2015

From The Fruits of the Spirit The next fruit of the Spirit, says Saint Paul, is long-suffering gentleness – much patient endurance as regards what life does to us, much loving-kindness, care, consideration in all contacts with other lives.  Here another region is submitted to God’s influence and in consequence another source of strain taken away.  If the first three fruits form a little group growing up at the soul’s very center, gentleness and long-suffering are borne on the branches that stretch out towards the world.  They are the earnest of what Ruysbroeck calls the wide-spreading nature of love, giving itself to all in common, kind to the unjust as well as the just. Consider first the long-suffering of God, the [...]


March 25, 2015

From The Fruits of the Spirit “The fruit of the Spirit,” says Saint Paul, “is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance” – all the things the world most needs.  A clear issue, is it not?  To discover the health and reality of our life of prayer, we need not analyze it or fuss about it.  But we must consider whether it tends, or does not tend, to produce just these fruits, because they are the necessary results of the action of God in the soul.  These are the fruits of human nature when it has opened itself to the action of the eternal love: what the “new creature in Christ” (which if we are really Christians, we are all in process of becoming) is [...]


March 24, 2015

From Abba The symbolism of food plays a large part in all religions, and especially in Christianity.  As within the mysteries of the created order we must all take food and give food – more, must take life and give life – we are already in touch with the “life-giving and terrible mysteries of Christ,” who indwells that order; for all is the sacramental expression of his all-demanding and all-giving life.  We accept our constant dependence on physical food as a natural and inevitable thing.  Yet it is not necessarily so: there are creatures which are free from it for very long periods of time.  But perhaps because of his border-line status, his embryonic capacity of God, man is kept in constant memory of his own [...]


March 23, 2015

From Light of Christ It is a great thing for any soul to say without reserve in respect of its own life, “Thy kingdom come!” for this means not only the acknowledgement of our present alienation, our fundamental egoism and impurity, but the casting down of the will, the destruction of our small natural sovereignty; the risk and adventure which accompany an unconditional submission to God, a total acceptance of the rule of love.  None can guess beforehand with what anguish, what tearing of old hard tissues and habits, the kingdom will force a path into the soul, and confront self-love in its last fortress with the penetrating demand of God.  Yet we cannot use the words unless we are prepared to pay this price: nor is the [...]


March 22, 2015

From Light of Christ To look at the Crucifix – “the supreme symbol of our august religion” – if we do that honestly and unflinchingly we don’t need any other self-examination than that, any other judgment or purgation.  The lash, the crown of thorns, the mockery, the stripping, the nails – life has equivalents of all these for us and God asks a love for himself and his children which can accept and survive all that in the particular way in which it is offered to us.  It is no use to talk in a large vague way about the love of God; here is its point of insertion in the world of men. What about the dreadful moment when a great test of courage, great suffering, a great bereavement faced us and we knew we were [...]


March 21, 2015

From The Golden Sequence Mystics, trying to tell us of their condition, often say that they feel “sunk in God like a fish in the sea.”  We pass over these phrases very easily, and forget that they are the final result of a long struggle to find the best image for an admittedly imageless truth.  Yet prayer is above all the act in which we give ourselves to our soul’s true Patria; enter again that ocean of God which is at once our origin and our inheritance, and there find ourselves mysteriously at home.  And this strange, home-like feeling kills the dread which might overcome us, if we thought of the unmeasured depth beneath us, and the infinite extent and utter mystery of that ocean into which we have plunged.  As it [...]


March 20, 2015

From The Inside of Life Six hundred years ago Saint Francis, praying alone when he thought himself unobserved, found nothing to say but this: “My God and All!  What art Thou?  And what am I?”  And in spite of the modern knowledge we are so proud of, the human soul is saying that still. As a matter of fact, those remarkable changes that strike us so much when we observe the modern scene are mostly on life’s surface.  There are very few changes at life’s heart.  That is why great literature, however ancient, always moves us and is always understood.  It has to do with the unchanging heart of life.  And it is in the heart, not on the surface, that the world of religion makes itself known.  “With Thee is [...]


March 19, 2015

From The House of the Soul “The utmost that we know of God,” says Saint Thomas, “is nothing in respect of that which He is.” Such an outlook on the Unchanging redeems our prayer from pettiness, discounts our worries, brings a solemn selfless peace.  Everything drops away except awe, longing, and humility.  “Whom have I in Heaven, but thee? and there is none upon Earth that I desire beside thee.”  The soul stands over against the eternal reality of the universe, and finds there a friend and not a void, Deus Meus!  My God!  We have, in our creaturely weakness, a personal hold upon infinite reality.  The Psalms are full of this exultant certitude.  “O God, thou art my God! early will I seek [...]

EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: Worship And The Saints by Evelyn Underhill

March 18, 2015

From Worship Christian worship is never a solitary undertaking.  Both on its visible and invisible sides, it has a thoroughly social and organic character.  The worshiper, however lonely in appearance, comes before God as a member of a great family; part of the Communion of Saints, living and dead.  His own small effort of adoration is offered “in and for all.”  The first words of the Lord’s Prayer are always there to remind him of his corporate status and responsibility, in its double aspect.  On one hand, he shares the great life and action of the church, the Divine Society; however he may define this difficult term, or wherever he conceives its frontiers to be drawn.  He is immersed in that life, nourished by [...]

EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: Worship And Christ by Evelyn Underhill

March 17, 2015

From Worship Since the Christian revelation is in its very nature historical – God coming the whole way to man, and discovered and adored within the arena of man’s life at one point in time, in and through the humanity of Christ – it follows that all the historical events and conditions of Christ’s life form part of the vehicle of revelation.  Each of them mediates God, disclosing some divine truth or aspect of divine love to us.  Here lies the importance of the Christian year, with its recurrent memorials of the birth, the manhood, the death, and the triumph of Jesus, as the framework of the church’s ordered devotion.  By and in this ancient sequence, with its three great moments of Epiphany, Easter, and [...]

EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: Worship And Revelation by Evelyn Underhill

March 16, 2015

From Worship Genuine Christian worship, whatever its special emphasis may be, always requires as its foundation belief in the one Holy and Eternal God, the Being of Beings, the “Maker, Lover, and Keeper” of all life; utterly transcendent to His creation, and yet fully present with and in it, besetting, sustaining, molding – above all loving – all that is made.  Its object is a reality “higher than our highest yet more inward than our most inward part,” uniting within His mysterious nature the cosmic and the personal, the extremes of tenderness and power.  This majestic vision it shares to some extent with other great theistic religions – e.g., Judaism and Islam – and here the devotional expressions of [...]

EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: Worship And Response by Evelyn Underhill

March 15, 2015

From Worship Worship, in all its grade and kinds, is the response of the creature to the Eternal: nor need we limit this definition to the human sphere.  There is a sense in which we may think of the whole life of the Universe, seen and unseen, conscious and unconscious, as an act of worship, glorifying its Origin, Sustainer, and End.  Only in some such context, indeed, can we begin to understand the emergence and growth of the spirit of worship in men, or the influence which it exerts upon their concrete activities.  Thus worship may be overt or direct, unconscious or conscious.  Where conscious, its emotional color can range from fear through reverence to self-oblivious love.  But whatever its form of expression may be, it is [...]

EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: Distraction And Dryness by Evelyn Underhill

March 14, 2015

From Concerning the Inner Life It is one of the most distressing aspects of personal religion that we all waste so much of the very limited time which we are able to give it.  The waste can be classified under two main heads: distraction and dryness.  No one escapes these, but it concerns us all to reduce them as much as we can.  Of dryness I will speak later.  As to distraction, this is of two kinds, which we might call fundamental and mechanical.  Fundamental distraction is really lack of attention; and lack of attention is really lack of interest.  We are seldom distracted where we are truly keen – where the treasure is, the heart is sure to be.  Saint Teresa’s advice to her nuns, to “get themselves some company [...]


March 13, 2015

From The Mystic Way Christianity, of course, has often been described as a “life.”  The early Christians themselves called it not a belief, but a “way” – a significant fact, which the church too quickly forgot; and the realist who wrote the Fourth Gospel called its founder both the life and the way.  But these terms have been employed by all later theologians with discreet vagueness, have been accepted in the artistic rather than the scientific sense; with the result that Christianity as a life has meant almost anything, from obedience to a moral or even an ecclesiastical code at one end of the scale, to the enjoyment of peculiar spiritual sensations at the other. But where many of the greatest mystics [...]

EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: Another Letter — The Cross by Evelyn Underhill

March 11, 2015

From The Letters of Evelyn Underhill I do not think you have ever made the Cross the center of your life really.  I do not quite know what you have made the center, but it looks as though it cannot be that.  And you have got to, you know.  Nothing else will do.  And if you do not accept it deliberately, why then it will be forced on you in some subtle and ingenious way, as it is at the present moment.  And by struggling and tiring yourself out, you make it worse and add physical and mental fatigue to your spiritual troubles.  Accept what you are having, quite simply and obediently.  Take it as it comes.  Do not “will” or “want” this or that; however virtuous and edifying your wishes may be.  All such [...]

EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: A Letter To A Friend — Pride by Evelyn Underhill

March 10, 2015

From The Letter of Evelyn Underhill To the alarming list of innate vices which you have managed to get together I should like to add another: Pride.  All this preoccupation with your own imperfection is not humility, but an insidious form of spiritual pride.  What do you expect to be?  A saint?  There are desperately few of them: and even they found their faults, which are the raw material of sanctity remember, take a desperate lot of working up.  You know best when and how you fall into these various pitfalls.  Try and control yourself when you see the temptation coming.  (Sometimes you will succeed, which is so much to the good.)  Pull yourself up and make an act of contrition when you catch yourself doing any of the things. [...]

EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: The Two Loves by Evelyn Underhill

March 8, 2015

From Concerning the Inner Life There is a wonderful chapter in Ruysbroeck’s Book of the Twelve Béguines in which he describes the life of one who has achieved this state, as “ministering to the world without in love and in mercy; whilst inwardly abiding in simplicity, in stillness, and in utter peace.”  Reading it, we remember that it was said of Ruysbroeck himself, that supreme mystic, that during the years in which he was a parish priest in Brussels, he went to and fro in the streets of the city “with his mind perpetually lifted up into God.”  He was ministering to the world without in love and mercy; whist inwardly abiding in simplicity, stillness, and utter peace.  Action, effort, and tension, then, [...]

EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: The Root Of The Interior Life by Evelyn Underhill

March 6, 2015

From The House of the Soul It is true that God creates souls in a marvelous liberty and variety.  The ideals of the building-estate tell us nothing about the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is true also, that the furnishing of our rooms and cultivation of our garden is largely left to our personal industry and good taste.  Still, in a general way, we must fall in with the city’s plan; and consider, when we hang some new and startling curtains, how they will look from the street.  However intense the personal life of each soul may be, that personal life has got out of proportion, if it makes us forget our municipal obligations and advantages; for our true significance is more than personal, it is bound up with the fact of our status as [...]

EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: The Interior Life by Evelyn Underhill

March 5, 2015

From The House of the Soul When Saint Paul described our mysterious human nature as a “Temple of the Holy Spirit” – a created dwelling-place or sanctuary of the uncreated and invisible Divine Life – he was stating in the strongest possible terms a view of our status, our relation to God, which has always been present in Christianity; and is indeed implicit in the Christian view of Reality.  But that statement as it stands seems far too strong for most of us.  We do not feel in the very least like the temples of Creative Love.  We are more at ease with Saint Teresa, when she describes the soul as an “interior castle” – a roomy mansion, with various floor and apartments from the basement upwards; not all [...]

EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: The Holiness Of Things by Evelyn Underhill

March 4, 2015

From The School of Charity The incarnation means that the Eternal God enters our common human life with all the energy of His creative love, to transform it, to exhibit to us its richness, its unguessed significance; speaking our language, and showing us His secret beauty on our own scale. Thus the spiritual life does not begin in an arrogant attempt at some peculiar kind of other-worldliness, a rejection of ordinary experience.  It begins in the humble recognition that human things can be very holy, full of God; whereas high-minded speculations about His nature need not be holy at all.  Since all life is engulfed in Him, He can reach out to us anywhere and at any level.  The depth and richness of His Eternal Being are unknown to us. [...]

EVELYN UNDERHILL THROUGH LENT: The Divine Condescension by Evelyn Underhill

March 3, 2015

From Man and the Supernatural In its poetic elaborations of history – and these began almost at once – Christian genius has not failed to emphasize the paradox of the Unlimited thus revealed within humblest limitations. A carpenter’s baby.  Thirty years of obscure village life.  A young man, of whose secret growth nothing is revealed to us, coming with a crowd to be baptized by a religious revivalist.  A refusal of all self-regarding or spectacular use of that immense spiritual power and effortless authority which the records so plainly reveal.  Unlimited compassion especially extended to the most sinful, blundering, sickly, and unattractive among men.  A self-oblivion so perfect that we do not even notice it.  A [...]