A practical mystic

by chuckofish


Today in the Episcopal Church it is the feast day of Evelyn Underhill (6 December 1875 – 15 June 1941). She was a poet and novelist, you will recall, as well as a pacifist and a mystic. She was prominent in the Anglican Church as a lay leader of spiritual retreats, a spiritual director for hundreds of individuals, guest speaker, radio lecturer, and proponent of contemplative prayer.

“Therefore it is to a practical mysticism that the practical man is here invited: to a training of his latent faculties, a bracing and brightening of his languid consciousness, an emancipation from the fetters of appearance, a turning of his attention to new levels of the world. Thus he may become aware of the universe which the spiritual artist is always trying to disclose to the race. This amount of mystical perception—this “ordinary contemplation,” as the specialists call it—is possible to all men: without it, they are not wholly conscious, nor wholly alive. It is a natural human activity, no more involving the great powers and sublime experiences of the mystical saints and philosophers than the ordinary enjoyment of music involves the special creative powers of the great musician.”

―Evelyn Underhill, Practical Mysticism

Underhill taught that the life of contemplative prayer is not just for a saintly few, monks and nuns and such, but can be the life of any Christian who is willing to undertake it.

Good to remember when life gets complicated and busy. “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” (Matt. 6:6)

Here’s to Evelyn Underhill!

O God, Origin, Sustainer, and End of all creatures: Grant that thy Church, taught by thy servant Evelyn Underhill, guarded evermore by thy power, and guided by thy Spirit into the light of truth, may continually offer to thee all glory and thanksgiving, and attain with thy saints to the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast promised us by our Savior Jesus Christ; who with thee and the same Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

–Collect for the day

And, yes, I do think that Underhill icon is awkward.