The only child of a prominent barrister and his wife, Evelyn Underhill was born in Wolverhampton, England, and grew up in London. She was educated there and in a girls’ school in Folkestone, where she was conﬁrmed in the Church of England. She had little other formal religious training, but her spiritual curiosity was naturally lively, and she read widely, developing quite early a deep appreciation for mysticism. At sixteen, she began a life-long devotion to writing.
Evelyn had few childhood friends, but one of them, Hubert Stuart Moore, she eventually married. Other friends, made later, included such famous persons as Laurence Housman, Maurice Hewlett, and Sarah Bernhardt. Closest of all were Ethel Ross Barker, a devout Roman Catholic, and Baron Friedrich von Hügel, with whom she formed a strong spiritual bond. He became her director in matters mystical.
In the 1890’s, Evelyn began annual visits to the Continent, and especially to Italy. There she became inﬂuenced by the paintings of the Italian masters and by the Roman Catholic Church. She spent nearly ﬁfteen years wrestling painfully with the idea of converting to Roman Catholicism, but decided in the end that it was not for her.
In 1921, Evelyn Underhill became reconciled to her Anglican roots,
while remaining what she called a “Catholic Christian.”
She continued with her life of reading, writing, meditation, and prayer.
She had already published her ﬁrst great spiritual work, Mysticism. This was followed by many other books, culminating in her most widely read and studied book, Worship (1937).
She was much-sought after as a Spiritual Director, and was probably the first woman in the Church of England to be invited to lead retreats, which she did regularly at her favourite Retreat House, Pleshey,
in Essex. ( see pictures to the right
Evelyn Underhill’s most valuable contribution to spiritual literature must surely be her conviction that the mystical life is not only open to a saintly few, but to anyone who cares to nurture it and weave it into everyday experience, and also (at the time, a startling idea) that modern psychological theories and discoveries, far from hindering or negating spirituality, can actually enhance and transform it.
A real man or woman of prayer, then, should be a live wire,
a link between God's grace and the world that needs it.
In so far as you have given your lives to God,
you have offered yourselves, without conditions,
as transmitters of his saving and enabling love:
and the will and love, the emotional drive,
which you thus consecrate to God's purposes,
can do actual work on supernatural levels
for those for whom you are called upon to pray.
One human spirit can, by its prayer and love,
touch and change another human spirit;
it can take a soul and lift it into the atmosphere of God.
This happens, and the fact that it happens
is one of the most wonderful things in the Christian life."
"The real Christian is always a revolutionary. To say day by day “Thy Kingdom Come” – if these tremendous words really stand for a conviction and desire – does not mean “I quite hope that some day the Kingdom of God will be established, and peace and goodwill prevail. But at present I don’t see how it is to be managed
or what I can do about it.”
On the contrary, it means, or should mean, “Here am I! Send me!” – active, costly collaboration with the Spirit in whom we believe."
“Penetrate these murky corners where we hide our memories and tendencies
on which we do not care to look,
but which will not yield freely up to you, that you may purify and transmute them.
The persistent buried grudge,
the half-acknowledged enmity,
the private comfort we cling to,
the secret fear of failure,
which saps our initiative and is really inverted pride, the pessimism which is an insult to your joy.
Lord we bring these to you,
and review them
in your steadfast light.”
In her book "Worship", written in 1936, Evelyn Underhill says:
“. . . the whole visible action of Jesus at the Last Supper,
must be thought of as conditioned first
by the Jewish religious background within which His earthly life was lived,
and secondly by His own deep consciousness of His unique destiny.
The Eucharist is focussed upon an altar where there is perpetually set forth the redemptive offering of pure love; and in that eternal offering, all other movements of love and sacrifice are sanctified before God.”
I invite You to enter,
whatever the disguise You come in,
even before I fully recognize my guest.
Enter my Small Life!
Lay Your sacred hands on all the common things
and small interests of that life and bless and change them.
Transfigure my small resources,
make them sacred.
And in them give me Your very Self.
O God, Origin, Sustainer, and End of all your creatures:
Grant that your Church, taught by your servant Evelyn Underhill,
guarded evermore by your power,
and guided by your Spirit into the light of truth,
may continually offer to you all glory and thanksgiving,
and attain with your saints to the blessed hope of everlasting life,
which you have promised us by our Saviour Jesus Christ;
who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.