FURTHER THOUGHTS FROM EVELYN UNDERHILL
Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) was an English Anglo-Catholic writer who published 39 books and more than 350 articles and reviews on religion and spiritual practice. In her early years, she wrote on mysticism; in her latter years on the spiritual life as lived by ordinary people.
In the English-speaking world, she was one of the most widely read writers on such matters in the first half of the 20th century.
“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 actually do work on supernatural levels for those for whom you are called upon to pray.”
“A healthy body must have food, fresh air, and exercise to thrive. So it is in the spiritual life: one must have food, that is, a steady diet of Scripture reading and spiritual classics; fresh air, that is, to live with an attitude of praise and gratitude; and, finally, exercise—which requires a disciplined routine, and not simply reading, praising, and praying when one feels like it. Quoting St. Francis de Sales, “We seldom do well what we only do seldom.””
“Prayer,” says Walter Hilton, “is nothing else but an ascending or getting up of the desire of the heart into God by withdrawing it from earthly thoughts.” It is “ascent,” says Ruysbroeck, of the Ladder of Love. In the same spirit William Law defines prayer as “the rising of the soul out of the vanity of time into the riches of eternity.”
“Sometimes we are mentally dull, sometimes we are emotionally flat. On such occasions it is notoriously useless to try to beat ourselves up to a froth: to make ourselves think more deeply or make ourselves care more intensely.If the worth of our prayer life depended upon the maintenance of a constant high level of feeling or understanding, we would be in a dangerous place. Though these often seem to fail us, the reigning will remains. Even when our heart is cold and our mind is dim, prayer is still possible to us. “Our wills are ours, to make them Thine.”
The determined fixing of our will upon God, and pressing toward him steadily and without deflection; this is the very centre and the art of prayer. The most theological of thoughts soon becomes inadequate; the most spiritual of emotions is only a fair-weather breeze. Let the ship take advantage of it by all means, but not rely on it. She must be prepared to beat to windward if she would reach her goal.
“Do not entertain the notion that you ought to advance in your prayer. If you do, you will only find you have put on the brake instead of the accelerator. All real progress in spiritual things comes gently, imperceptibly, and is the work of God. Our crude efforts spoil it. Know yourself for the childish, limited and dependent soul you are. Remember that the only growth that matters happens without our knowledge and that trying to stretch ourselves is both dangerous and silly.”