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PRAYER

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.”

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