Quote for the Day

For prayer is a supernatural activity or nothing at all; and it must primarily be directed to supernatural ends. It too acknowledges the soul’s basic law: it comes from God, belongs to God, is destined for God. It must begin, end, and be enclosed in the atmosphere of adoration; aiming at God for and in Himself. Our ultimate effect as transmitters of the supernal light and love directly depends on this adoring attentiveness.

— Evelyn Underhill, Concerning the Inner Life

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Bob Patrick

    I wish Underhill were still around. This quotation raises so many questions. Is prayer, and for that matter, the Divine, always over and against the natural? Can prayer never be directed toward a natural end, or be without an end in mind? Must the soul be conceived of as separate from the divine (as the preposition “from” implies)? Is the soul “owned”? Are we just transmitters of some separate light?

    I have to assume that she would have answers more complex than yes and no. That they imply “yes” or “no” leaves me fairly cold toward this quotation. If this is taken literally, why bother with any sort of a life if our “true” meaning is always over and against and separated from our natural existence?

    Not trying to be contrary here. I am taking aim at her specific words, but that’s what we have to work with. I want to keep finding wisdom in the Christian tradition. Excerpts like these don’t help me much.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Underhill, especially in her earlier writings (this quote comes from 1926, making it more her middle period) is a Platonist, and like so many Platonists can easily be misread as a dualist, and I think this quote certainly can be seen that way. In dealing with folks like her, I’ve found Wilber’s thought to be helpful. A dualist worldview where nature is denigrated in favor of some “higher” spiritual reality is problematic, but so is “flatland,” the idea that the natural is really all we have. I think Underhill, like Wilber (and, I hope, myself), holds to a rich cosmology which honors both the natural and the “supernatural” while recognizing an essential continuity between the two. With this in mind, “against” is not a helpful descriptor in describing the relationship between spirit and nature.

  • Al Jordan

    The mind is forever categorizing and labeling and playing hopscotch within the phenomenal world of dualities. I don’t really know how to define prayer nor do I feel a need to. For me, prayer has become more a state of being and abiding rather than a mental or directed activity. Conscious and mindful breathing is a form of prayer for me. Loving my grandchildren is an expression of prayer. While I no longer define prayer in terms either of petition or adoration, I will petition like crazy when the situation calls for it and lose myself in devotion when drawn into gazing upon the sacred. But I agree with Bob in that the natural order is not something less than the spiritual. I’m sorta with de Chardin in this regard with his notion of the “Divine Milieu.” The created comes out of the uncreated, the known out of unknowable. It is all sacred; it is all part of the One. Prayer, in one sense, I guess, is to live with this knowledge. And I think Underhill fully understood this.

  • http://seeingmoreclearly.blogspot.com Don

    I warm to your words, Carl, “I think Underhill, like Wilber (and, I hope, myself), holds to a rich cosmology which honors both the natural and the “supernatural” while recognizing an essential continuity between the two. ” This is where I try to live and move. For me the image of the growing seed, which is so prominent in the words of Jesus, is a wonderful one. The essence of the natural and supernatural is held together in the oneness of a growing seed.

    I have a deep respect for Evelyn Underhill and far be it for me to be critical of her; But I have to confess that terms like natural and supernatural just don’t cut it for me, precisely because they have become loaded with the meanings you describe – “higher” and “flatland.” There must be a better way of describing the oneness between the two.

  • anthony

    In her early years Underhill was more of a “platonist”, but after taking Von Hugel for her spiritual director she entered a new path. It is not a mistake or accident that her first great work was MYSTICISM and her last great work was WORSHIP. her whole spiritual journey is reflected in those two titles.