I’ve just finished reading The Letters of Evelyn Underhill (which were published in 1943 and edited by Charles Williams). It’s such a wonderful book; I think anyone who is a spiritual director (or who sees a spiritual director), spiritual companion, or soul friend, would find much to treasure in this collection. Although the collection includes its share of love letters to her husband, “wish you were here” descriptions of her many holidays in Europe, and fan mail to authors she admired (such as C. S. Lewis), the bulk of the collection consists of letters of spiritual direction. As a product of her time (basically the first four decades of the twentieth century), these letters lack some of the psychological finesse that might characterize spiritual direction of a later age, up to our own — for example, she is not afraid to scold and tease her directees. But if we can overlook the limitations of her era, we are rewarded with keen insight and a clear commitment to giving personalized feedback to her many correspondents. Underhill clearly understood that spiritual direction is a personal ministry, with each “client” needing unique instruction, encouragement, and feedback. But what emerges as a consistent message in her letters is a clear recognition that the spiritual life is not a hobby or an “interest,” but rather is truly an encounter with the living God, meaning that transformation and letting go of the self-centered ego are central to the journey.
I could go on and on about the pleasures of reading this book as a study in spiritual direction, but that is actually not the reason I wanted to make this particular post. In a letter written in the spring of 1924, Underhill offers her correspondent a set of prayers she could use with rosary beads. I think it is a lovely set of prayers, and so I’d like to share it with you here. I’m adapting it slightly, as Underhill used archaic language (“thee” and “thou”) and I’m rendering it in contemporary English. She basically offers just four prayers: two options to recite on the cross, another for the small beads, and another for the large beads, as follows:
On the cross: the Anima Christi or Jesu Dulcis Memoria:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds, hide me.
Separated from You let me never be.
From the malignant enemy, defend me.
At the hour of death, call me.
To come to You, bid me.
That I may praise You in the company
of your saints, for all eternity. Amen.
Jesus, the very thought of You
With sweetness fills the breast!
Yet sweeter far Your face to see
And in Your Presence rest.
No voice can sing, no heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find,
A sweeter sound than Jesus’ Name,
The Saviour of humankind.
O hope of every contrite heart!
O joy of all the meek!
To those who fall, how kind You are!
How good to those who seek!
But what to those who find? Ah! this
Nor tongue nor pen can show
The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but His loved ones know.
Jesus! our only hope is You,
As You our prize shall be;
In You be all our glory now,
And through eternity. Amen.
For the small beads:
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in You.
and for the large beads, either the Our Father or:
If it is Your will that I be in Light, may you be blessed;
If You will that I be in darkness, may you still be blessed.
Light and darkness, life and death, bless the Lord.
This unique way of praying the Rosary makes sense, given that much of Underhill’s direction seems to have been devoted to weaning her directees off of “experience” as their focus in prayer. It’s a commonplace saying that mysticism is the experiential dimension of religion; but Underhill, like any seasoned spiritual guide, recognizes that it is risky to allow our experience (or lack thereof) to be the criterion by which we discern our progress in the spiritual life. So, whether we bask in the “Light” of profound spiritual experience, or stumble through the “darkness” of spiritual aridity and a sense of Divine absence, our prayer is to be the same: Bless the Holy One!
Hope you find this set of prayers helpful. And if you want to see the source (and find many other treasures besides) then check out The Letters of Evelyn Underhill.
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