C. S. Lewis, Brendan the Navigator, and Evelyn Underhill

In March I was one of several presenters at a symposium on C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman sponsored by Brenau University and Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville, GA. The theme of the symposium was "Love Letters to Jack, Love Letters to God." Here is the transcript of my talk, in which I weave together my love for C. S. Lewis — especially the Narnia stories — with two influences on him: Evelyn Underhill and St. Brendan the Navigator.Did "The Problem of Pets" Inspire Aslan?Our theme this we … [Read more...]

Is it possible to be a “Do It Yourself” Christian Mystic? Evelyn Underhill would say “No” — and I agree with her

Nearly all Christian mystics maintain that an essential characteristic of Christian mysticism is participation in the Body of Christ, which is to say, in the Christian community of faith. In other words, to be a Christian mystic, it is as important to be a follower of Christ as it is to be a mystic. And to be a follower of Christ means to express spirituality in a communal way.The above statements annoy a lot of people. Sorry about that, but that's how it rolls.Recently a reader of th … [Read more...]

Why Evelyn Underhill Remains Required Reading After Over 100 Years

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZXAH-wchdE A Book for All Time: Why Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism Still Matters For pretty much my entire adult life, if anyone would ask me who my favorite authors are, without hesitation I would say Evelyn Underhill and Thomas Merton. To me, the work of Evelyn Underhill represents the call for the revival of mysticism in our time, while Merton anchored the call to mysticism in the urgent political and social concerns that shape life in America over the last f … [Read more...]

Remembering (and Praying with) Evelyn Underhill

Today (June 15, 2016) marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the death of Evelyn Underhill, the Anglo-Catholic writer who probably did more than anyone else in the first half of the twentieth century to promote Christian mysticism as a spiritual path for everyone, not just priests or saints, monks or nuns. In this way she anticipated the Second Vatican Council and its affirmation of a "universal call to holiness." Underhill is best remembered for her landmark book Mysticism: A Study in the … [Read more...]

Relational Contemplation

The Christian faith stands on the recognition that God is Love. Therefore, love is the heart of all spirituality, including contemplative prayer. We are called not just to be contemplatives — we are called to be relational contemplatives.Writing in the third century, the Neoplatonist philosopher Plotinus had this to say about mysticism:This is the life of gods and of the godlike and blessed among men, liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of … [Read more...]

“Just a touch of wildness” — or, How Evelyn Underhill schooled C. S. Lewis on the ways of God

One of my favorite contemplative authors from the early twentieth century — Evelyn Underhill — corresponded with another favorite author, C. S. Lewis.Underhill (1875-1941) was the leading English author on Christian mysticism in her day. Lewis (1898-1963) became renowned especially for his imaginative spiritual fiction.Several of her letters to him are preserved in The Letters of Evelyn Underhill, published shortly after her death in 1941. We learn from the letters that Lewis sent her … [Read more...]

Five Marks of Authentic Mysticism (Underhill)

In her introduction to Orbis Books' Essential Writings of Evelyn Underhill, Emilie Griffin notes that Underhill delineates five marks or characteristics of authentic Christian mysticism. These are well worth considering:Christian mysticism is active and practical. Even a Carthusian hermit takes responsibility for living his contemplative life with honor, dignity, and personal integrity. Meanwhile, for the vast majority of Christian contemplatives, the life of silence is embedded in a … [Read more...]