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 Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness (1911), although numerous other works followed, including Practical Mysticism (1914), Mystics of the Church (1925), The Golden Sequence (1932), and The Spiritual Life (1937). Uncomfortable with Pope Pius X’s condemnation of modernism, Underhill resisted becoming a Catholic despite the obvious catholicity of her spirituality; after her Catholic spiritual director (Baron Friedrich von Hügel) encouraged her to become active in the Church of England, she became renowned as one of the foremost retreat leaders of her day.
One of the retreat centers in England where Underhill regularly spoke was the Chelmsford Diocesan Retreat House at Pleshey, a village northeast of London. The Pleshey Retreat house has kept the memory of Underhill very much alive, and so to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of her passing, Pleshey has pulled together a wonderful curriculum called Praying with Evelyn Underhill. It includes a downloadable PDF and a series of videos in which a variety of Underhill scholars share insights from her writings on living a prayerful life.
If you’re familiar with Evelyn Underhill, this will be a treat. And if you’re not familiar, this is a great introduction to one of the most under-appreciated of twentieth century mystics.
Here is the first of the videos about Pleshey, Underhill, and prayer. It’s a bit staged, but charming. To see the entire series (and download the PDF), click here: Praying with Evelyn Underhill