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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Evelyn Underhill on Discipleship

Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) was an English Anglo-Catholic apologist best known for her works on Christian mysticism, prayer, and theology. She was the first woman invited to give a series of theological lectures at Oxford and the first to become a retreat leader in the Anglican Church.

Underhill lived with her husband at 50 Campden Hill Square in London from 1907 to 1939. Her life was greatly affected by her husband's long-standing resistance to her joining the Catholic Church to which she was powerfully drawn. He also was a writer supported her writing career, but did not share her spiritual convictions.

Underhill was a prolific writer who published 39 books and more than 350 articles and reviews.  Here are some of her thoughts on growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ:

"God is acting on your soul all the time, whether you have spiritual sensations or not."

"Those who complain that they make no progress in the life of prayer because they "cannot meditate" should examine, not their capacity for meditation, but their capacity for suffering and love. For there is a hard and costly element, a deep seriousness, a crucial choice, in all genuine religion."

"God is as much in the difficult home problems as in times of quiet and prayer."

"Every minute you are thinking of evil, you might have been thinking of good instead. Refuse to pander to a morbid interest in your own misdeeds. Pick yourself up, be sorry, shake yourself, and go on again."

"As the genuine religious impulse becomes dominant, adoration more and more takes charge. 'I come to seek God because I need Him', may be an adequate formula for prayer. 'I come to adore His splendour, and fling myself and all that I have at His feet', is the only possible formula for worship."

Evelyn Underhill with Orthodox priests circa 1930, King's College London 

Evelyn Underhill was an ardent opponent of Spiritualism which, during her adult life, had captivated many in the English churches. She explained that spirituality for the Christian "concerns our search for the living mystery of God. Spiritualism, on the other hand, is based on a belief in the possibility of the living contacting and communicating with the spirits of the dead."

Archbishop William Cosmo Gordon Lang established a committee in 1937 “to discuss the relationship, if any, between spiritualism and the traditional teachings of the Anglican Church.” One of the committee members was Evelyn Underhill, who later withdrew, stating that she was “very strongly opposed to spiritualism... especially to any tendency on the part of the Church to recognize or encourage it.”

The continuing spiritual decline of the Church of England is doubtless due to its failure to speak against all forms of occultism. In the end, the committee recommended ecumenism between the Church of England and the spiritualist movement: “It is in our opinion important that representatives of the Church should keep in touch with groups of intelligent persons who believe in Spiritualism.” This essentially constituted opening the door to the demonic and until the Church of England repents, it cannot be restored to wholeness.

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