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Evelyn Underhill:
Pioneer for 20th Century Spirituality

Without the breakthrough work of the Englishwoman, Evelyn Underhill (d.1941), the 20th century might never have come to such a great interest in spirituality as we have today. Nor would many have understood "sane & balanced"* mysticism. For her, the terms, "spirituality" and "mysticism" would have been almost synonymous.

At the turn of the 20th century, people generally did not use the term, "spirituality." But Underhill wrote significantly about the Holy Spirit, especially in "The Spiritual Life," "The School of Charity," and "The Life of the Spirit and the Life of Today." From Underhill's point of view, the Church had forgotten the Holy Spirit. She said to a friend: "The Spirit is simply God's presence living in us."

All that she wrote in her 39 books and 350 articles was grounded in her understanding of mysticism. Her "classic," published in 1911, was: MYSTICISM: The Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness. There she introduced a newly expanded schema of the mystical journey: five aspects of consciousness. They are: awakening, purgation, illumination, "the dark night of the soul," and union. She did not consider herself a mystic, but the Anglican church later put her on its calendar of saints, and spoke of her as such.

Underhill has been beloved by so many because she was plain, funny, and understandable. She was not other-worldly, but grounded in a mysticism which she felt anyone could embrace. She was the scholar who introduced to non-scholars scores of old and forgotten books which have become classics in spirituality. Balance was important. attachment and detachment belonged in the same life. Thus she emphasized the co-incidence of opposites in which opposites were not contrary, but complementary and fulfilling. "Knowing God" (having a personal relationship with God in prayer and life) naturally resulted in outreach and service. During World War II she wrote and spoke for pacifism which, in Great Britain, was generally scorned. Underhill was a little, non-descript. but mentally formidable woman who passionately cared that everyone would experience the love and call of God.

*It was Arthur Michael Ramsey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, who wrote this to Brame in discussing his admiration for Evelyn Underhill.

 

Writings About Evelyn Underhill
by Grace Adolphsen Brame

Book
The Ways of the Spirit - Underhill/Brame - Four of Underhill's Five missing retreats discovered by Brame in King's College Archives, London, with 40 page introduction by Brame. (Brame believes that the fifth retreat may have become the basis of Underhill's book, Concerning The Inner Life, published in 1924.)

Articles
On Evelyn Underhill (2 contain her work).

  1. Continuing Incarnation: Evelyn Underhill's Double Thread of Spirituality
    Includes publication of Brame's newly discovered Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury written by Underhill about the spiritual life of clergy and its reflection in celebrating the liturgy.
    The Christian Century, 1990


  2. Evelyn Underhill: The Integrity of Personal Intellect and Individual Religious Experience As Related to Ecclesiastical Authority
    Reflects Underhill's agonizing decision not to join the Catholic Church because of her own Modernist approach, considered anathema to Pope Pius X who rote three condemnatory pub- lications in 1907.
    Worship, Vol. 68, No.1,1994


  3. The Extraordinary Within the Ordinary: The Life and Message of Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941)
    A chapter in Feminist Voices in Spirituality, ed. Pierre Hegy, Edwin Mellon Press, 1996


  4. Evelyn Underhill and Vatican II: A Comparison Between the Catholic Church of Her Time and Ours
    The Evelyn Underhill Newsletter, 1993.


  5. Evelyn Underhill: The Mastery o f Time
    Spirituality Today, Vol. 42, No. 4, 1990 (contains Brame's newly discovered work of this same title)

Ph.D. Dissertation
Divine Grace and Human Will In the Writing of Evelyn Underhill — 1988
Available through University Micro Films International - 1-800-521-0600 (Bell & Howell Information Service) University of Michigan

 

The Life and Work of Evelyn Underhill
Community of Integrative Learning

Led by Dr. Grace Brame

Presentations on Evelyn Underhill by Grace Brame
"We master time when we are serene, when we choose our absolute priority, and when we live in the present." — E. Underhill

Englishwoman Evelyn Underhill was both a mystic and scholar of mysticism and undoubtedly the awakening force in 20th century interest in spirituality. Many people including Ken Wilber consider her book titled Mysticism: A Study In The Nature And Development Of Spiritual Consciousness as the most complete and authoritative work on the subject. Ira Progoff said, in his introduction to Mysticism, that this work had never been superseded. She was a prolific writer (39 books and hundreds of articles), and today, 65 years after her death, a wide revival of her work is underway. Underhill not only wrote, but she taught and led numerous retreats focused on personal growth. Anyone interested in the spiritual growth path will benefit from discovering or learning more about her. For more information on Evelyn Underhill check out these web sites: www.evelynunderhill.org or www.mrrena.com/underhill.shtml

About Dr. Grace Brame
Perhaps no living person is better qualified to tell us of E. Underhill than Dr. Grace Brame. Dr. Brame, a scholar and mystic seeker herself, is author, teacher, professional singer, retreat leader, theologian, and minister. Her doctoral thesis was Divine Grace and Human Will in the Writings of Evelyn Underhill. With the privilege of access to the Underhill Archives of King's College, London, she researched not only published material, but was the discoverer of four of five missing retreats Underhill. These were published as Ways of the Spirit with an excellent introductory chapter by Dr. Brame. Dr. Brame is a clear leader in the Underhill revival, and has been asked to write an additional book. Don't miss this opportunity to connect with two wise souls.

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"You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you that you should go and bring forth fruit, fruit that will remain."
John 15:16.
 
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