Evelyn Underhill's religious coaching from Robyn Wrigley-Carr
This book is about a relationship between one spiritual leader and another: the Roman Catholic Baron von Hügel and the English Anglican Evelyn Underhill.
Before I got the foreword behind me, I was thrilled by the author's remark that the baron made no distinction between theology and spirituality. I soon found more that addressed: its emphasis on intellectual freedom; the importance of “devastation” for spiritual education; don't write books until you have something to say; or maybe, like Socrates, not writing anything at all. Von Hügel had so much in common with the great philosopher: both believed in the paramount importance of dialogue. Speaking between like-minded friends is the way to truth. There is so much about the Baron in this excellent book that I forgot that I expected to read mainly Evelyn Underhill myself.
Much of what I read was in line with my own experience. He insisted that she needed the institution of the church and the routine of the sacrament to stabilize it and take it away from obsession and scrupulosity, these enemies of spiritual life. It is often the privilege of a priest to encourage a fellow Christian to move from the heights of spiritual passion to a calm, steadfast belief. I found that in their relationship with him. I then found it in the experience of those whom she called her family, who ran or led them on retreat. (I also recognized it in my own life.)Vandyck, LondonEvelyn Underhill, late fifties, 1933
With von Hilel's help, she accepted the beauty and sacrifice of a mystical prayer life. She had to keep the ordinary obligations to people God had on her way under tension while maintaining a one-to-one relationship with God. Under the guidance of the baron, Underhill recognized the outstanding beauty of the Holy Trinity and taught others how to find it. She let go of her original solipsistic religiosity and instead gave herself to a belief that honored the body and the past. It led her to Jesus as her personal Savior, and this helped her lead others from her simple relationship with Christ to the fuller life of the Triune God.
It was a powerful gift that von Hügel helped shape in the Church of England. Underhill commanded respect and even awe at a time when women had no authority in the Church of England. She led spiritual exercises and spoke with a spirit-filled authority, and she was heard as such. In this regard, she was a remarkable pioneer.
We still turn to Evelyn Underhill for expert guidance on prayer, especially mystical prayer. I finished reading this book on June 15, the day it is commemorated among the Church of England saints. She learned to pray under the guidance of Baron von Hügel. Then she passed this way of life on to other Christians. Some of them passed it on to us. I wondered what we are doing now to pass on the art of prayer to our followers in faith.
The Reverend Dr. Cally Hammond is the dean of Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge.
Evelyn Underhill's spiritual training
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