Quotes by Evelyn Underhill

Evelyn Underhill (6 December 1875 – 15 June 1941) was an English Anglo-Catholic writer and pacifist known for her numerous works on religion and spiritual practice, in particular Christian mysticism. (Wikipedia)

Caught, Not Taught

The real business of the Church is not just what is sometimes called ‘surplice work.’ Its business is to bind us together—the learned and simple, the strong and the weak—in a great social act of love and worship; to provide a home for the nurturing of the spiritual life. For we cannot get on alone, in religion or anything else. Our spiritual life must be a social life too. We can each only manage a bit of it—it is far too big and various in its richness for any one soul…. Wonder and love are caught, not taught; and to catch them we must be in an atmosphere where we are sure to find the germs. A living Church ought to be full of the germs of wonder and love.

Cleansing Our Perception

If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is—Infinite. But the doors of perception are hung with the cobwebs of thought: prejudice, cowardice, sloth. Eternity is with us, inviting our contemplation perpetually, but we are too frightened, lazy and suspicious to respond: too arrogant to still our thought, and let divine sensation have its way. It needs industry and good will if we would make that transition: for the process involves a veritable spring-cleaning of the soul, a turning-out and rearrangement of our mental furniture, a wide opening of closed windows, that the notes of the wild birds beyond our garden may come to us fully charged with wonder and freshness, and drown with their music the noise within.

The Momentous Step

The moment in which we become aware of the creative action of God and are therefore able to respond or resist, is the moment in which our conscious spiritual life begins. In all the talk of human progress, it is strange how very seldom we hear anything about this, the most momentous step forward that a human being can make, for it is the step that takes us beyond self-interest, beyond succession, sets up a direct intercourse with the soul’s Home…. Large parts of the New Testament are concerned with the making of that step. But the experimental knowledge of it is not on the one hand possessed by all Christians, nor on the other hand is it confined to Christianity.

Spiritual and Practical

Most of our conflicts and difficulties come from trying to deal with the spiritual and practical aspects of our life separately instead of realizing them as parts of one whole. If our practical life is centered on our own interests, cluttered up by possessions, distracted by ambitions, passions, wants and worries, beset by a sense of our own rights and importance, or anxieties for our own future, or longings for our own success, we need not expect that our spiritual life will be a contrast to all this. The soul’s house is not built on such a convenient plan; there are few sound-proof partitions in it.

Personal and Social

Still less does the spiritual life mean a mere cultivation of one’s own soul; poking about our interior premises with an electric torch. Even though in its earlier stages it may, and generally does, involve dealing with ourselves, and that in a drastic way, and therefore requires personal effort and personal choice, it is also intensely social; for it is a life that is shared with all other spirits.