Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) was a scholar, a mystic and a well-known Anglican spiritual guide. A little out of fashion at the present time, she deserves to be rediscovered by this generation!

Learning to Pray

When I was a child, we used to be taught to swim by lying across a chair on our stomachs and exercising our arms and legs in a corresponding way. It used a great deal of energy, but we ended just where we began and quite dry. When at last we were put into the sea and found it wet, salty, deep, and with no supporting chair beneath us, that correct series of movements were at first replaced by desperate struggles. But presently we found ourselves using the movements, or something like them, after all. But it was in a much less exact and deliberate way. We were swimming - badly perhaps, but really swimming!

Now many people try to learn prayer lying over a chair on dry land. They go through a correct routine, learning from a book, but end up quite dry and just where they began. But real prayer isn't just an exercise. It is an entrance into our inheritance which St. Catherine called the Great Pacific Ocean of God. So, to continue our image, the main point is to get into some new water. What one does in it - diving, quietly floating, swimming, going on long excursions, helping others who are learning, or, while we are small, just contentedly paddling - is of secondary importance. All the accumulated knowledge about swimming is of great interest, but, until we are actually in the water, we have no right idea what it means.

Real prayer begins with the plunge into the water. Our movements may then be quite incorrect, but they will be real. If we would look on prayer like that, as above all, an act in which we enter and give ourselves, our souls, to our true Patria, our ever-waiting inheritance, God "in whom we live and move and have our being," most of the muddles and problems connected with it would disappear. As 1 John 4 has already told us, "You are of God, little children." This is where we really belong, and if we will only plunge in, we shall find ourselves mysteriously at home.

And this strange home-like feeling kills the dread which might overcome us if we thought of the terrific and unknown depths beneath and the infinite extent of the power and mystery of he ocean into which we have plunged. As it is, a curious blend of confidence and entire abandonment keeps us, because of our very littleness, in peace and joy. So we continue with our limited powers in the limitless love in which we are held. What matters is the ocean, not the particular little movements which we make.

(From: Ways of the Spirit p.236)


The Little Things

I come in the little things,
Saith the Lord:
Not borne on morning wings
Of majesty, but I have set My Feet
Amidst the delicate and bladed wheat
That springs triumphant in the furrowed sod.
There do I dwell, in weakness and in power;
Not broken or divided, saith our God!
In your strait garden plot I come to flower:
About your porch My Vine
Meek, fruitful, doth entwine;
Waits, at the threshold, Love's appointed hour.

I come in the little things,
Saith the Lord:
Yea! on the glancing wings
Of eager birds, the softly pattering feet
Of furred and gentle beasts, I come to meet
Your hard and wayward heart. In brown bright eyes
That peep from out the brake, I stand confest.
On every nest
Where feathery patience is content to brood
And leaves her pleasure for the high emprise
Of motherhood-
There doth My Godhead rest.

I come in the little things,
Saith the Lord:
My starry wings
I do forsake,
Love's highway of humility to take:
Meekly I fit My Stature to your need.
In beggar's part
About your gates I shall not cease to plead-
As man, to speak with man-
Till by such art
I shall achieve My Immemorial Plan,
Pass the low lintel of the human heart.

From: Masterpieces of Religious Verse, James Dalton Morrison, ed.,
New York: Harper & Bros., 1948, p. 30-31


When we Meet for Worship

Many a congregation when it assembles in church must look to the angels like a muddy, puddly shore at low tide; littered with every kind of rubbish and odds and ends - a distressing sort of spectacle. And then the tide of worship comes in, and it's all gone: the dead sea-urchins and jelly-fish, the paper and the empty cans and the nameless bits of rubbish. The cleansing sea flows over the whole lot. So we are released from a narrow, selfish outlook on the universe by a common act of worship. Our little human affairs are reduced to their proper proportion when seen over against the spaceless Majesty and Beauty of God.

From: Collected Papers of Evelyn Underhill, 1946, p. 89


The Offertory at Mass

The offertory is the first essential action of the Liturgy, because in it we make the costly and solemn oblation, under tokens, of our very selves and all our substance; that they may be transformed, quickened, and devoted to the interests of God.

From: The Mystery of Sacrifice, 1938, p. 29



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.

From: Worship, 1951, p. 9



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 soundproof partitions in it. Only when the conviction - not merely the idea - that the demand of the Spirit, however inconvenient, rules the whole of it, will those objectionable noises die down which have a way of penetrating into the nicely furnished little oratory and drowning all the quieter voices by their din.

The Spiritual Life, 1937, p.33-34


Love . . .

Love... makes the whole difference between an execution and a martyrdom.

The School of Charity, 1934, p. 55


Love Alone is Real

When we look out towards this love that moves the stars and stirs in the child's heart and claims our total allegiance and remember that this alone is Reality and we are only real so far as we conform to its demands, we see our human situation from a fresh angle; and we perceive that it is both more humble and dependent, and more splendid, than we had dreamed. We are surrounded and penetrated by great spiritual forces, of which we hardly know anything. Yet the outward events of our life cannot be understood, except in their relation to that unseen and intensely living world, the Infinite Charity which penetrates and supports us, the God whom we resist and yet for whom we thirst; who is ever at work, transforming the self-centred desire of the natural creature into the wide-spreading, outpouring love of the citizen of Heaven.

The School of Charity, 1934, p. 11


The Great Drive Towards Reality

This, of course, is what religion is about: this adherence to God, this confident dependence on that which is unchanging. This is the more abundant life which, in its own particular language and own particular way, it calls us to live. Because it is our part in the one life in the whole universe of spirits, our share in the great drive towards Reality, the tendency of all life to seek God Who made it for Himself and now incites and guides it, we are already adapted to it. Just as a fish is adapted to life in the sea. This view of our situation fills us with a certain awed and humble gladness. It delivers us from all niggling fuss about ourselves, prevents us from feeling self-important about our own little spiritual adventures; and yet makes them worth while as part of one great spiritual adventure.

The Spiritual Life, 1937, p. 22-23


Team Games are Compulsory

Books," said St. Augustine after his conversion, "could not teach me charity." We still keep on thinking they can. We do not realize ... the utter distinctness of God and the things of God. Psychology of religion can not teach us prayer, and ethics cannot teach us love. Only Christ can do that, and He teaches by the direct method, in and among the circumstances of life. He does not mind about our being comfortable. He wants us to be strong, able to tackle life and be Christians, be apostles in life, so we must be trained by the ups and downs, the rough and tumble of life. Team games are compulsory in the school of Divine Love; there is no getting into a corner with a nice, spiritual book.

The Light of Christ, 1949, p. 53



There is no need for peculiar conditions in order to grow in the spiritual life, for the pressure of God's Spirit is present everywhere and at all times. Our environment itself - our home and our job - is the medium through which we experience His moulding action and His besetting love. It is not Christian to try to get out of our frame, or to separate our outward life from our life of prayer, since both are the creation of one Charity. The third-rate little town in the hills, with its limited social contacts and monotonous manual work, reproves us when we begin to fuss about our opportunities and our score. And this quality of quietness, ordinariness, simplicity, with which the saving action of God enters history, endures from the beginning to the end.

The School of Charity, 1934, p. 46


How it Really Was

Christian history looks glorious in retrospect; but it is made up of constant hard choices and unattractive tasks, accepted under the pressure of the Will [of God].

From: Abba, 1940, p. 44-45


What it's All About

Christianity is not an argument, and Christianity is not given us in the form of logic but in the form of beauty and love.

From: The Light of Christ, 1949, p. 30


Catching the Love of God

By the quality of our inner lives I do not mean something characterized by ferocious intensity and strain. I mean rather such a humble and genial devotedness as we find in the most loving of the saints. I mean the quality which makes contagious Christians, makes people catch the love of God from you.

From: Concerning the Inner Life, 1927, p. 12