This volume in the Orbis Modern Spiritual Masters Series focuses on Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), an Anglican writer and spiritual director who wrote a number of pioneering works on mysticism. According to Emilie Griffin (Wilderness Time), the editor of this book, "she is a model of how Christian life can be lived 'in the middle of things.' Decidedly a woman of our times, she opened new avenues for women's Christian leadership within very tradition-bound churches. She not only wrote about the spiritual life; she lived it. Her life gives clear evidence of the transforming effects of prayer and spiritual discipline. She is a striking modern advocate of mysticism in everyday life."
Underhill was the first woman to be invited to give a series of theological lectures at Oxford University. Her breakthrough work was titled Mysticism, and it helped bring much more attention to this important facet of religion. Under the guidance of her spiritual director, Baron von Hugel, Underhill returned to active membership in the Church of England. Later, she led retreats and did spiritual direction herself. Over her lifetime, Underhill wrote 30 books and more than 400 articles.
This fine anthology of her writings contains seven thematic chapters on the spiritual life, the house of the soul, aspects of mysticism, the soul's journey, worship, practical advice, and glory. Underhill liked to point out that mysticism was active and practical, spiritual and transcendent, centered on love, leading to union with God, and resulting in unselfish behavior. One of our favorite passages in her writings deals with her understanding of our cooperation with God:
"The riches and beauty of the spiritual landscape are not disclosed to us in order that we may sit in the sun parlor, be grateful for the excellent hospitality, and contemplate the glorious view. Some people suppose that the spiritual life mainly consists in doing that. God provides the spectacle. We gaze with reverent appreciation from our comfortable seats, and call this proceeding Worship.
"No idea of our situation could be more mistaken than this. Our place is not the auditorium but the stage or, as the case may be, the field, the workshop, study, laboratory because we ourselves form part of the creative apparatus of God."