Evelyn Underhill

Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), was a 20th-century British lay theologian, spiritual writer, and retreat leader widely known for her compelling exploration of the spiritual life. She offers profoundly simple advice on opening ourselves to God.

Evelyn awakened the spiritual hearts of her contemporaries and–without realizing it–pioneered a path for women in ministry. She graduated from King’s College, London, and in her twenties began writing novels about the spiritual quest. After her marriage to Hubert Stuart Moore, Evelyn began writing her best-known work, Mysticism (1911), which continues to be a standard on the mystical life.

“It is those who have a deep and real inner life who are best able to deal with the irritating details of outer life.” ―Evelyn Underhill

After the devastation of World War I and years of struggling to become a Roman Catholic, Evelyn renewed her membership in the Anglican Church. She turned her attention to the spiritual formation of the average Christian by offering retreats for clergy and laity, radio talks, and as a spiritual guide. Many of her talks were later published, including The Spiritual Life (a set of radio talks), The House of the Soul (on the virtues), and Abba (on The Lord’s Prayer). Her own spiritual director, the renowned Catholic scholar, Friedrich von Hugel encouraged Evelyn toward more self-compassion and a Christ-centered balance in her spiritual life.

“The spiritual life of individuals has to be extended both vertically to God
and horizontally to other souls; and the more it grows in both directions, the less merely individual and therefore more truly personal it will become.” ―Evelyn Underhill

Having a strong ecumenical vision, Evelyn created important bridges to believers of the Eastern Orthodox tradition and to spiritual writers beyond the Christian tradition. She authored thirty-nine books and over 350 articles, almost all on spiritual themes. Her last book, Worship (1936), remains an ecumenical gem on the varieties of Christian corporate spirituality.

Stephanie A. Ford, The Upper Room Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation, ed. Keith Beasley-Topliff (Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2003), 280.

 

For more, see Writings of Evelyn Underhill (Upper Room Spiritual Classics). This book includes a cross-section of her letters and her published retreat and radio talks.