Today, June 15, we mark the feast day of Evelyn Underhill, a writer, spiritual director, and retreat leader who helped Anglicans recover the gifts of an intentional spiritual life. She was born in 1875, grew up in London, and in her early adulthood struggled over whether to convert to Roman Catholicism. In 1921 she decided to commit to her Anglican roots, while also being what she called a “Catholic Christian.”
She wrote many great works on spirituality and mysticism, including Mysticism, and Worship. I’d argue, though, that a great place to get to know Evelyn is by reading The Letters of Evelyn Underhill – a collection of her letters that not only introduces her ideas but also provides a good sense of who she was as a person and as a Christian.
Her days had a rhythm marked by devotional practices and writing in the mornings, and spiritual direction and visits to the poor in the afternoon. She advised, “try to arrange things so that you can have a reasonable bit of quiet every day.” She viewed the work that she did as flowing from the quiet time she took for her spiritual life.
She also often quoted Teresa of Avila as saying that “to give our Lord a perfect service, Mary and Martha must combine.” So many of us identify more with the busyness of Martha – so much always needs to be done! – but Evelyn felt that the busyness of Martha and the contemplativeness of Mary were two sides of the same coin, and thus we benefit from finding a balance of both.
Evelyn was ahead of her time in regarding all parts of life as places to experience our spirituality – it can be woven into everything if we nurture that intention. She wrote, “God is always coming to you in the Sacrament of the Present Moment. Meet and receive Him there with gratitude in that sacrament.”
May we each find a reasonable bit of quiet every day, and may that time help us to be open to finding God in all aspects of our lives in the Sacrament of the Present Moment!