Evelyn Underhill -On Prayer, and mysticism

In the next few weeks, I’m concentrating my studies on Evelyn Underhill (1875-1942), one of  the most read, and prolific writers in the first half of the 20th century on the topic of Christian mysticism and prayer. Her devotion to God in prayer, and her insights on growth in the spiritual life put her at the forefront of those disciplines in the Anglican Church.

Here is my first fascinating thought from Evelyn, I’ve come across. Chime in with your comments, or insights. Maybe you can Google her, or look up some of her work, and place a quote that strikes you powerfully.

On mysticism:

The soul’s real progress is not toward some mysterious, abnormal, trance-like condition; but rather towards the unspoilt, trustful, unsophisticated, apprehension of a little child.

-Evelyn Underhill


3 responses to “Evelyn Underhill -On Prayer, and mysticism

  1. Ultimate reality and the mystical state are one and the same. Of course, few ever reach this precious state of mind. Why? Simply because we have ignored the analysis of familiar, obvious and known things, and things we take for granted. Is there a basis for this? Hegel said, “Because it’s familiar, a thing remains unknown.” Whitehead wrote, “Familiar things happen and mankind does not bother about them. It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.” Many other prominent names including Holmes, Shaw, Doyle, Gibran, Koestler, agree. Is it just possible that science looks too deep, philosophy too far and religion too deep for the answer to the so-called mystical state. How then does one attain the mystical experience which is the onset of that mystical state? It is by analyzing things we already know, but we do NOT know them intuitively. We know them only superficially — on the surface. What is it we know that can help us cross over to that precious state of mind. What are the things we know and may very well have taken for granted? Our very own thinking is something we know we do (and it is unavoidable). But do we know this intuitively? Is is just possible we know it only on the surface? We keep wondering and researching consciousness and know we are conscious beings, but higher consciousness has been elusive at best. Yes, we look at the fact that we are conscious from scientific, philosophical and religious perspectives … but we fail to analyze them. We must begin to wonder, for example, when our thoughts are there. “All the time” you may say, and you would be correct. But that knowledge is only known on the surface and must be thought of in this new way so that insight will be triggered. Buddha and the author of Cosmic Consciousness, Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke, each in his own way, agree that one must be in the proper frame of mind for enlightenment or the onset of cosmic consciousness to occur. Yes, mysticism is real and it no longer has to be a mystery, but each individual must attain it independently of everyone else.
    Science, philosophy and religion have encouraged us to look, but unfortunately, in the wrong direction. The key to mysticism has been missing. Now we know what it is, how it occurs and most importantly, WHY it occurs.
    Emmanuel Karavousanos
    Author and Speaker

    • lisacolondelay

      Thank you for your response Emmanuel. I would ask of you, what do you think the “goal” of mysticism to be, if there is one. A Buddhist worldview would not acknowledge a Creator, or union with One, but would reach for negation, obliteration, and the compete letting go of pleasure and pain. Theistic worldviews would hope to unite, in some sort of personal way, to a Being, and be lost but found in this Supreme Being to find wholeness and well-being. In a sense they are tracking to quite opposite goals. One is for the loss of self, and the other for the finding of self in a Divine Community.

      I do agree that we complicate what can be greatly enjoyed, simple spirituality, by over-analysis. This drive to know, to me, points to not a problem, per say, but rather to the nature of being alive, and too, yearning for growth, and betterment. Though too much of that striving, can actually make us lose our way. Our humanness, to me, is not something to shed, but something to come into fully. And, ultimately, an Incarnational reality, if you will.

      I am eager for your response.

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