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Evelyn Underhill

  • No metaphysician has yet shaken the ordinary individual's belief in his own existence. The uncertainties only begin for most of us when we ask what else is.

  • It is immediately apparent, however, that this sense-world, this seemingly real external universe — though it may be useful and valid in other respects — cannot be the external world, but only the Self's projected picture of it ... The evidence of the senses, then, cannot be accepted as evidence of the nature of ultimate reality; useful servants, they are dangerous guides.

  • The heart outstrips the clumsy senses, and sees — perhaps for an instant, perhaps for long periods of bliss — an undistorted and more veritable world.

  • All things are perceived in the light of charity, and hence under the aspect of beauty: for beauty is simply Reality seen with the eyes of love.

  • The London streets are paths of loveliness; the very omnibuses look like colored archangels, their laps filled full of little trustful souls.

  • The spiritual life is not a special career, involving abstraction from the world of things. It is a part of every man's life; and until he has realized it he is not a complete human being, has not entered into possession of all his powers. It is therefore the function of a practical mysticism to increase, not diminish, the total efficiency, the wisdom and steadfastness, of those who try to practice it.

  • ... meditation is a half-way house between thinking and contemplating ...

  • A saint is simply a human being whose soul has ... grown up to its full stature, by full and generous response to its environment, God. He has achieved a deeper, bigger life than the rest of us, a more wonderful contact with the mysteries of the Universe; a life of infinite possibility, the term of which he never feels that he has reached.

  • The world of religion is no longer a concrete fact proposed for our acceptance and adoration. It is an unfathomable universe which engulfs us, and which lives its own majestic uncomprehended life: and we discover that our careful maps and cherished definitions bear little relation to its unmeasured reality.

  • Nothing in all nature is so lovely and so vigorous, so perfectly at home in its environment, as a fish in the sea. Its surroundings give to it a beauty, quality, and power which is not its own. We take it out, and at once a poor, limp dull thing, fit for nothing, is gasping away its life. So the soul, sunk in God, living the life of prayer, is supported, filled, transformed in beauty, by a vitality and a power which are not its own.

  • In prayer the soul comes nearest the experience of absolute love: in belief it ascends by means of symbols towards absolute truth.

  • ... religion, like beauty, cannot be experienced in cold blood.

  • Your dreamer may do without a creed, but he always wants a ritual ...

  • As the social self can only be developed by contact with society, so the spiritual self can only be developed by contact with the spiritual world.

    • Evelyn Underhill,
    • in Alice Hegan Rice, My Pillow Book ()
  • I do not think reading the mystics would hurt you myself: you say you must avoid books which deal with 'feelings' — but the mystics don't deal with feelings but with love which is a very different thing. You have too many 'feelings,' but not nearly enough love.

    • Evelyn Underhill,
    • 1909, in Charles Williams, ed., The Letters of Evelyn Underhill ()
  • ... we have descended into the garden and caught 300 slugs. How I love the mixture of the beautiful and the squalid in gardening. It makes it so lifelike.

    • Evelyn Underhill,
    • 1912, in Charles Williams, ed., The Letters of Evelyn Underhill ()
  • ... I have just been given a very engaging Persian kitten, named after St. Philip Neri (who was very sound on cats) and his opinion is that I have been given to him.

    • Evelyn Underhill,
    • 1932, in Charles Williams, ed., The Letters of Evelyn Underhill ()
  • ... after all 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,
    • 1933, in Charles Williams, ed., The Letters of Evelyn Underhill ()
  • ... though humility and acknowledgement of one's real failings is good, the gratuitous eating of worms not put before us by God does not nourish our souls a bit — merely in fact upsets the spiritual tummy.

    • Evelyn Underhill,
    • 1935, in Charles Williams, ed., The Letters of Evelyn Underhill ()
  • I do hope your Christmas has had a little touch of Eternity in among the rush and pitter patter and all. It always seems such a mixing of this world and the next — but that after all is the idea!

    • Evelyn Underhill,
    • 1936, in Charles Williams, ed., The Letters of Evelyn Underhill ()
  • Sometimes I think the resurrection of the body, unless much improved in construction, a mistake!

    • Evelyn Underhill,
    • 1936, in Charles Williams, ed., The Letters of Evelyn Underhill ()
  • Mysticism is the passionate longing of the soul for God ...

    • Evelyn Underhill,
    • in Lucy Menzies, ed., Collected Papers of Evelyn Underhill ()
  • The life of prayer is so great and various there is something in it for everyone. It is like a garden which grows everything, from alpines to potatoes.

    • Evelyn Underhill,
    • in Lucy Menzies, ed., Collected Papers of Evelyn Underhill ()
  • On every level of life from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgment and all efforts to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur.

    • Evelyn Underhill
  • Delicate humor is the crowning virtue of the saints.

    • Evelyn Underhill
  • Spiritual achievement costs much, though never as much as it is worth.

    • Evelyn Underhill
  • Saints are the great teachers of the loving-kindness and fascination with God.

    • Evelyn Underhill
  • If we ask of the saints how they achieved spiritual effectiveness, they are only able to reply that, insofar as they did it themselves, they did it by love and prayer.

    • Evelyn Underhill
  • 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 the more truly personal it will be.

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

    • Evelyn Underhill
  • We spend most of our lives conjugating three verbs: to want, to have and to do. But none of these verbs has any ultimate significance until it is transcended by and included in the fundamental verb — to be.

    • Evelyn Underhill
  • For lack of attention a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day.

    • Evelyn Underhill,
    • "Sources of Power in Human Life," in Dana Greene, ed., Evelyn Underhill: Modern Guide to the Ancient Quest for the Holy ()

Evelyn Underhill, English mystic, writer, pacifist

(1875 - 1941)

Full name: Evelyn Underhill Moore.