One of the sanest and at the same time sternest guides in the spiritual life was Evelyn Underhill, an Anglican lay woman, middle class, polite, leisured and literary, her photo portraying a not easily pleased headmistress - but a woman of deep perception, passionate honesty and gentle determination. Speaking with a friend yesterday we reminded each other how much Underhill's spirituality remains important as a corrective to our hard-nosed consumerist approaches to God that can at times seem like a series of shop till we drop expeditions of spiritual retail therapy. Here's a couple of her still needing to be pondered thoughts:
We talk and write easily about spiritual values and the spiritual life, but we remain fundamentally utilitarian, even pragamatic at heart. We want spiritual things to work, and the standard we apply is our miserable little notion of how they ought to work. We always want to know whether they are helpful. Our philosophy and religion are orientated, not towards the awful vision of that principle before which Isaiah saw the seraphim veil their eyes; but merely towards the visible life of humanity and its needs. We may speak respectfully of Mary and even study her psychology; but we feel that the really important thing is to encourage Martha to go on getting the lunch.
In the story of the rich young man, Underhill comments:
Jesus replies in effect.'Put aside all lesser interests, strip off unrealities, and come, give yourself the chance of catching the infection of holiness from Me'.
I'm going to say more about Evelyn Underhill on this blog - at times her terminology is dated, but her understanding of the spiritual life, her guidance in the search for God and holiness, represent endangered species of pastoral, ecclesial and theological skills.