“Now as never before people’s consciences are moved and their fear aroused by the awful spectacle of war allied with science… wreaking destruction on God’s world. Only Christianity can say why these things are evil, and offer a method whereby this evil can be dealt with at its source; namely in the hearts of men… It is the Church’s hour; and she will not face it, because like the hour of birth it means risk, travail, inevitable pain. We are forced to the bitter conclusion that the members of the Visible Church as a body are not good enough, not brave enough to risk everything for that which they know to be the Will of God and the teaching of Christ. For it does mean risking everything; freedom, reputation,friendship, security – life itself”.
[Evelyn Underhill, “The Church and War”, 1940]
Evelyn Underhill (as a member of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship) heroically resisted the war spirit as Britain entered the apocalyptic WW2. She called on Christians to follow Jesus and embrace peace. If the church remained true to its supernatural call, she said, it could not acquiesce in war: “For war, however camouflaged or excused, must always mean the effort of one group to achieve their purpose – get something which they want, or prevent something happening which they do not want – by inflicting destruction and death on another group. When we trace war to its origin, that origin is always either mortal sin – Pride, Anger, Envy, Greed – or else that spirit of self-regarding Fear, which is worse infidelity to God than any mortal sin. The Christian cannot serve these masters, even though they are wearing national dress”.
[“The Church and War”, 1940]
Evelyn Underhill intensified her pacifism in the dark years preceding the outbreak of WW2. She had an almost saintly sense of forgiveness even for the most evil. She referred to Christ’s call for peace, and thought pacifism the right Christian attitude: “But the test comes when this peace must be matched against the world’s contradictions and cruelties, troubles, evils and assaults: when we must be peaceful, not in contrast to the warlike but with the warlike, showing to their victims a compassion which is without anger and bitterness, and bearing in tranquillity the awful weight of the world’s bewilderment, suffering and sin… The true pacifist is a redeemer, and must accept with joy the redeemer’s lot”.
She saw how much easier it was to be angry, aggressive and demeaning than it was to show genuine compassionate and peacefulness – a scenario we see only too often today.
[“A Meditation on Peace”, 1939]
Evelyn Underhill often spoke of “the soul’s ground or apex, that deep core of our being where God dwells and speaks”. She referred to “The inner and eternal Me – spirit, the metaphysical self, that most hidden and intimate seat of our being, where already we live in a measure eternal life; the height or depth at which we taste God, the real seat of the religious instinct” [“God and Spirit”, 1930).
Buddhists explore such territory, and everyone (Evelyn claims) has some sense of their inner being. Do you?
Evelyn Underhill was in many ways an amazing woman, a highly influential religious writer, expert on mysticism, interpreter of the human condition and spiritual guide to a troubled twentieth century.
For Paul’s essay on her on his website dpcrook.wordpress.com, click here:
“… only because of a dim sense of the supernatural existing within us, can we ever recognize the accent of the supernatural in the seer or the saint… any man or woman who has genuine experience of the inner life, and sufficient humility to realize the very low place most of us occupy on the great ladder of prayer, will, when they have found their place on that ladder, find that the advice of the mystics in respect of it always works. Those mystics are the true seat of authority for the conduct of the inner life, though not necessarily for anything else, for we must be careful to distinguish their accounts of spiritual experience from the explanations which they offer about it”:
Evelyn Underhill, “The Authority of Personal Religious Experience”.