Contemplative Profiles: Evelyn Underhill

Contemplative profiles are back with the help of author and historian Lisa Deam. This month we’re featuring Evelyn Underhill:

Lately I’ve enjoyed getting to know some of the modern contemplatives and mystics. One of these is the Anglo-Catholic writer Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941). Underhill offered scholarly studies on great mystics from the past — she called them giants and heroes. At the same time, she insisted that the life of prayer and contemplation belongs to every ordinary person. No heroism necessary.

Underhill also believed that contemplation belongs to every era — eras of conflict and eras of peace. One of her early books, Practical Mysticism (free on Kindle!), was released at the beginning of World War I. Underhill almost postponed its publication out of concern that its subject matter would seem inapplicable or, even worse, selfish and otherworldly. But she decided that there was no better time to nourish the spiritual life.

We, too, live in times of turmoil and conflict. As Christians, we’re acutely aware of the world’s brokenness. This month we’ll explore what, according to Underhill, Christian contemplation offers us in troubled (as well as more peaceful) times.

I’ll leave you with some quotes from Practical Mysticism on the applicability of contemplation for every Christian.

For those who embrace it, the contemplative life “will teach them to see the world in a truer proportion, discerning eternal beauty beyond and beneath apparent ruthlessness. It will educate them in a charity free from all taint of sentimentalism; it will confer on them an unconquerable hope . . .”


“Though it is likely that the accusation will annoy you, you are already in fact a potential contemplative: for this act, as St. Thomas Aquinas taught, is proper to all . . .  is, indeed, the characteristic human activity.”

Read more about Underhill in the Fuller Studio.


About Lisa Deam

Lisa Deam writes and speaks about Christian spiritual formation from a historical perspective. She’s the author of A World Transformed: Exploring the Spirituality of Medieval Maps. Visit her on Twitter @LisaKDeam and at