Thought for the Day, 16 June 2020: Evelyn Underhill
Let us pray with one heart and mind.
Silence is kept
As we rejoice in the gift of this new day,
So may the light of your presence, O God,
Set our hearts on fire with love for you;
Now and forever. Amen
As I reflect, I’m thinking of the spiritual director and writer, Evelyn Underhill, who is commemorated today (15th June), and who died this day in 1941. She is a very significant person in the Diocese of Chelmsford and is remembered especially for the Spiritual retreats she led in Pleshey, the Diocesan Retreat House. There is a meeting room named after her, and, if you visit Pleshey today, you’ll find a beautiful little book for sale called ‘Evelyn Underhill’s Prayer Book’ edited by Robyn Wrigley-Carr and published 2018. I’m giving you a lot of detail about this little Prayer Book, because I happened to meet Robyn at the door of Pleshey as she was coming in - and I out for an early morning run - during the short pre-ordination retreat I was on in June 2016. We talked. She told me she had been researching Evelyn’s life and writings, and that she had just discovered an old leather-bound volume, one of two, full of the prayers that Evelyne Underhill used for her retreats and her own private prayer.
Until her early 30s, Evelyn did not know Christ. She believed herself to be an atheist, but after spending some days in a convent, she was ‘overcome by a powerful vision’ which convinced her of the reality of God and of Christ. Her faith grew, as did her prayer life. Lord Ramsey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury said that Underhill helped people to grasp the priority of prayer in the Christian life and the place of the contemplative element within it.’ So, when asked to take a Pleshey retreat in 1924, Underhill’s ‘whole face lit up – it was something she had longed to do.’ It was new for the Church of England to have a woman leading retreats and Underhill was a pioneer in this work. As TS Elliott states, ‘With shrewdness and simplicity she helped to support the spiritual life of many.’ (p4, 9, introduction, Evelyn Underhill’s Prayer Book)
Can we join together in praying this prayer, found in the Book of Common prayer and in her prayer book, today?
May the love of the Lord Jesus draw us to Himself.
May the power of the Lord Jesus strengthen us in his service.
May the joy of the Lord Jesus fill our souls: and may the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with us and remain with us always. Amen