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Mysticism

Author(s)
Published
01/07/2011

Publisher writes

This preeminent study of human spiritual consciousness draws from sources all over the world, including such great mystics as Rumi, Attar, St. Teresa of Avila and Meister Eckhart, to define mysticism from various perspectives and to explore the stages of the "mystic way", the journey from self to God.

Author Information

Evelyn Underhill

Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) was an English writer and pacifist who became famous for her numerous works on religion and spiritual practice, in particular mysticism. In the English-speaking world, she was one of the most widely read writers on these matters in the first half of the twentieth century, especially for this book "Mysticism" published in 1911.

Judges' and contributors' comments

Malcolm Guite: It’s one of those books that’s hugely influential through other people who’ve read it.

Harriet Baber: In my teens I read everything I could find about mysticism. There wasn’t much at the mall bookstores where I shopped. But I did find Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism – a fat little paperback with a vivid magenta and blue cover.

Underhill was long-winded and tended to capitalize nouns promiscuously, but she quoted and told stories about dozens of writers who I would never have discovered otherwise: Plotinus, Meister Eckhart, Blessed Henry Suso, Jacob Boehme, St John of the Cross, Richard Jeffries, St Catherine of Genoa. Underhill excerpted the good bits and commented. Even if I had found them on their own, I doubt that I could have read them raw.

Underhill’s mystics had spiritual directors and palled around with other mystics. I joined the Church to get that: to get help with mysticism, spiritual direction and friendship with others who shared my interest in religious experience.

I discovered almost immediately that the Church didn’t do mysticism, or at least didn’t talk about it. There were no spiritual directors or fellow mystics with whom I could compare notes – at least none who were ‘out’. Anglican mysticism was solitary, hidden underneath the liturgy. One came back from Communion, leaned on the pew in front and was, briefly, alone with God. But it wasn’t something that could be mentioned.

Nowadays people questing for ‘spirituality’ wouldn’t dream of looking for it in ‘organized religion’, and they’re probably right.

In his introduction to The Protestant Mystics, Auden writes that Protestant mystics have to go it alone. Catholic mystics have spiritual direction, religious orders and, for the laity on the ground, a wide, varied range of pieties and devotions. The Reformation stripped away most of that. We Protestants just have books. And we read them alone.

John M. Court: A definition of what it is to be human and religious.

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