Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Evelyn Underhill

English Anglo-Catholic Spiritualist Writer and Pacifist

"Mysticism is the art of union with Reality."

"After all it is those who have a deep and real inner life who are best able to deal with the irritating details of outer life. "

"Never forget that the key to the situation lies in the will and not in the imagination. "

"If God were small enough to be understood, He would not be big enough to be worshipped."

"The spiritual life of individuals has to be extended both vertically to God and horizontally to other souls; and the more it grows in both directions, the less merely individual and therefore more truly personal it will become."

"The direction and constancy of the will is what really matters, and intellect and feeling are only important insofar as they contribute to that."

"Idealism, though just in its premises, and often daring and honest in their application, is stultified by the exclusive intellectualism of its own methods: by its fatal trust in the squirrel-work of the industrious brain instead of the piercing vision of the desirous heart. It interests man, but does not involve him in its processes: does not catch him up to the new and more real life which it describes. Hence the thing that matters, the living thing, has somehow escaped it; and its observations bear the same relation to reality as the art of the anatomist does to the mystery of birth"

"All things are perceived in the light of charity, and hence under the aspect of beauty; for beauty is simply reality seen with the eyes of love"

"Eternity is with us, inviting our contemplation perpetually, but we are too frightened, lazy, and suspicious to respond; too arrogant to still our thought, and let divine sensation have its way. It needs industry and goodwill if we would make that transition; for the process involves a veritable spring-cleaning of the soul, a turning-out and rearrangement of our mental furniture, a wide opening of closed windows, that the notes of the wild birds beyond our garden may come to us fully charged with wonder and freshness, and drown with their music the noise of the gramaphone within. Those who do this, discover that they have lived in a stuffy world, whilst their inheritance was a world of morning-glory:where every tit-mouse is a celestial messenger, and every thrusting bud is charged with the full significance of life."

"A simple rule, to be followed whether one is in the light or not, gives backbone to one's spiritual life, as nothing else can."

"Adoration is caring for God above all else."

""I come to seek God because I need Him," may be an adequate formula for prayer. "I come to adore His splendour, and fling myself and all that I have at His feet," is the only possible formula for worship."

"A spiritual life is simply a life in which all that we do comes from the centre, where we are anchored in God: a life soaked through and through by a sense of His reality and claim, and self-given to the great movement of his will."

"All men, at one time or another, have fallen in love with the veiled Isis whom they call Truth. With most, this has been a passing passion: they have early seen its hopelessness and turned to more practical things. But others remain all their lives the devout lovers of reality: though the manner of their love, the vision which they make to themselves of the beloved object varies enormously. Some see Truth as Dante saw Beatrice: an adorable yet intangible figure, found in this world yet revealing the next. To others she seems rather an evil but an irresistible enchantress: enticing, demanding payment and betraying her lover at the last. Some have seen her in a test tube, and some in a poetÂ’s dream: some before the altar, others in the slime. The extreme pragmatists have even sought her in the kitchen; declaring that she may best be recognized by her utility. Last stage of all, the philosophic sceptic has comforted an unsuccessful courtship by assuring himself that his mistress is not really there."

"As the beautiful does not exist for the artist and poet alone—though these can find in it more poignant depths of meaning than other men—so the world of Reality exists for all; and all may participate in it, unite with it, according to their measure and to the strength and purity of their desire."

"Anyone can lead a prayer-life -- that is, the sort of reasonable devotional life to which each is called by God. This only involves making a suitable rule and making up your mind to keep it however boring this may be."

"And so we take a holiday, a vacation, to gain release from this bondage for a space, to stand back from the rush of things and breathe again. But a holiday is a respite, not a cure. The more we need holidays, the more certain it is that the disease has conquered us and not we it. More and more holidays just to get away from it all is a sure sign of a decaying civilization; it was one of the most obvious marks of the breakdown of the Roman empire. It is a symptom that we haven't learned how to live so as to re-create ourselves in our work instead of being sapped by it. A car should always be charging its battery as it runs. If it simply uses up without putting back, it has to go into dock to be recharged. It is not a sign that we are running particularly well if we are constantly needing to go into dock."

"As the genuine religious impulse becomes dominant, adoration more and more takes charge. I come to seek God because I need Him, may be an adequate formula for prayer. I come to adore His splendor, and fling myself and all that I have at His feet, is the only possible formula for worship."

"As to deliberate mortifications -- I take it you do feel satisfied that you accept fully those God sends. That being so, you might perhaps do one or two little things, as acts of love, and also as discipline. I suggest by preference the mortification of the tongue -- as being very tiresome and quite harmless to the health. Careful guard on all amusing criticisms of others, on all complaints however casual or trivial."

"By the quality of our inner lives I do not mean something characterized by ferocious intensity and strain. I mean rather such a humble and genial devotedness as we find in the most loving of the saints. I mean the quality which makes contagious.. the love of God from you."

"Books, said St. Augustine after his conversion, could not teach me charity. We still keep on thinking they can. We do not realize... the utter distinctness of God and the things of God. Psychology of religion cannot teach us prayer, and ethics cannot teach us loveÂ… Team games are compulsory in the school of Divine Love -- there is no getting into a corner with a nice, spiritual book."

"Deliberately seek opportunities for kindness, sympathy, and patience."

"Delicate humor is the crowning virtue of the saints."

"For a lack of attention a thousand forms of loveliness elude us everyday"

"God is acting on your soul all the time, whether you have spiritual sensations or not."

"Formal prayer is a practical device, not a spiritual necessity. It makes direct suggestions to our souls: it reminds us of realities which we always tend to forget."

"Every minute you are thinking of evil, you might have been thinking of good instead. Refuse to pander to a morbid interest in your own misdeeds. Pick yourself up, be sorry, shake yourself, and go on again."

"Faith is not a refuge from reality. It is a demand that we face reality, with all its difficulties, opportunities, and implications. The true subject matter of religion is not our own little souls, but the Eternal God and His whole mysterious purpose, and our solemn responsibility to Him."

"God is much in the difficult home problems as in the times of quiet and prayer."

"Grace is God himself, his loving energy at work within his church and within our souls."

"God is always coming to you in the Sacrament of the Present Moment. Meet and receive Him there with gratitude in that sacrament."

"Have you ever noticed that Jesus is never recorded as taking a holiday? He retired for the purposes of his mission, not from it. He was never destroyed by his work; he was always on top of it. He moved among people as the master of every situation. He was busier than anyone; the multitudes were always at him, yet he had time, for everything and everyone. He was never hurried, or harassed, or too busy. He had complete supremacy over time; he never let it dictate to him. He talked of my time; my hour. He knew exactly when the moment had come for doing something and when it had not."

"I come in the little things, Saith the Lord: Not borne on morning wings of majesty, but I have set my feet amidst the delicate and bladed wheat That springs triumphant in the furrowed sod. There do I dwell, in weakness and in power; not broken or divided, saith our God! In your strait garden plot I come to flowers about your porch my vine, meek, fruitful, doth entwine; waits, at the threshold, Love's appointed hour. I come in the little things, saith the Lord: Yea! On the glancing wings of eager birds, the softly pattering feet of furred and gentle beasts, I come to meet Your hear and wayward heart. In brown bright eyes that peep from out the brake, I stand confest. On every nest where feathery patience is content to brood and leaves her pleasure for the high emprize of motherhood -- There doth My Godhead rest. I come in the little things, Saith the Lord."

"History looks glorious in retrospect; but it is made up of constant hard choices and unattractive tasks, accepted under the pressure of the Will of God."

"He goes because he must, as Galahad went towards the Grail: knowing that for those who can live it, this alone is life."

"If there is a symbol of our age, perhaps it is something that every factory worker does each day of their working lives -- I refer to clocking in. (Very soon probably they won't even have to do that; the clock will itself observe them by radar.) In the ancient world when a person entered a temple, each made a votive offering to a god or a goddess at the door. As twentieth century people file into their shrines, they obediently pay their due to the god that regulates their lives -- the clock. It is the clock that measures us, that silent witness that keeps our going in and our coming out and relentlessly records our every movement. That is where all our organization and machinery to free us from time, to save us time, has brought us. Never before have we had such control over things, and never before have we been so enslaved by them. And of nothing is this more true than of time."

"If , then, we desire a simple test of the quality of our spiritual life, a consideration of the tranquility, gentleness and strength with which we deal with the circumstances of our outward life will serve us better than anything that is based on the loftiness of our religious notions, or fervor of our religious feelings."

"If we do not at least try to manifest something of Creative Charity in our dealings with life, whether by action, thought, or prayer, and do it at our own cost -- if we roll up the talent of love in the nice white napkin of piety and put it safely out of the way, sorry that the world is so hungry and thirsty, so sick and so fettered, and leave it at that: then, even that little talent may be taken from us. We may discover at the crucial moment that we are spiritually bankrupt."

"If you have made a decision, and you still feel, taking it all in all, it was the right one, then don't look over your shoulder on what might have been. If it was wrong, ask for forgiveness and accept the present consequences, happily and without remorse. Nothing is more corrosive of the powers you should be using to meet the present."

"In mysticism that love of truth which we saw as the beginning of all philosophy leaves the merely intellectual sphere, and takes on the assured aspect of a personal passion. Where the philosopher guesses and argues, the mystic lives and looks; and speaks, consequently, the disconcerting language of first-hand experience, not the neat dialectic of the schools. Hence whilst the Absolute of the metaphysicians remains a diagram —impersonal and unattainable—the Absolute of the mystics is lovable, attainable, alive."

"In my relations with my father, which are difficult and where I'm often met by coolness and indifference, I am constantly tempted to be cold and indifferent. Yet I know that this is a test if I could take it rightly."

"Living in the present means squarely accepting and responding to it as God's moment for you now while it is called "today" rather than wishing it were yesterday or tomorrow."

"Love... makes the whole difference between an execution and a martyrdom."

"Many people seem to think that the spiritual life necessarily requires a definite and exacting plan of study. It does not. But it does require a definite plan of life; and courage in sticking to the plan, not for merely days or weeks, but for years."

"Many a congregation when it assembles in church must look to the angels like a muddy, puddly shore at low tide; littered with every kind of rubbish and odds and ends --a distressing sort of spectacle. And then the tide of worship comes in, and it's all gone: the dead sea-urchins and jelly-fish, the paper and the empty cans and the nameless bits of rubbish. The cleansing sea flows over the whole lot. So we are released from a narrow, selfish outlook on the universe by a common act of worship. Our little human affairs are reduced to their proper proportion when seen over against the spaceless Majesty and Beauty of God."

"Pick yourself up, be sorry, shake yourself, and go on again."

"Only those who try to live near God and have formed the habit of faithfulness to Him in the small things of our daily life, can hope in times of need for that special light which shows us our path. To do as well as we can the job immediately before us, is the way to learn what we ought to do next."

"Spiritual reading is a regular, essential part of the life of prayer, and particularly is it the support of adoring prayer. It is important to increase our sense of God's richness and wonder by reading what his great lovers have said about him."

"Most of our conflicts and difficulties come from trying to deal with the spiritual and practical aspects of our life separately instead of realizing them as parts of one whole. If our practical life is centered on our own interests, cluttered up by possessions, distracted by ambitions, passions, wants and worries, beset by a sense of our own rights and importance, or anxieties for our own future, or longings for our own success, we need not expect that our spiritual life will be a contrast to all this. The soul's house is not built on such a convenient plan; there are few soundproof partitions in it. Only when the conviction - not merely the idea - that the demand of the Spirit, however inconvenient, rules the whole of it, will those objectionable noises die down which have a way of penetrating into the nicely furnished little oratory and drowning all the quieter voices by their din."

"On every level of life, from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgment and efforts to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur."