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Book Review: Lent With Evelyn Underhill Edited by G.p. Mellick Belshaw

by Peter Menkin  
1/20/2009 / Book Reviews

A slim book of selections for Lenten reflection

I was moved by this series of readings from the works of the mystic Evelyn Underhill. Edited by G.P. Mellick Belshaw, this second edition makes for easy reading and excellent reflection during the season of Lent. This is one description of Evelyn Underhill, so you may have a taste of the wisdom and thought of a religious woman: Evelyn Underhill's "Mysticism: a Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness". Of course, that is the title of a book. But it also describes the intent and character of this book I used, "Lent With Evelyn Underhill."

The title suggests that we get to know her through the use of this book. I think that is so, but for this reader I spent my time reflecting on what she said as it related to Lent rather than a means to get to know the writer. That occurred, too.

The book jacket tells something of the writer, and I repeat this so that you, too, will get an understanding of the kind of things covered in the book by the way of the person presenting: "Evelyn Underhill, one of the outstanding modern writers on the interior life, wrote from the perspective of living in two worlds: the natural and the supernatural." This is a Morehouse Publishing book.

I note that Maunday Thursday represents a sense of Christ as incarnation, and reflects on his life. "The Liturgy recapitulates all the essentials in this life of sanctification--to repent, to pray, to listen, to learn; and then to offer upon the altar of God, to intercede, to be transformed to the purposes of God, to be fed and maintained by the very life of God." That was a very telling and succinct statement about the life of Christ. For me, this last season of Lent, I considered my inability to be perfect, but I considered I could be good and that I was capable of being fed by the very life of God. Afterall, Christ is the way and this book of 105 pages helps to be pointed in the right direction. I call this a profound book for Lent.

The last reading is "Easter Even," and subtitled "The Resurrection of Faith" and it begins with a wonderful statement, so effusive as to be believable in its moderated enthusiasm. I say effusive and moderated because that gives you a sense of the tone, for though it could be given to ecstacy, the writer says an historical thing: "I am writing to you at the moment in the Christian year when, as it were, we pause and look back on the richest cluster of such spiritual facts ever revealed to man." I am taken with that statement. I recognize that I liked that the Christian faith is historical in meaning, especially so at this time of year, but more that "...Christianity can never be merely a pleasant or consoling religion." No pretty stuff for this evening before Easter. She recommends that one pray for Easter and the supernaturalness of it. That the message and impact of the event will, through prayer, thought and mindfullness "...become more and more sure of it."

Does one need to be a mystic to read this book. I think not. The Preface to the Second Edition starts with: "Looking back over twenty-five years since this little book of readings from the writings of Evelyn Underhill was published, I believe her lasting achievement remains her contribution to a renewed interest in the Christian mystical tradition." So the editors believe this book is slanted with that taste. As a reader and now as a reviewer of the book, I believe it provides a taste of thoughtful direction for reflection and mindfullness for the Lenten season that has mystical tones. The reader is invited into the mind and thinking of Evelyn Underhill, and gets to know and share in her writings. This is a good thing, and worth the time. "The fish swims in the ocean but does not create it, neither does the Christian at prayer create the life of prayer but enters into it and is invigorated by it."

Good Friday in this book talks with quotes from Saint John of the Cross. I say the "book" talks" to tell you that this book speaks, the editor having chosen selections that do that. I think for that reason the book is a very good choice for Lenten reflection. Most likely you have heard that the cross was part of the work of Christ. "Here we learn all that it means to acknowledge Him as our way, our truth and our life." She writes the cross is, "...the union and reconciliation of human nature with the life of God." Many people with good hearts struggle with the profound, life long mystery of the cross and the bitter end of Christ's ministry. My thought after reading this section of "The Cross and Its Demands" is to live the question. There are many answers, for it is a lifelong commitment and especially an important commitment for Lent. "..."(W)hen you have found it, what are you going to do about it?" My slant on her thoughts is put down here, for she wrote, "What we think about the Cross means ultimately what we think about life..."

Peter Menkin -- Easter

Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA where he writes poetry. He is an Oblate of Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Big Sur, CA and that means he is a Camaldoli Benedictine. He is 64 years of age as of 2010.

Copyright Peter Menkin

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