Saturday, June 16, 2012

Evelyn Underhill . . . "religion which . . . does not wear well"

Back in 1947, Evelyn Underhill published Concerning the Inner Life with The House of the Soul, the 2004 reprint of which is available from In this memorable passage (page 4) she foretells the kind of reductionist Christianity that is now strangling so many churches and denominations: 

We are drifting towards a religion which . . . keeps its eye on humanity rather than Deity, which lays all the stress on service, and hardly any of the stress on awe: and that is a type of religion which in practice does not wear well. It does little for the soul in those awful moments when the pain and mystery of life are most deeply felt. It does not provide a place for that profound experience which Tauller called ‘suffering in God’. It does not lead to sanctity, and sanctity after all is the religious goal. 

And here are some well-known verses from James Montgomery (1771-1854). What more needs to be said! 

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, 
Unuttered or expressed, 
The motion of a hidden fire 
That trembles in the breast. 

Prayer is the burden of a sigh, 
The falling of a tear, 
The upward glancing of an eye, 
When none but God is near. 

Prayer is the simplest form 
Of speech that infant lips can try; 
Prayer the sublimest strains that reach 
The Majesty on high. 

Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath, 
The Christian’s native air, 
Our watchword at the gates of death, 
We enter heaven with prayer. 

 - English Hymnal 474


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