Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Our dead are coming home again

“Every visible and invisible creature is a theophany, or appearance of God,” Evelyn Underhill wrote, quoting John Scotus Erigena in the introduction to her 1916 book of poetry, Theophanies.

A Common Grave, Natalia Goncharova

The Return

Our dead are coming home again:
Softly they come, on silent feet.
Even as with joy we gave our men,
            So their return is sweet. 

Together they went forth.  Now one by one
They slip into the ancient place;
And we, that thought ourselves alone,
            Glimpse the remembered face—

Meet in the shattered homestead of the heart
The old familiar touch, the faithful ways,
The dear known hands, that still possess the art
            To mend our broken days. 
                        —Evelyn Underhill

Evelyn Underhill
Evelyn Underhill was an established writer when war was declared, the author of Mysticism (1911) and The Path of Eternal Wisdom (1912). But Underhill’s spiritual understanding was deeply shaken by the First World War.  In a letter written in 1921 she confessed it was a time during which she “went to pieces.”* In the years that followed, Underhill became increasingly committed to pacifism. Shortly before her death in 1941, she wrote a friend, “Christianity and war are incompatible, and… nothing worth having can be achieved by “casting out Satan by Satan.”**  She acknowledged in another letter that year, “Not everyone can face the results of an air raid with an unshaken belief in the lovingkindness of God…. But all these various obstacles and difficulties are simply part of the circumstances in which God requires us to serve.”***
* Evelyn Underhill, letter to Friedrich von Hügel, 21 Dec. 1921, qtd. in Fragments from an Inner Life, p. 108.
** Robert Gail Woods, “The Future We Shan’t See: Evelyn Underhill’s Pacifism,” Religion Online,
*** Evelyn Underhill, Fruits of the Spirit, letter for Eastertide, 1941, quoted in The Soul’s Delight, Upper Room, 1999, p 67.

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