by Laurie Gudim
The Feast Day of Evelyn Underhill
The two spiritual practices that have undergirded my relationship with God are self-examination and contemplative prayer. The first I learned in my early twenties in Jungian analysis, when I began to befriend the shadowy, unsavory impulses of my psyche, inviting them into transformative dialogue. This is something I will continue to do until I die, for a person’s shadow-work is never done.
Evelyn Underhill, whose Feast Day we celebrate today, made the connection between this work and the Christian practice of confession of sin. All the murderous, thieving, prideful, and other self-centered urges within us need to be made conscious and given their rightful work in service to God. This gentle sublimation leads to spiritual maturity.
I learned contemplative prayer early in my adulthood as well, but my practice was sporadic until I began to write icons. These days my favorite part of writing icons is the prayer. Nothing dramatic happens when I do it. I am usually carried away by my thoughts, extricate myself, and then am carted off again by feelings and fantasies. But this gives me the opportunity over and over again to remember God as the central relationship of my life.
In today’s reading from the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus answers the request to know where God ought to be worshiped by saying it isn’t ‘where’ but ‘how’ that is important. He says, “God is spirit, and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth.” In the clarity of understanding who we really are (rather than who we wish we could be) and in the willingness to bring all of ourselves into relationship over and over again with God through prayer, we do the work we were given to do.
For Evelyn Underhill, as for many of the world’s great mystics, all religions were equal spiritual gateways. It is not where we start in the process of maturing spiritually, it is how we do it that makes the difference. She believed that the transformed consciousness that results from contemplation yoked with self-examination is the true fruit of human evolution.
Personally I can’t lay claim to any transformed consciousness. But I feel the deep yearning to love and be loved by God. All my nasty, shadowy impulses find their true satisfaction in that one, central relationship. God desires that I worship in spirit and truth – and that is my deepest desire as well.
Laurie Gudim works is a religious iconographer and writer in Fort Collins, Colorado. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.She has recently published her novel, Loving the Six-Toed Jesus, available from Amazon.