The Cloud Of Unknowing – Evelyn Underhill
The Cloud of Unknowing is an anonymous work of Christian mysticism originating in the latter half of the 14th century. The text is a spiritual guide on contemplative prayer in the late Middle Ages. The mystical scripture draws on the tradition of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and Christian Neoplatonism, which focuses on the via negativa road to discovering God as a pure entity, beyond any capacity of mental conception and so without any definitive image or form.
The Cloud Of Unknowing
The Cloud Of Unknowing.
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Biography of Evelyn Underhill (from wikipedia.com)
Underhill was born in Wolverhampton. She was a poet and novelist, as well as a pacifist and mystic. An only child, she described her early mystical insights as „abrupt experiences of the peaceful, undifferentiated plane of reality—like the ’still desert‘ of the mystic—in which there was no multiplicity nor need of explanation“. The meaning of these experiences became a lifelong quest and a source of private angst, provoking her to research and write.
Both her father and her husband were writers (on the law), London barristers, and yachtsmen. She and her husband, Hubert Stuart Moore, grew up together and were married on 3 July 1907. The couple had no children. She travelled regularly within Europe, primarily Switzerland, France and Italy, where she pursued her interests in art and Catholicism, visiting numerous churches and monasteries. Neither her husband (a Protestant) nor her parents shared her interest in spiritual matters.
Underhill was called simply „Mrs Moore“ by many of her friends, but was not without her detractors. She was a prolific author and published over 30 books either under her maiden name, Underhill, or under the pseudonym „John Cordelier“, as was the case for the 1912 book The Spiral Way. Initially an agnostic, she gradually began to acquire an interest in Neoplatonism and from there was increasingly drawn to Catholicism against the objections of her husband, eventually becoming a prominent Anglo-Catholic. Her spiritual mentor from 1921 to 1924 was Baron Friedrich von Hügel, who was appreciative of her writing yet concerned with her focus on mysticism and who encouraged her to adopt a much more Christocentric view as opposed to the theistic and intellectual one she had previously held. She described him as „the most wonderful personality. ..so saintly, truthful, sane and tolerant“ (Cropper, p. 44) and was influenced by him toward more charitable, down-to-earth activities. After his death in 1925, her writings became more focused on the Holy Spirit and she became prominent in the Anglican Church as a lay leader of spiritual retreats, a spiritual director for hundreds of individuals, guest speaker, radio lecturer, and proponent of contemplative prayer.
Underhill came of age in the Edwardian era, at the turn of the 20th century and, like most of her contemporaries, had a decided romantic bent. The enormous excitement in those days was mysteriously compounded of the psychic, the psychological, the occult, the mystical, the medieval, the advance of science, the apotheosis of art, the re-discovery of the feminine and an unashamedly sensuous and the most ethereally „spiritual“ (Armstrong, p. xiii–xiv). Anglicanism seemed to her out-of-key with this, her world. She sought the centre of life as she and many of her generation conceived it, not in the state religion, but in experience and the heart. This age of „the soul“ was one of those periods when a sudden easing of social taboos brings on a great sense of personal emancipation and desire for an El Dorado despised by an older, more morose and insensitive generation.
As an only child, she was devoted to her parents and, later, to her husband. She was fully engaged in the life of a barrister’s daughter and wife, including the entertainment and charitable work that entailed, and pursued a daily regimen that included writing, research, worship, prayer and meditation. It was a fundamental axiom of hers that all of life was sacred, as that was what „incarnation“ was about.
She was a cousin of Francis Underhill, Bishop of Bath and Wells.
(The text of the last section was taken from a Wikipedia entry and is available under the the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)
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