Friday, June 15, 2012

Remembering Evelyn Underhill, June 15-16

The Practical Mystic (Canterbury Press, Norwich, England, $29.99) is a new book on Evelyn Underhill, her life and her writings. It is edited and introduced by Raymond Chapman, an Anglican priest and Emeritus Professor of English in the University of London. The book is available in the U.S. through Westminster John Knox Press at

Today is the feast day for Underhill as appointed on the church calendar. She died in 1941 on this date. Underhill wrote more than 30 books and many articles and reviews that were hugely popular in the 1920s and 30s in England, but she is most famous for her book Mysticism. She often led retreats for women's groups in the Anglican Church in England and she was the first woman invited to lead retreats for Anglican clergy.

In the United States, the Evelyn Underhill Association (EUA) promotes study and research on Underhill and her writings. You could find their newsletter at http://www.evelynunderhillassociation/.

On June 15--16, 2012, the EUA is sponsoring a special day in honor of Evelyn Underhill, as they do each year at the Washington National Cathedral. For details, search: Evelyn Underhill Quiet Day at Washington National Cathedral.

---Lois Sibley

Monday, June 11, 2012

Who am I and what am I doing?

I have long been reading and reviewing new religious books and it is fun for me. For about 16 years now, I have shared my reviews with readers of Episcopal Life and then Episcopal Journal. Now, I will share them with you on this blog.
Among the books I choose to review will be those on prayer, meditation, aspects of the spiritual life, bios of famous or important Christians, church history.  Also maybe some fiction, mysteries, sometimes books for or about children (I have five!) and sometimes just subjects I think you might like to read about. I hope these reviews will always be informative and helpful to readers, wherever they are on their spiritual journeys.

So get a cup of tea and join me here whenever you can.

Perhaps I should begin with saying I was a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) for 32 years. I learned my theology there. Then I read Robert Webber's Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail and I visited a nearby English Gothic church with a beautiful garden. It was on my way to and from the train when I commuted to my job in Center City. I was attracted to the garden, the liturgy with all the good words, the community and it's people, and I became an Episcopalian.

But I should explain that I had been baptized in the Episcopal Church when I was three years old. I remember standing at the font with my younger brother and sister and looking out at a vast audience of adults, all in dark coats and hats for the winter season. My grandmother stood in front of me, about six feet away, and she smiled and wiggled her fingers at me. I did it back to her and, of course, everyone smiled. That's one of my earliest and favorite memories. Then, from about six to ten years old, I attended a different Episcopal church with my other grandmother. Both of my grandmothers had a big influence on me, and I realize that as I try to be a grandmother, too.

Now, at this Gothic church I'm remembering, one day the red doors were open and I went in. They were having their noonday service so I joined them. When we kneeled down for the Confession and as we said it together, I heard my other grandmother's voice beside me, saying it with confident belief, as she always did.

So I did have some early experience with the Episcopal Church, and I give thanks for that and for Webber's encouragement to those of us who were thinking of "crossing over" to a new liturgy and worship experience at that time.

That leads me to my first mini-review on this blog: What Episcopalians Believe (Morehouse, $14) by Samuel Wells, who is dean of Duke University Chapel and teaches Christian ethics at Duke Divinity School.
     Wells reminds us that while we do not have a formal doctrinal statement or confession of faith as some churches do, we do have our two special books: the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer (BCP). In the prayer book, we have the creeds (Apostles' and the Nicene, which I think of as summaries of our doctrine) as well as the liturgy and the prayers. There is also the Thirty-Nine Articles, a doctrinal statement that came out of the Church of England in 1563, was adopted by the Episcopal Church in the United States in 1801 and is a part of the 1979 Prayer Book. He also counts and appreciates the four principles of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as part of our theological teaching.
     Dean Wells hopes that his book may help Anglicans and Episcopalians understand and appreciate one another wherever they live around the world. His book is well-written and thought-provoking. I recommend it.
Another book I want to mention today is Call On Me, A Prayer Book for Young People (Morehouse, $16). Put together by Jenifer C. Gamber and Sharon Ely Pearson, this pocket or purse-sized book offers suggestions for personal devotions. It also includes different kinds of prayers that will fit the lives of busy young people, prayers that fit into some of their own words and experiences. It would make a great gift!

This is a bit about who I am and what I plan to do on this blog. Of course, there are many other publishers who have good, religious books coming out all the time. I am eager to tell you about them, so stay tuned.