James Solomon Russell vs. Evelyn Underhill

Did you miss us? We do hope you survived two consecutive days without the opportunity to exercise your right to vote. But we’re back and loaded up with another full week of first round matchups. In fact, we’re exactly halfway done with the first round — eight matchups down, eight to go.

In case you missed Friday’s result, Margaret of Castello easily defeated Simon Gibbons 70% to 30%. She’ll go on to face Eva Lee Matthews in the Saintly Sixteen.

It’s not everyday in Lent Madness that we have two saints whose lives overlapped, but that’s exactly the situation in today’s matchup. James Solomon Russell, born a slave in the American South, was a church planter and cleric. He faces Evelyn Underhill, English mystic, writer, and teacher. Time to vote!

James Solomon Russell
James Solomon Russell—preacher, church planter, teacher, and college president—was born on December 20, 1857, to an enslaved woman named Araminta in Virginia’s Mecklenburg County. His father worked on a plantation just over the North Carolina border.

When the family gained their freedom after the Civil War, they reunited and became sharecroppers in Palmer Springs, Virginia. The young James went to a nearby school, where the schoolmaster believed in his intelligence so much that he accepted tuition in the form of labor and farm produce. The teacher also encouraged James to attend Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. James earned a teaching degree from what is now Hampton University, and then he returned to Palmer Springs and taught at the local school. As part of his daily curriculum, he had the students recite the Apostles’ Creed. This practice impressed the local Episcopal women, who decided to bankroll the school.

It took James four years at Bishop Payne Divinity School (the segregated version of Virginia Theological Seminary) to earn his degree (partially because he had to earn his way through and partially because he was the only student in the school at the time.) He was ordained a deacon in 1882 and sent back to Mecklenburg County as a missionary. The diocese equipped him with a horse and some money to build a church. He was ordained a priest in 1887.

From this inauspicious start, James founded one church but decided that what people really needed was a college. So he started the Saint Paul Normal and Industrial School in 1888 in Lawrenceville. He served as college president while continuing to be a church planter and missionary around south-central Virginia, and when the Diocese of Southern Virginia split in 1893, he was appointed archdeacon.

By the time James retired in 1931, he had founded thirty-seven churches, with more than 2,000 congregants. He had been twice elected as a suffragan bishop but refused (in Arkansas and in North Carolina) because he wanted to stay with church planting and with his college. The year he retired from St. Paul College, enrollment was 800 students.

Collect of James Solomon Russell
O God, the font of resurrected life, draw us into the wilderness and speak tenderly to us, so that we might love and worship you as your servant James Solomon Russell did, in assurance of the saving grace of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Megan Castellan


Evelyn Underhill
Evelyn Underhill (1875–1941) was a writer, novelist, and pioneer of Christian mysticism. Her books were widely read, especially Mysticism, which was published in 1911.

As a child, she had a keen awareness of peaceful stillness breaking into her reality, “like the ‘still desert’ of the mystic—in which there was no multiplicity nor need of explanation.” These experiences inspired a life of writing and exploration of spiritual matters. At first, Underhill was agnostic in her explorations but later became interested in Catholicism and ultimately embraced Anglo-Catholicism. Her mentor, Baron Friedrich von Hügel, encouraged her away from pure intellectualism to a more practical and charitable understanding of the spiritual life.

A child of her romantic Edwardian generation, Underhill believed life and religious experience ought to center in the heart. She sought to make spiritual teaching accessible to those interested in the trends of psychology, scientific advance, the resurgence of the medieval, and spiritualism. As Victorian taboos lifted, a new generation found the Edwardian period liberating in its celebration of sensuousness, the feminine, and the very un-Victorian possibility of personal, ecstatic fulfillment. Underhill became immensely popular, and in the 1920s she led retreats, took on hundreds of spiritual directees, and became a prominent public figure, speaking on the radio and teaching contemplative prayer.

Although Underhill’s family did not share her spiritual interests, she devoted herself to her parents and husband. Her writing did not keep her from her social obligations. She entertained, did charitable works, and kept a strict daily schedule that allowed her also to write, study, pray, and meditate. Underhill believed that the incarnation of Jesus revealed God to be present in the world, making sacred the mundane tasks of everyday, suffusing all moments and endeavors of life with the eternal. It is no wonder that she is among the most beloved spiritual teachers of the modern age.

Collect for Evelyn Underhill
O God, Origin, Sustainer, and End of all creatures: Grant that your church, taught by your servant Evelyn Underhill, may continually offer to you all glory and thanksgiving, and attain with your saints to the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have promised us by our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Amber Belldene


James Solomon Russell vs. Evelyn Underhill

  • James Solomon Russell (66%, 5,385 Votes)
  • Evelyn Underhill (34%, 2,819 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,204

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James Solomon Russell: Courtesy of The Archives of the Episcopal Church
Evelyn Underhill: [Public domain]

124 Comments to "James Solomon Russell vs. Evelyn Underhill"

  1. March 9, 2020 - 8:03 am | Permalink

    A former slave and church planter versus a pioneer in Christian mysticism…


    • jan's Gravatar jan
      March 9, 2020 - 10:29 am | Permalink

      I genuinely laughed out loud at this one! That cat!

  2. John B Blackwood's Gravatar John B Blackwood
    March 9, 2020 - 8:16 am | Permalink

    Both worthy of winning, and with nothing against mysticism, I’m going with the one who overcame his meager beginnings, worked to become educated, became an educator and built churches as well.

    • Pamela Duncan's Gravatar Pamela Duncan
      March 9, 2020 - 9:14 am | Permalink

      I made the same decision John.

    • Mary Beth Burns's Gravatar Mary Beth Burns
      March 9, 2020 - 12:23 pm | Permalink

      I’m with you, John – Both very worthy, and unusually gifted. but rising from enslavement is very impressive . . .

    • Patricia Gordon's Gravatar Patricia Gordon
      March 9, 2020 - 1:30 pm | Permalink

      I’m with you, too, John. No problem deciding for Russell today. Nice that Underhill made time for her social obligations (!) but Russell’s life and energy are truly inspiring,

    • March 9, 2020 - 9:38 pm | Permalink

      I voted for James Soloman Russell. His road must have been very difficult. Just because the Civil War ended, we know that prejudice and hatred did not. He must have been very dedicated and worked hard to accomplish so much.

    • Edith's Gravatar Edith
      March 9, 2020 - 10:31 pm | Permalink


  3. Deborah Northern's Gravatar Deborah Northern
    March 9, 2020 - 8:24 am | Permalink

    I was very surprised when I saw James Solomon Russell’s name! I worked at St. Paul’s College, the historically Black college that he founded for two years. Although now closed, it provided education for students who may ordinarily not have gone to college. In addition, the students built the college, literally, constructing all the early buildings!

    • Soni Hise Sers's Gravatar Soni Hise Sers
      March 9, 2020 - 10:49 pm | Permalink

      Having lived in Virginia & attending St. George’s Episcopal Church, we often donated money to St. Paul’s. Familiar with the area & found reading about James Solomon encouraging. Had to vote for him rather than a mystic.

  4. Mary O'Donnell's Gravatar Mary O'Donnell
    March 9, 2020 - 8:24 am | Permalink

    I do not understand what is a church mystic.

    • March 9, 2020 - 10:28 am | Permalink

      Mary, I commend to you the podcast “Turning to the Mystics” – it is a wonderful exploration of church mystics.

      • March 9, 2020 - 2:25 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the tip, Mary Beth. I’m always looking for podcasts!

      • Maggie's Gravatar Maggie
        March 9, 2020 - 11:00 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for this recommendation, Mary Beth. It led me to the highlight of my day. I look forward to my next listen!

    • Walker A Shaw's Gravatar Walker A Shaw
      March 9, 2020 - 11:25 am | Permalink

      Well Mary, Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) was a mystic and believed that the incarnation of Jesus revealed God to be present in the world, making sacred the mundane tasks of everyday, suffusing all moments and endeavors of life with the eternal. She said “ … a positive act is something given; not something given up”. We have thousands and thousands of James Solomon Russells in the world but only one Evelyn Underhill.

    • Valerie Bailey's Gravatar Valerie Bailey
      March 9, 2020 - 12:21 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for pondering about the meaning of mystic — here is a definition I found of the term, mysticism from the Oxford Dictionary: Belief in union with the divine nature by means of ecstatic contemplation, and belief in the power of spiritual access to ultimate reality, or to domains of knowledge closed off to ordinary thought. Also applied derogatorily to theories that assume occult qualities or agencies of which no empirical or rational account can be offered. https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100220424. Mystics have been embraced and rejected by the church. I like to think of mystics as persons whose spiritual authority is based on their reflection on the domains of knowledge closed off to ordinary thought. This reflection may occur in the context of ecstatic and/or contemplative spiritual experiences. Some have considered the writings of mystics like Underhill as having some kind of theological authority (more like spiritual guidance and direction literature). Many have found these writings to be very valuable for their faith experience. However, as much as I admire Underhill, I voted for Russell. I think we need church planters and visionaries. Russell’s story offers a model of ministry that may be worth thinking about in the early 21st century. Perhaps, Russell’s story may inspire church planters to design new ecclesiastical structures (physical, theological and spiritual) that would include spaces for mystics…

  5. Mary's Gravatar Mary
    March 9, 2020 - 8:25 am | Permalink

    Must go with James Solomon Russell in honor of my sister who lives in southern Virginia!

  6. March 9, 2020 - 8:29 am | Permalink

    I was so excited to vote for Evelyn Underhill this LentMadness cycle until I read James Solomon Russell’s biography. Then, I resolved to settle for a reawakening of the spiritual life within Anglicanism until I saw the missionary witness of Russell. So, flipped a coin. The right person will advance and I will be more edified either way.

  7. March 9, 2020 - 8:34 am | Permalink

    I vote for James Solomon Russell as we are going to visit the principal of Codrington College in Barbados today.
    Codrington is the “oldest tertiary institution in the English-speaking Caribbean” and celebrates its 275th anniversary this year. This year 13 seminarians from dioceses throughout the Caribbean attend Codrington College.

    • Edmund Pickup Jr's Gravatar Edmund Pickup Jr
      March 9, 2020 - 8:49 am | Permalink

      One of the reasons that James Solomon Russell refused election as a bishop “for colored work” was that he realized that a bishop must be a bishop for all people. The bio also did not mention that he was denied admission to Virginia Seminary because they did not admit African Americans at the time. They later gave him an honorary doctorate. Russell was a person of infinite integrity.

      • Megan Castellan's Gravatar Megan Castellan
        March 9, 2020 - 10:16 am | Permalink

        Round 2! Wait for Round 2! (Hi, Ed! 🙂 )

        • Brooks S. Wilson's Gravatar Brooks S. Wilson
          March 9, 2020 - 6:01 pm | Permalink

          Hi Megan….remembering you at W&M and Bruton Canterbury…..always fun to read your saint writings! Hope all is well….

      • Brooks S. Wilson's Gravatar Brooks S. Wilson
        March 9, 2020 - 5:58 pm | Permalink

        Agree with Rev Ed….as a native So.East Virginian, I voted for Russell, great visionary for education . Loved St. Paul’s College…

  8. Pat Sadd's Gravatar Pat Sadd
    March 9, 2020 - 8:37 am | Permalink

    This was a tough one.
    Underhill ‘s spirituality of belief that our everyday simple tasks are full of the real Christ is quite a draw for someone like me who feels the same way. “Joshua” is here with us and He is showing us the true simplicity of being Christians.
    While Russell’s life works show the faith and thru the schoolwork and churches affected many more than anyone knows, his refusal of the archdeacon position told me more of his faith and dedication to the simple miracles of support those around himself. So he got my vote.

    • Patricia Gordon's Gravatar Patricia Gordon
      March 9, 2020 - 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Pat, I agree with you that simple tasks are full of the real Christ – and I’d bet that Russell believed that too. I am especially reminded of that today because I am ironing altar linens – I think Altar Guild work is an act of devotion and meditation. I laud and appreciate mystics and their contributions to spiritual development it today the Planter won my mind and my heart.

    • Tessa Lucero's Gravatar Tessa Lucero
      March 9, 2020 - 5:09 pm | Permalink

      Brother Lawrence also believed that our everyday, simple tasks (such as washing dishes and wincing at the occasional crashing sound) reflect Christ in all of us.

      Faith without works is dead. James Solomon Russell today.

  9. St. Celia's Gravatar St. Celia
    March 9, 2020 - 8:41 am | Permalink

    James Solomon Russell’s story is inspiring, but I must go with the great teacher of mysticism. We lauded Deacon Anna a couple of years ago, who also was a church builder. Her story was similar to Russell’s. We have yet to honor a mystic. Evelyn Underhill almost single handedly revived mysticism and the works of the medieval mystics for us in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. She wrote about mysticism in World War I; in 1914 she published Practical Mysticism in which she acknowledged that during times of stress and crisis people dismiss mysticism as a “passive attitude of self-surrender.” She defends mysticism as giving people “renewed vitality”; it increases not decreases “the wisdom and steadfastness of those who try to practise it.” She defines mysticism as “the art of union with reality.” We only know anything by uniting with it, she tells us, and the ultimate reality is God. For most of us, “the hare of reality is already jugged,” but the mystic knows “the living, lovely, wild, swift-moving creature which has been sacrificed in order that he may be fed.” It is the mystic who best knows the value of human life and its cost, who can recognize both the beauty and the loss inherent in living. We should continue to resist injustice and usher in the beloved community, but the mystic best knows why that matters.

    • Lucy Porter's Gravatar Lucy Porter
      March 9, 2020 - 10:05 am | Permalink

      Evelyn Underhill was one of the mystics we met when studying with our beloved pastor, Evelyn Newman, who married us in her first wedding. Both Evelyns were most important in the spiritual development which resulted eventually in my becoming an ordained United Methodist clergy and Scott’s becoming an occasional church organist. It was so good to be reminded of those teachings this morning, and to vote for one of my spiritual guides, Evelyn Underhill.

    • Betsy H's Gravatar Betsy H
      March 9, 2020 - 10:12 am | Permalink

      Thank you St Celia. I was feeling guilty for not voting for Russell. I had the privilege of attending a one day retreat put on by the Evelyn Underhill society and so my thinking was biased towards her. She really brought mysticism into the modern age, and reintroduced us to the world of Julien of Norwich. She died as England was being bombed by the Germans, truly ushering in the Age of Modern Mysticism.
      Russell will probably win this round, but I was thrilled to see Underhill got a chance, and maybe some people will be motivated to learn more about her.
      But Russell is a very worthy contender for the Golden Halo!

      • Chris's Gravatar Chris
        March 9, 2020 - 2:07 pm | Permalink

        Yes! She gets my vote all the way. Especially for her connection to Mother Julian (my personal spiritual guide). And we used to worship at a wonderful church in St Andrews, Scotland where she worshipped, and I went on retreat to the retreat center she founded in Pleshey, England. I feel a connection to her.

    • SharonDianneFosterPattison's Gravatar SharonDianneFosterPattison
      March 9, 2020 - 10:47 am | Permalink

      I so agree with you,

    • Greg Finger's Gravatar Greg Finger
      March 10, 2020 - 12:55 am | Permalink

      Thank you St. Celia!

      Sad that so few “get mystics” – they point to a direct experience of God in the everyday.

  10. Michael Shea's Gravatar Michael Shea
    March 9, 2020 - 8:48 am | Permalink

    Talk about a BLAH matchup. Pooey!

    • St. Celia's Gravatar St. Celia
      March 9, 2020 - 8:53 am | Permalink

      Every party needs a pooper. That’s why we invited you. Perhaps you should steer your nag aside awhile and enjoy the view. We are on pilgrimage, and there are many new things to see and marvel at even if today’s earnest talk does not divert or nourish you. Tomorrow’s might be the lion-against-Christian rabble-rouser you will enjoy.

      • Granny's Gravatar Granny
        March 9, 2020 - 11:56 am | Permalink


      • Michael's Gravatar Michael
        March 9, 2020 - 2:10 pm | Permalink

        How Saintly of you.

        • St. Celia's Gravatar St. Celia
          March 9, 2020 - 6:16 pm | Permalink

          Thank you. At 4:53 am (this daylight savings time is for the birds), I tried.

          • Susan Lee Hauser's Gravatar Susan Lee Hauser
            March 9, 2020 - 6:31 pm | Permalink


          • Donna's Gravatar Donna
            March 9, 2020 - 6:52 pm | Permalink

            It is Daylight SAVING Time! No “s” thank you very much. What’s not to like about an extra hour of sunshine in the afternoon?

      • Greg Finger's Gravatar Greg Finger
        March 10, 2020 - 12:56 am | Permalink
      • Greg Finger's Gravatar Greg Finger
        March 10, 2020 - 12:57 am | Permalink

        Thank you St. Celia!

        Well and poetically put!

    • Donna's Gravatar Donna
      March 9, 2020 - 10:04 am | Permalink

      It’s Monday morning which is not an auspicious event to begin with and then your comment stocked the resident snark in me. However, I’m restraining myself to simply say–we are entitled to our individual opinions. For me it is a very tough choice and I need to wait until the Monday morning wears off a bit more.

    • Sharon's Gravatar Sharon
      March 9, 2020 - 10:43 am | Permalink

      So which is your problem with these two — a former slave who found Jesus and helped the community grow or a woman who found peace and joy through contemplation?

      Part of Lent Madness is realizing the contributions of those who went before us so that we can use our gifts to further the cause of justice and peace in the world.

    • Peg S.'s Gravatar Peg S.
      March 9, 2020 - 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Well, it can’t all be Death Eaters in Little Whinging. Hang in there, friend.

    • Amy's Gravatar Amy
      March 9, 2020 - 1:52 pm | Permalink

      With apologies for the length of this quote, here is CS Lewis’s response to your “BLAH” —

      It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.

      The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

      It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

      All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

      It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

      There are no ordinary people.

      You have never talked to a mere mortal.

      Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

      But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

      This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.

      We must play.

      But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

      And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.

      Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

      —The Weight of Glory (HarperOne, 2001), pp. 45-46.

      • March 9, 2020 - 11:06 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for that C.S Lewis quotation, especially the last sentence.

      • Greg Finger's Gravatar Greg Finger
        March 10, 2020 - 12:59 am | Permalink


        Thank you Amy!

    • Tessa Lucero's Gravatar Tessa Lucero
      March 9, 2020 - 5:11 pm | Permalink

      Not everyone can or should be a dramatic figure, especially those modern enough that we know a fair amount about their lives and works and about whom legends have not flourished.

      Without the quiet saintly lives, it’s hard to appreciate the very dramatic ones.

  11. March 9, 2020 - 8:48 am | Permalink

    Happy to vote for James. Am connected to Mecklenburg and northern Vance, NC (then Granville) via ancestry. That area now mostly under Kerr Lake was an interesting place according to what I read. There were quite a few free persons of color (FPC) in that area but also many large slave owners. Been by St. Pauls, Lawrenceville many times.

  12. Vicar Mollie's Gravatar Vicar Mollie
    March 9, 2020 - 8:52 am | Permalink

    Evelyn Underhill has always drawn me, but as a canonical resident of the Diocese of Southern Virginia (where our Megan got her start, dontcha know), I have to vote for Russell. It’s very sad, indeed, that St. Paul’s has closed; but it’s very good that black students now have so many more educational doors open to them than was once the case.

  13. March 9, 2020 - 9:07 am | Permalink

    This is not fair! Both are very worthy, but my vote goes to Underhill, an extraordinary woman.

    • Amanda Williams's Gravatar Amanda Williams
      March 9, 2020 - 9:53 am | Permalink

      Well expressed, Dana. I also felt torn. I was ultimately moved to vote for Underhill’s vision of God present in the world.

  14. March 9, 2020 - 9:11 am | Permalink

    Evelyn opened many eyes and hearts, but as a classroom teacher, I am called to vote for Russell. From slave to college president is impressive and inspiring to my life, even on days when I feel like a slave to the system.

  15. David Jette's Gravatar David Jette
    March 9, 2020 - 9:12 am | Permalink

    This was a difficult decision but went with Russell given his heroic story and obvious faith and dedication to the lives of the largely uneducated in the American South. However Underhill was a close call – back in the 70s when I was preparing for Confirmation my director, Fr. Leland Udell in Burlington, Vermont assigned me to read Underhill’s Worship which greatly influenced my understanding of liturgy. She’s now in our calendar of saints.

  16. Elaine Culver's Gravatar Elaine Culver
    March 9, 2020 - 9:20 am | Permalink

    Another tough choice. I voted for Evelyn Underhill because her spirituality, while centered in the heart and extended into everyday life, remained intellectual. What a marvelous Anglican priest or bishop she would have been, had such a thing been possible in the time and place in which she lived!

  17. March 9, 2020 - 9:21 am | Permalink

    Justice came at long last with emancipation-James and his parents were free!
    Apostle’s Creed helped students read
    Missionary to Mecklenburg County
    Episcopal Deacon and Priest
    Sharecropper, schoolteacher, church planter–Saint

    • St. Celia's Gravatar St. Celia
      March 9, 2020 - 9:38 am | Permalink

      James Russell is a worthy deacon to support;
      his example is an inspiration.
      His faith for his people was a mighty fort;
      each church he sowed was for the weary a station.
      Though forty days in comparison with life is short,
      we can offer these saints the gift of our attention.

  18. Nancy's Gravatar Nancy
    March 9, 2020 - 9:32 am | Permalink

    Voting for Russell though Underhill is worthy too. Wish we could move both forward today!

  19. Jennie Lou Reid's Gravatar Jennie Lou Reid
    March 9, 2020 - 9:34 am | Permalink

    My last paper (50 pages!) in seminary was on Evelyn Underhill. As an illustration of God’s tender love for us, there was a photo in her book of the Creation of Adam. The stone carving was in Charted Cathedral. The image depicted the great tenderness of our Creator. On a seminary graduation trip to visit my daughter in France, we went to Chartes Cathedral so that I could see that carving. Heartwarming! You can find this image online: God loves Adam into being at WordPress.com.

    • Lucy Porter's Gravatar Lucy Porter
      March 9, 2020 - 10:14 am | Permalink

      God loves Adam into being! What a marvelous way of putting it! It is also true that God has loved each one of us into being, and continues to love us into more authentic being!

    • Susan Lee Hauser's Gravatar Susan Lee Hauser
      March 9, 2020 - 10:36 am | Permalink

      Lovely! Thanks for the recommendation!

  20. Susan C.'s Gravatar Susan C.
    March 9, 2020 - 9:35 am | Permalink

    Both of these people speak to me, but I am in the midst of reading Clément’s The Roots of Christian Mysticism, and am hungry for this meal that I knew nothing about when growing up as a cradle Episcopalian. I love “the peaceful stillness breaking into her reality”. She gets my vote today.

  21. Noelle's Gravatar Noelle
    March 9, 2020 - 9:44 am | Permalink

    James Solomon Russell for me. What he had to overcome and his dedication…Wow!

  22. March 9, 2020 - 10:07 am | Permalink

    As a contemplative being, I feel drawn to Evelyn. Her gifts to the people can be used by all. It doesn’t take any equipment to search the cosmos with our minds and spirits. It certainly helped me when funds were short. Yet I admire also James for rising above so many obstacles and remaining determined to help others instead of giving in to bitterness. The deciding point in my mind is my friend Debbie, who is so excited to see James in the bracket.

    • Jeanine's Gravatar Jeanine
      March 9, 2020 - 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Before I vote, I always check in with you and St. Celia. Today she posted first – and I thought you were going to vote for Evelyn as well. Then you threw the curveball! I thought this vote would be closer than it’s turning out to be.

      • March 9, 2020 - 2:27 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, Jeanine. I thought I was going to vote for her as well, but I ran into my friend before I got to the polls. I’m surprised by how well Mr. Russell is doing, myself. We’ve had a few surprises already this Lent. It’s just madness!

  23. Sally in Dallas's Gravatar Sally in Dallas
    March 9, 2020 - 10:09 am | Permalink

    Evelyn Underhill has been my inspiration for many years, as I’ve traveled my own spiritual journey toward God. Every year, as I’ve “journeyed” through Holy Women, Holy Men, Evelyn Underhill stands tall as one of my favorite saints. I can only hope that others are so inspired by her example.

  24. Jo's Gravatar Jo
    March 9, 2020 - 10:14 am | Permalink

    Would love to vote for JS Russell but have to go with Evelyn Underhill. I have forgotten a lot about college days (more than a few years ago) but one of my touchstone memories is of walking across the quad reading Underhill’s Mysticism. I began meditating around that time, and the copy of Mysticism I was reading that day? It’s still with me.

  25. Kit Barksdale's Gravatar Kit Barksdale
    March 9, 2020 - 10:21 am | Permalink

    James’ road was imminently more difficult than Evelyn’s. Also after recently having read “the warmth of other suns” there is no other choice. The task is hard and long, but I think James is a real contender for the golden halo.

  26. Charles Stuart's Gravatar Charles Stuart
    March 9, 2020 - 10:23 am | Permalink

    Both James Solomon Russell and Evelyn Underhill are worthy contenders, but I voted for Underhill because of the appeal of her notion of practical mysticism.

  27. Rufus's Gravatar Rufus
    March 9, 2020 - 10:24 am | Permalink

    This is the hardest daily choice so far. Underhill and Russell present a Mary and Martha contrast. Both the contemplative and the active life are important, so it is hard to choose. This was a 50.5 vs. 49.5 decision! I finally voted for Underhill because presumably the motivation for a life of good works flows from spiritual inspiration. I reread the short bio-blurb on Russell, but found no explanation for what drew him to the church and the priesthood.

    • Ruth Douglas Miller's Gravatar Ruth Douglas Miller
      March 9, 2020 - 10:57 am | Permalink

      Right, it is a Mary/Martha decision. Thanks for the idea, that helps. As a Mary always feeling somewhat looked-down-upon for not ‘doing’, I shall vote for Evelyn without ‘cheating’ and looking at the standings first!

  28. March 9, 2020 - 10:32 am | Permalink

    I adore Underhill. I hope that those of you who have not encountered her work will take an opportunity to do so. That’s the gift that Lent Madness gives us: an introduction to new sources of spiritual inspiration. https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/life-as-prayer-the-development-of-evelyn-underhills-spirituality/ here’s a start.

    • Barbara's Gravatar Barbara
      March 9, 2020 - 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Mary, This is an excellent article treating Evelyn Underhill’s faith journey. I found the way the author categorizes her understanding of intercessory prayer in her later years particularly interesting. The concluding paragraph with its echoes of Romans 12:1 gives us all food for thought by having us consider life itself as a prayer. The message conveyed here is far more active than contemplative or mystical in the early sense of that word. “At the end of her life, after having considered many options, she concluded that prayer was about availing oneself to the purposes of God, not invoking the activity of God for either spiritual assurance or earthly benefit, but for conformity to the life and ministry of the one through whom we pray: Jesus Christ, the crucified. On the shelves of spiritual books of our day, this understanding is not a big seller. Underhill’s early writings are most frequently reprinted, with later writings difficult to find. Yet in the world today, what sort of people of prayer would God ask us to be? Ones who strive for spiritual development alone, or ones who offer their lives as living intercessions, empowered by the Spirit, sent by Christ, to do God’s will? Might the latter define all of our lives of prayer.” Evelyn gets my vote today.

      • Greg Finger's Gravatar Greg Finger
        March 10, 2020 - 5:35 pm | Permalink

        Thank you Barbara.

  29. jan's Gravatar jan
    March 9, 2020 - 10:34 am | Permalink

    The Collect of James Solomon Russell really spike to me today. What an inspiring man.

  30. Rene Jamieson's Gravatar Rene Jamieson
    March 9, 2020 - 10:39 am | Permalink

    Not an easy choice today between two more than worthy opponents. However, in loving memory of my wonderful Nain (grandmother), who lived a life of Christian service, and raised four children alone, having lost her her husband in the Great War), I voted for Evelyn Underhill. Underhill’s books and radio talks were a great source of spiritual comfort to Nain, who, as a Welshwoman, knew that the mystical and the reality were two sides of the same coin.

  31. Bill Bosies's Gravatar Bill Bosies
    March 9, 2020 - 10:40 am | Permalink

    As a communicant at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Southern Virginia, I have to vote for my fellow Virginian, but his accomplishments from so challenged a background made the choice easier.

    Although I am highly respectful of the work of Underhill, I believe that her work from where she started was far less impressive than Russell’s – like comparing two runners in a marathon, one of whom started at the five-mile marker.

  32. Kathy in Nicaragua's Gravatar Kathy in Nicaragua
    March 9, 2020 - 10:51 am | Permalink

    If James Solomon Russell wins today, which seems likely, and Friday Harriet Tubman wins, which also seems likely, what a face-off that will bring us! I suspect this was intentional on the part of the SEC — madness or cruelty? You decide.

    • Grace's Gravatar Grace
      March 9, 2020 - 12:08 pm | Permalink

      Cruelty, I think. Remember when they put the Wesley brothers against each other? And the 2 Augustines? SEC, do you think cruelty is a becoming Christian virtue?

      • Tessa Lucero's Gravatar Tessa Lucero
        March 9, 2020 - 5:13 pm | Permalink

        Anyone who advances long enough will eventually face another favorite. Does it matter that much which round they face off in?

  33. Bea Fosmire's Gravatar Bea Fosmire
    March 9, 2020 - 10:53 am | Permalink

    Our church is teaching many courses on Contemplative Prayer. Over a period of time, we seem to be more Spirit led in our ministry and outreach. Had to go with the mystic Evelyn Underwood.

  34. Carol Buckalew's Gravatar Carol Buckalew
    March 9, 2020 - 10:53 am | Permalink

    I had to go with the guy from my own diocese! Think local.

  35. Melanie's Gravatar Melanie
    March 9, 2020 - 10:55 am | Permalink

    Strong Mary vs. Martha vibe in today’s matchup. I’m going the same way I did last year.

  36. Samantha's Gravatar Samantha
    March 9, 2020 - 11:04 am | Permalink

    DioSoVA in the house!!! Voting for James. Staying local.

  37. Ethan's Gravatar Ethan
    March 9, 2020 - 11:14 am | Permalink

    JS Russell has a comeback story just like my grandpa I think I know who I’m voting for today.

  38. Carol's Gravatar Carol
    March 9, 2020 - 11:18 am | Permalink

    Tough decision for me to make today after much contemplation went with James Solomon Russell!

  39. Nancy's Gravatar Nancy
    March 9, 2020 - 11:19 am | Permalink

    Voting for both unofficially but must limit myself to Evelyn Underhill. A woman with both “authentic spirituality and academic integrity” (thanks, Richard Foster!) makes this irresistible for me. Her own spiritual/academic formation happened in the same furnace of world war as her directees, audiences, and readers, and us today.

  40. evelyn weber's Gravatar evelyn weber
    March 9, 2020 - 11:21 am | Permalink

    i love how she was a teacher and built churches

  41. Cameron Johnson's Gravatar Cameron Johnson
    March 9, 2020 - 11:49 am | Permalink

    This is almost a Martha/Mary situation — one practical and one prayerful. Since I identify with Martha, gotta go with James Solomon Russell.

  42. Joanne B. Parrott's Gravatar Joanne B. Parrott
    March 9, 2020 - 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Living just “just over the border” in NC, I should go for Russell, but it’s the mystic lady who gets my vote today.

  43. Anne E.B.'s Gravatar Anne E.B.
    March 9, 2020 - 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Gotta love a mystic lady.

  44. Ron Carswell's Gravatar Ron Carswell
    March 9, 2020 - 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Tough decision today. How do you compare a mystic and a down to earth Christian dooer? Both inspired by the Holy Spirit, but such different paths. Perhaps our votes say more about us than them?? Will go with Russell.

  45. Chuck Hardy's Gravatar Chuck Hardy
    March 9, 2020 - 12:58 pm | Permalink

    As I am drawn to prayer and meditation because they make doing nothing look respectable I had to vote for Evelyn

    • Pamela Payne's Gravatar Pamela Payne
      March 9, 2020 - 6:50 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the laugh! I am one for whom prayer and meditation can be difficult (the sitting still part), I voted for Evelyn because of her practical mysticism approach, but Rev. Russell is a true saint in service to the world also. I will be happy with whomever advances today.

  46. James Lodwick's Gravatar James Lodwick
    March 9, 2020 - 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Both of today’s saints have much to teach us. I voted for Underhill because I treasure her writings and resonate strongly with her childhood mystical experiences.

  47. Evelyn Casey's Gravatar Evelyn Casey
    March 9, 2020 - 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I voted for Evelyn not just because my name is Evelyn, and my grandmother’s name was Evelyn, and my OTHER grandmother’s middle name was Evelyn… but because she describes what I aspire to each day. Or should I say “inspire” to: breathe in God, breathe out negativity – in all that I do – even the dishes.

  48. Linda S's Gravatar Linda S
    March 9, 2020 - 1:13 pm | Permalink

    A mystic lady? OMG! Is this probably pretty neat woman and mentor …. an actual saint? I mean in a very pure sense believers in the saving grace of Jesus Christ makes us … me and you saints…. but that doesn’t put me (or maybe you, gentler Lent Madness fan) in contention with Frank Jagermeister (or whatever his name was) or Dietrich Bonhoeffer or St Mary of Paris. A church mystic, spiritual coach?
    What am I missing here? I’m voting for the other guy.

  49. Davis Dassori's Gravatar Davis Dassori
    March 9, 2020 - 1:31 pm | Permalink

    I am so hung up between these two. As a student in England in the ’60s I encountered Evelyn’s writings and the living mystical tradition she had revived. That experience has remained a part of me since then, in the form less of personal devotion than of respect for the tradition, and an enriching regard for the experience of those who continue it. So, like many others, I expected an easy choice between Evelyn and some obscure nonentity, which is how we dismiss people we happen not to have heard of.

    Well, Blessed James, you are no longer a nonentity to us of the Lent Madness community who, however we vote, will always revere you and your example to us. Your life may be especially a story for our times as we try to face the historic racism of our church.

    (I guess the idea of ordaining black bishops for “colored work” didn’t catch on after James rejected it. It brings to mind the story Bishop Barbara Harris told at my son’s consecration of having been confirmed by a bishop who always wore white gloves when he visited black congregations to confirm.)

    I’m not going to vote yet and will take advantage of some of the seventeen hours that are still left for reflection, secure in knowing that in this matchup there can be no wrong choice.

  50. Amy's Gravatar Amy
    March 9, 2020 - 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate the introduction to a mystic I had not known before, since centering prayer is a discipline that I practice. I’ll set aside time to read her book, Mysticism, at some point. BUT, I give the vote to our brother James today, because of his birth into slavery and his responsiveness to the need in his community for higher education, to help them advance in life. I am always amazed at the stories of African-Americans who were treated as sub-humans, and yet still strove to give their very best to God and to others. I doubt I would have been as strong in the face of the obstacles they faced. (Remembering the story of Hidden Figures today, and the recent passing into heaven, on February 24th, of Katherine Johnson.)

  51. Debbie Dunham's Gravatar Debbie Dunham
    March 9, 2020 - 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for including Evelyn Underhill. Mystical Christianity has been affirming and transforming for me and many others I know. Perhaps it
    is one of the reasons I find competitions so difficult. One is not better than the other, both offered the world their true selves wholeheartedly. And I am grateful for this chance to get acquainted with such a great diversity of saints. I voted for Evelyn to honor the significance of her gifts to my life, and am happy that James is being honored for his.

  52. Donna Scarfe's Gravatar Donna Scarfe
    March 9, 2020 - 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Must add my vote for a fellow graduate of Hampton Institute (University)! Go Russell!

  53. Verdery Kassebaum's Gravatar Verdery Kassebaum
    March 9, 2020 - 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I voted for Evelyn, not because I’m a mystic but because I need to include more interior spiritual practice to my liturgical one–balance!
    On the other hand, I am equally happy that James is in the lead.

  54. March 9, 2020 - 2:13 pm | Permalink

    This was the hardest choice so far, but I had to vote for James. His diligence and commitment during a troubled time in our history for a man of color opened up opportunities for so many. He worked hard for his faith. The life of Evelyn seems privileged in comparison. God bless you James.

  55. John Cabot's Gravatar John Cabot
    March 9, 2020 - 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Evelyn’s known for her works on the mystic
    But her first book was rhymes legalistic:
    Courtly love it had none,
    And with wordplay and pun
    Must have barristers driven ballistic.†

    The Bar-Lamb’s Ballad Book (1902) see http://archive.org/details/abarlambsballad00unkngoog

  56. March 9, 2020 - 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Evelyn! Not mentioned in the bio (and there are only so many words available) was her influence on The Inklings. She is even referenced in Lord of the Rings: Fellowship, when Frodo goes by the name “Underhill.” Without her, the writings of Tolkein, Lewis, Williams et al would be much poorer.

    • Betsey's Gravatar Betsey
      March 9, 2020 - 9:45 pm | Permalink

      Was Evelyn truly an influence on the Inklings? I did have a thought of Lord of the Rings going through my mind when seeing a gentleman with initials of J.R. go up against the Underhill saint, though it was James’ agricultural background that influenced me to give him the nod today.

  57. Donna Kerry's Gravatar Donna Kerry
    March 9, 2020 - 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I love church planters! Also here in New England, the former Bishop of the ELCA New England was Bishop Payne (Margaret) so that also factored into my decision!

  58. TJ's Gravatar TJ
    March 9, 2020 - 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Russell today! I have to love a church planter with a high regard for education and doing the work on the ground.

  59. Fiona's Gravatar Fiona
    March 9, 2020 - 5:17 pm | Permalink

    I expected to vote for Evelyn as I did the last time she appeared in the bracket, however I am so moved by the story of Russell who overcame such hardship, was committed to the education of others, and refused to become a bishop out of principle.

  60. Lisa Leadley's Gravatar Lisa Leadley
    March 9, 2020 - 5:33 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t know that VTS has a segregated school (a shameful chapter in the history of the TEC, but that’s for another day…). My brother got his M.Div from VTS and is now an Anglican priest in the Diocese of Tokyo, so in honor of that connection to this amazing man who was James Solomon Russell…my vote goes the Virginian!

  61. Sue Donym's Gravatar Sue Donym
    March 9, 2020 - 5:42 pm | Permalink

    No problem voting for Evelyn Underhill.

  62. March 9, 2020 - 5:43 pm | Permalink

    I voted for Russell since he went to school in my hometown (Hampton) and I’ve been by the (former) St. Paul’s campus many times. I read Underhill and studied a lot of her contemporaries in grad school.

  63. Amy Carr's Gravatar Amy Carr
    March 9, 2020 - 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Will there ever be a year when a mystic wins out over an institution-builder and activist?

  64. Amy's Gravatar Amy
    March 9, 2020 - 7:50 pm | Permalink

    Hm, I went to see what Amazon might offer of Evelyn Underhill’s writings. I discovered that you can get Practical Mysticism in a Kindle version for FREE. https://smile.amazon.com/Practical-Mysticism-Little-Normal-People-ebook/dp/B004UKCBY4/ref=sr_1_10?keywords=evelyn+underhill&qid=1583797634&sr=8-10

  65. Janene's Gravatar Janene
    March 9, 2020 - 9:14 pm | Permalink

    I needed to know more about her writings and her spiritualism to vote for Evelyn.
    Maybe Ill try to find her work

  66. SandiK's Gravatar SandiK
    March 9, 2020 - 9:15 pm | Permalink

    My late husband and I served some of the churches Russell planted; he left such a rich legacy that rightly deserves to be recognized and his torch handed on to a new generation that will build on the foundation he so faithfully began.

  67. Robert Coates's Gravatar Robert Coates
    March 9, 2020 - 10:42 pm | Permalink

    I read Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism last year as my Lenten discipline. It was literally life changing. She explained the Trinity (it is not just “dogma”), and explained the Resurrection so that it finally made sense to me. She also answers the tedious quasi political question, is God immanent or transcendent? (He’s both.) My spirituality received meaning and value through Evelyn Underhill’s words. I never heard of that other guy.

  68. Terrie Ann Wallace's Gravatar Terrie Ann Wallace
    March 9, 2020 - 11:52 pm | Permalink

    I loved the description of the peaceful stillness that Evelyn Underwood was aware of even as a child. Russel did fantastic work, but it seemed like he was on the go constantly while Evelyn Underwood probably taught many in the churches he built how to begin to step away from their daily life if even for a short time and allow in the mystical stillness she had come to know at an early age.

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