Wednesday, August 20, 2014

This Post Is Irrelevant!

Reading the morning paper, listening to or watching the news, I am only too aware of the many topics I might address on this blog. Ferguson, Missouri, reminds the U.S. that we are far from “post-racial,” and even conservatives are alarmed about “the cartoonish imbalance between the equipment some police departments possess and the constituents they serve” (Rand Paul).

North Korea shoots rockets as Pope Francis visits South Korea, Hamas shoots rockets and Israel retaliates, Russia continues to threaten Ukraine, while Yazidis flee the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. And still unresolved is what could be called another “Children’s Crusade” of Central American children coming across U.S. borders.

Progressive Christians tend to be progressive politically, and might expect this blog to concern itself with political realities, rather than serve up “sentimental nonsense” as an anonymous comment labelled the last post, “A Church and World Re-Imagined.”

I do know that visitors to my blog increase exponentially whenever I am politically “relevant,” but I don’t purposely appeal to that, because my hope has always been to enhance the spirituality that undergirds our actions to make the world a better place.

Presently I am reading a lot of Evelyn Underhill, an English mystic of the first half of the twentieth century. There are so many of her insights I have wanted to share with you, that I hardly knew where to begin. Reading her this morning gave me the concept for this particular post.

Yesterday I read of her emphasis on the “homeliness” (in other words, the everyday qualities) of the spiritual life. She observes, “The Christian’s life is lived in the open, not in a pious cubbyhole.”

“There is nothing high-minded about Christian holiness. It is most at home in the slum, the street, the hospital ward.” She explains further that “the God of our natural life makes of that natural life the very material of [God’s] self-revelation. [God’s] smile kindles the whole universe…”  I especially love that last sentiment.

She accepts her limited role in the scheme of things, rather than “fussing about the things other souls do and feeling despondent because I cannot do them!” She adds, “We are all inclined to be a bit romantic about religion. But God is a realist. God likes home-grown stuff. [God] asks me for a really good apple, not for a dubious South African peach.”

At the same time, today’s readings of Underhill on the subject of retreats suggest we need time with God variously to “give one’s soul a chance,” “to recover if we can our spiritual poise,” and “for realizing our spiritual status.”

Referring to Jesus’ admonition to enter one’s closet to pray, she writes, “It is no use at all to enter that closet, that inner sanctity, clutching the daily paper, the reports of all the societies you support, your engagement book, and a large bundle of personal correspondence. All these must be left outside.”

“By a curious paradox, as our physical universe gets larger, our true horizon shrinks,” she writes elsewhere, so we need retreats “quickening that which has grown dull and dead in us”: 
We forget that awestruck upward glance which is the mark of the spiritual person. Then we lose all sense of proportion; become fussy, restless, full of things that simply must be done, quite oblivious of the only reason why anything should be done. Our prayers become more and more like supernatural shopping lists, less and less like that conversation between one friend and another which is the ideal of Thomas a Kempis. We can’t rest in the Lord; there really isn’t time for that. 
Finally, regarding each time set apart for God, “We do not come for spiritual information, but for spiritual food and air—to wait on the Lord and renew our strength—not for our sakes but for the sake of the world.”

My hope for this blog is not necessarily to be relevant, but to remind us of our footing to be relevant in the world.

Synchronicity would have it that this past weekend I finally found and watched one of my favorite films (1990) on YouTube: Mindwalk, a conversation on the nature of reality (that includes philosophy, science, politics, and poetry) among an expatriate U.S. poet (John Heard), a former presidential candidate (Sam Waterston), and a physicist (Liv Ullman), as they wander around Mont Saint-Michel. Still relevant!

The books I have been reading are Concerning the Inner Life with The House of the Soul, by Evelyn Underhill, and Daily Readings with a Modern Mystic: Selections from the Writings of Evelyn Underhill, Delroy Oberg, editor. I am only providing a link to the first book, as the second one, which I bought used for less than $7 through Amazon a couple of months ago, now ranges from $164-414 on every site I’ve tried!

Progressive Christian Reflections is an unfunded Emerging Ministry of Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination welcoming seekers as well as believers.

Copyright © 2014 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 


  1. Thanks Chris ... your comments are a solid reminder that politics move from an inner source of some sort ... and reading Underhill is a means of bolstering that source and spending some time within it. This kind of "inner work" grounds progressive Christianity, enriching it with the larger horizon of faith, hope and love. Irrelevant? I suppose it is for some. But if faith is most at home in the slums and on the front lines of justice, it needs a hearty breakfast most every morning.

    I chuckled a bit as I read - I think my own soul oscillates between these poles - I find myself often disgusted with what passes as "christianity" and all the "god-nonsense" (as I put it), and then after a time, I find myself drawn back to the deep mysteries that even Calvin, in his best moods, recognized - "we are not our own, but belong to a faithful Savior." There is a terribly relevant beauty here ... a terribly relevant strength. So, hats off to irrelevance ...

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully and meaningfully! We share the same "oscillation"!