Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Our "Spiritual Universe"

As happened last week, I am writing this the day before posting it, a rarity. Usually I have several days or weeks to write and review (and review again) a post. Despite my occasional despair at the large empty spaces that I experience in retirement, I still find that life is often full, and this week served as an example.

This past Sunday, with others from what is now Ormewood Church, I attended a brief and informal graveside service commemorating the life of Rev. Peter Denlea, the one-time pastor of our predecessor Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church. It was organized by one of his sons, Colin, also a pastor, at Georgia National Cemetery to which Peter’s first vocation as a Navy bomber pilot gave him access. I wondered if the cemetery rules (above photo) really permitted a spirit as expansive as Peter’s, given its prohibition of “boisterous actions”! Later this month, his boisterous spirit will be celebrated at a wake in our neighborhood, where he once lived at the end of our block.

With a similar group from Ormewood Church the next day, I attended the celebration of the life and legacy of Judge Elaine L. Carlisle at Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta, a member of Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church who lived three houses uphill from us. The largely African American church was packed with fellow judges and lawyers, the City of Atlanta Police Honor Guard, and sister members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also attended.

Our pastor, Rev. Jenelle Holmes, offered moving and meaningful prayers at each service.

And synchronicity strikes again as, at both services, we sang “How Great Thou Art.”

I lost it each time we sang it. Remember, I mentioned last week that I had been viewing the mind-boggling 2007 series The Universe, now available on Netflix. I had just finished watching the final episode, so these words by Stuart K. Hine particularly moved me:

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

I’m losing it again as I type these words. They take me back to my childhood faith, which included Billy Graham evangelical meetings featuring George Beverly Shea boisterously singing this hymn. As the song affirms, I want to believe that Peter, who lived longer than I have, and Elaine, whose life was cut shorter than mine by an as-yet-unexplained traffic accident, have been “taken home.”

Former Mayor and later Ambassador Andrew J. Young, who appointed Judge Carlisle to the bench, offered “Words of Comfort” to us. His storytelling gifts as an elder preacher and politician served us all well, bringing smiles and laughter, including one tender story about his affectionate but mistaken greeting of Elaine’s twin sister in the airport of Gary, Indiana, their hometown!

But then something he said comforted me very personally in the midst of my “lost in space” doubts. He said that now Elaine was part of our “spiritual universe,” the commonwealth of God. A spiritual universe is no more unimaginable to me than the physical universe.

I was invited to be among the contributors to Ashes to Rainbows: A Queer Lenten Devotional that includes meditations for Ash Wednesday, the Sundays of Lent, and the days of Holy Week. Go to:

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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  “How Great Thou Art” copyright © 1953 by S. K. Hine, renewed 1981 by Manna Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

I will be co-leading “Beside Still Waters: A Contemplative Retreat” with Debra Weir April 27-May 1, 2020 at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama. It is open to the public, and some limited scholarships are available. Three readable texts are recommended to prepare but are not required to have been read by opening day. Here is the link:


  1. I'm glad you're enjoying the fellowship of others, even if for solemn occasions. Despite my own, tenuous spiritual life, I found great comfort in the concept of being paet of a "spiritual universe." It melds nicely the known with the unknown. Thank you, as always, for sharing your spiritual journey in a way someone like me can appreciate.

  2. Chris - We sang How Great Thou Art a couple of weeks ago in our small, intimate worship service. It brought so many memories. Billy Graham came to OKC when I was probably 8 or 9. My father was an usher. Of course GBS sang How Great Thou Art. Our singing it in church brought back so many memories of that "revival." My father loved that hymn and so did I. A big part of my spiritual formation. Hope all is well with you. <3

    1. Thank you both for such positive responses! As a result of another positive email conversation about the post, I've decided to run a post from 2012 next week entitled, "In Praise of Praise."