Monday, June 15, 2009


The narrow limits within which even the physical world is accessible to us might warn us of the folly of drawing negative conclusions about the world that is not seen. We cannot penetrate far into the reality of any life other than our own. The plants and the animals keep their own strange secret; and it is already a sign of maturity when we recognize that they have a secret to keep, that their sudden disclosures of beauty, their power of awakening tenderness and delight, warn us that here too we are in the presence of children of the One God. With what a shock of surprise, either enchantment or horror, we meet the impact of any truly new experience; its abrupt reminder that we do really live among worlds unrealized. Our limited spectrum of colour, with its hints of a more delicate loveliness beyond our span, our narrow scale of sound: these, we know, are mere chunks cut out of a world of infinite colour and sound—the world that is drawing near, charged with the unbearable splendour and music of the Absolute God. And beyond this, as our spiritual sensibility develops, sparkles and brief intoxications of pure beauty, and messages from the heart of an Unfathomable Life come now and then to delight us: hints of an aspect of His Being which the careful piety that dare not look over the hedge of the paddock will never find.

Evelyn Underhill, The School of Charity: Meditations on the Christian Creed, Longmans, Green and Co Ltd., 1934, with thanks to Vicki K Black

Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? The tourists are having coffee and doughnuts on Deck C. Presumably someone is minding the ship, correcting the course, avoiding icebergs and shoals, fuelling the engines, watching the radar screen, noting weather reports radioed in from shore. No one would dream of asking the tourists to do these tings. Alas, among the tourists on Deck C, drinking coffee and eating doughnuts, we find the captain, and all the ship’s officers, and all the ship’s crew… The wind seems to be picking up.

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return…

Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, HarperPerennial, r.e. 1988, with thanks to Inward/Outward

Scared yet? Perhaps we should be…


  1. Love that Annie Dillard! Did you ever have that experience, when reading the Gospel, that, you know, he really meant it what he said. Ut wasn't just blah, blah, blah, pretty words. We don't have those breakthroughs often enough.

  2. Oh my- this is brilliant. And not to shift the focus, but I find it strangely resonating with what I had written (and you commented on) the other day. For me anyway.

    Thank you for these words Mike and for your presence always.