As I reread in Evelyn Underhill I find again how she addresses some of the questions I've been carrying now. Here, from her retreat, "Sanctity, the Perfection of Love" (in Ways of the Spirit) is a gentle but I think eloquent reason for why we need churches in some form. I've been thinking about this because of a conversation about "what needs to be thrown out" in the church, being carried on mostly by church-people, on various blogs and particularly at A Church for Starving Artists -- where there's a discussion of "things to toss" in the contemporary church. I haven't tried to respond on that blog because my response is complicated. But here's a quote from Underhill that makes the case for some presence of churches that are carrying on some kind of tradition into the next generation, in some accessible way.
No gardener who knkows his or her job ever gives seedlings rich soil, and God does not either. A step by step response to that which is given is the way to prepare for more. The simple food comes first, and there is lots of it to be found in religious institutions and traditions which modernists are too apt to despise. All the hoarded spiritual food of the race is there, all that it has found out about God. It is silly and arrogant not to accept it.
It is quite true that it is not the same thing as direct experience, just as jam is not the same thing as fresh fruit; still, it is made of fruit and will feed the soul and make it capable of more. Such variety of nourishment is better than fastidious concentration on one kind of food. We are a multiplicity in unity with mind, sense, heart and spirit -- all, possible channels of grace.
Maybe that's a question for churches -- how are we feeding mind, sense, heart and spirit -- and how are we becoming communities of prayer (another theme for Underhill) equipped to reach out to the world in love and charity. For her, it all goes together -- this might be a better measure for deciding what is/is not working in contemporary churches. And for reminding us what churches are for -- in a consumerist context that can confuse us about that.
Underhill also writes (In The Spiritual Life) - a quote I use often: "The Church is in the world to save the world. It is a tool of God for that purpose, not a comfortable religious club established in historic premises. . . . " In that she seems to "chime" with conversations about what needs to go in contemporary religious institutions -- but I appreciate the reminders she gives us of why we might want to have churches, from one generation to the next.
Food for thought -- whether or not we like jam!
- Kathleen Henderson Staudt
- I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.