Everyday Miracles and Practical Mysticism

87.3 percent of statistics are made up on the spot, according to world renowned statistician Vic Reeves. His gag has always made me wary of quoting statistics but one we will all have heard is the high proportion of accidents that occur in the home.

We are accustomed to believing that world travel is risky but the surprising fact is that you are more likely to suffer all the consequences of danger within 5 miles of your own home than anywhere else. We might imagine that some occupations are disaster prone: tree felling or coal mining spring to mind, but a recent NHS report informs us that it is in fact in the home that any and all nature of catastrophes which may occur do occur.

This doesn’t do to dwell on but of course one of the reason for these appalling figures is that we  simply spend more time at home than anywhere else.

And another is that our guard is down.

We relax.

We cease from being attentive to danger and in that state we are perhaps more prone to it…

We are more open to all manner of realisations too and I wonder what the figures for religious experience at home are like?

In the beautiful gospel reading this morning are contained one of the loveliest of all hymns in the bible; we call it the magnificat and in it Mary magnifies the glory of God and gives thanks for her state and also recognises what we call the preferential option for the poor – that God,

“hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.”

But one of the reasons I most love the passage (it’s from the first chapter of the Gospel book of Luke) is that it describes a homely domestic scene in which one woman visits another.  The moment when the mother first feels her baby stir within her is called the quickening, and the the quickening of Elizabeth’s baby, in this case occurring at the sound of Mary’s voice, is described in terms of a miracle. And of course it is a miracle. Every quickening is. There are countless other passages of domestic miracles in the gospels and throughout the Bible in which angels visit, wonders occur, sight, health and even lives are restored. I think this is a statistic which is too often overlooked:

The majority of miracles occur in the home.

Perhaps its ignored because its not very masculine, patriarchy has preferred to dwell on battle-field phenomena.

But we’ve discussed in the Spiritual conversations group that the roots of the free and independent church traditions have sprung from the unmediated experience of the holy; the direct experience of the holy spirit, God visiting with people directly not through the normal channels. And because this is so the experience is available to all people, not a class of priests which has usually tended to be men.  But just as Mary informs us God has put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree…

I like the thought that we are receptive to the divine in informality, that one of the risks we take in the home is openness to the visitation of wonder and miracle and that miracle can perhaps must be domestic, real, visionary.

The wonderful mystic Eveline Underhill, who was a friend to Unitarianism in the 1920-30’s wrote:

“We are the agents of the Creative Spirit in this world. Real advance in the spiritual life, then, means accepting this vocation with all it involves. The real spiritual life must be horizontal as well as vertical; it must spread more and more as well as aspire to more and more. It must be larger, fuller, richer, more generous in its interests than the natural life alone can ever be; must invade and transform all homely activities and practical things. For it means an offering of life to the Spirit of life, to whom it belongs; a willingness — an eager willingness — to take our small place in the vast operations of that Spirit, instead of trying to run a poky little business on our own.

I’m going to close with these lines from Great Things Have Happened by the Canadian poet Alden Nolan:

We were talking about the great things

that have happened in our lifetimes;

and I said, “Oh, I suppose the moon landing

was the greatest thing that has happened

in my time.” But, of course, we were all lying.

The truth is the moon landing didn’t mean

one-tenth as much to me as one night in 1963

when we lived in a three-room flat


That night, the three of us, Claudine, Johnnie and me,

woke up at half-past four in the morning

and ate cinnamon toast together.


“Is that all?” I hear somebody ask.


Oh, but we were silly with sleepiness

and, under our windows, the street-cleaners

were working their machines and conversing in Italian, and

everything was strange without being threatening,

even the tea-kettle whistled differently

than in the daytime: it was like the feeling

you get sometimes in a country you’ve never visited

before, except that there was nobody in this country

except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder

of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love.


For the full service see the post on Jo’s blog.


Reverend Jo James was appointed to the ministry of Mill Hill Chapel in Autumn 2014. He is a  minister on the roll of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches. He trained in Unitarian Ministry and Theology at Harris Manchester College, Oxford and Study of Religion at the University of Cambridge.

Inspired by poetry, theatre, film, performance, art and music he has qualifications and experience in Ministry, Theology, Study of Religion, Drama, Counselling and Co-counselling. He is an experienced worship leader and communicator. As well as Sunday worship and mid-week services he also leads rites of passage, baptisms, weddings and funerals and offers pastoral support and counselling at point of need.

Before ministry Jo worked for over twenty years in theatre including work at the RSC, National Theatre, Old Vic, Royal Court, Almeida and the Centre for Performance Research. He directed new writing and devised work at festivals in London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Cardiff and internationally, and lectured, taught and directed at universities and accredited drama schools.

He is a committed advocate of equal human rights, an LGBT ally and supporter of asylum seekers & refugees. He is involved with the Homeless Charter in Leeds and a supporter of Carbon Neutral Yorkshire.

He has two children and is married to Ann, a ceramic artist.

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