Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009


I have spent the last few days in New York City. My good friend was ordained a presbyter on Friday.

I am asked about my vocation a lot these days--a recurring theme in my journey with God. "Get him ordained." "When will you become a priest?" and so forth. Sometimes I wonder what it might mean to pastor a parish, to preside over the Holy Communion. I, after all, deal with our liturgies all the time in so many ways. As someone growing into being a public theologian, I am quite lovingly protective of our Prayer Book. Sometimes I wonder if I should not consider entering the process again.

And then I hear again the stories of trauma that our call process induces. Many leave with scars even as they pass through. The process does not always seem concerned with raising up prayerful, pastoral priests. Misused power, arbitrariness, personalities, and egos seem to drive processes that should be about discernment. When I was considering entering the process, I remember the priest of my parish say to me, "Once you're in the process, you're mine--we own you." I was appalled by such a misuse of authority. On the other hand, too many come through the process who have no particular care for a personal prayer life much less a love of those things I consider primary to the presbyteral calling: prayer, sacraments, pastoral care. Do priests even make visitations to all of their parishioners anymore anywhere? How many parishes insist upon reform to a regular round of the Office? If I were to change one thing, I would want our discernment processes taken out of the hands of the powerful and placed into the hands of the prayerful. Discernment processes in each diocese should be done by wise councils of contemplatives with such gifts as discernment. Be that process as it is, I have no desire to enter such a process as currently structured.

Again seeing one called to be a presbyter, I get a better glimpse of my own calling.

While flying, I am reading Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth. It is a life of prayer according to my station in life--essentially monastic or contemplative in the world. Perhaps a spiritual director or theologian in its richest sense. I am struck in the book, for example, by the way Br. Philip leads and advises and cares for others. This is the type of person I want to become.

I sat with my friend in meditation for twenty minutes before he had to leave to prepare for the Holy Communion. I inwardly prayed for him to be surrounded by Christ's love and filled with Christ's peace as he led us in the Holy Communion. This is his work. Mine, at least in part, is to sit with others in prayer. In the same way that I catch glimpses as I preside over the Board of Directors of my community, I saw what I might be sitting in prayer with my friend. That prayerful, centering, advisory, discerning presence is what is my deepest longing. It is not to powerlessness, but to prayerfulness.

Prayerfulness is its own authority, I am discovering.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Christus Consummator or the Feast of Christ the Consummation of All Things?

This is the theology F. D. Maurice bequeathed to us, building on the Fathers and Reformers, and it is the theology upon which Michael Ramsey built his christological ecclesiology, Ecclesia Consummatrix. This is a thoroughly catholic christology, but it is wider in its mercy than many other catholic accounts. It presumes not Christ's absence, but his Presence. It presumes a form of realized eschatology that I call Presence or liturgical eschatology (because there is not currently a technical term for such an eschatology). Christ, the Last Day, the Final Judgment, the End of Days, the Omega as the Alpha, is present to us everywhere he is Named and explicitly in Word and Sacrament, and yet, the Consummation is not yet. It is this same theology that I have discovered in our anaphorae over and over again. Christology grounds our ecclesiology. Our Episcopalian christology is rooted in a vision of Christ as the Consummation of All Things.

bls points to an important observation. Christ the King may be wending its way into our calendar, but before it does, perhaps we should consider our own collect for the Last Sunday after Pentecost (or Trinity):

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
I could not help but think of this as the close of All Saintstide and the opening onto the eschatological, even apocalyptic mood of Advent. After all, the Incarnation is himself the End as much as the Beginning, so too the Feast of the Incarnation. This collect is a fitting close to these All Saints weeks when we consider the great cloud of witnesses and our relationship with the Whole. All Saints is itself a feast of the Incarnation, to pick up on Derek's recent post, noting the Anglican change to Wednesday. Our christology is pleromatic.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Worm Theology

The other day as I walked through the parking lot, a large earthworm crossed my path. He-she was wriggling his-her way rapidly toward a patch of green-covered ground. As I drove out of the lot, I carefully drove so as to avoid running over him-her. I smiled to myself as in the rearview mirror, I saw him-her reach land.

When I see earthworms, I am reminded of a professor who once told me about her childhood church experiences. She remembers that her church drilled into her that we humans are lower than worms. We are wretched. She calls this "worm theology."

I read a portion of the Rule everyday. Recently, I read from Chapter 7:

The seventh step of humility is that he should not only pronounce with his tongue that he is inferior to and more common than all, but also believe it in the intimate sensibility of his heart, humbling himself and saying with the prophet: As for me, I am a worm and no man, shameful among men and an outcast of the people (Psalm 22:7).

I thought of my professor. But I remained struck by the quotation from Psalm 22.

St. Benedict, writing for the Roman men of his era, wants to remove any sense of airs on the part of his charges. In a community filled with a mix from late Roman society, slaves and free, highborn and peasant, noble and vagabond, Benedict wants his monks to be rid of worldly notions of rank in relating to one another.

As I read the passage now, I am struck by the wonders of God's creation. I think of the earthworm that crossed my path.

To count myself with worms need not imply worthlessness or contempt toward my person. I came to a quite different conclusion in reading that passage after a joyous round of Psalms and an earthworm encounter. We are not to count ourselves better than others, even earthworms. We too are creatures of earth. We are clay. We are dust. We are createds to use a term by theologian, George Tinker. Or creatures of stardust if we want to think more cosmically. Within the context of the Psalms as whole, and I think especially of those Psalms in which all of creation lauds God, this passage asks us to accept that we too are creatures, ordinary, common. At the same time, this overall Psalmic context reminds us that all things created, all that have their being from God, are also beloved of God.

We humans, to quote my grandmother, "Get too big for our britches."

We start thinking of ourselves as better than worms and frogs and horses.

Soon we start thinking of ourselves as better than one another.

And it is not long before we think ourselves better than God.

To count myself no better than a worm is to accept that I too am a creature of earth.

We so often confuse humility with humiliation.

Humiliation is precisely to show ourselves or another contempt. Humiliation always plays in a vicious pattern: Superior/Inferior. When we humiliate others, we feel superior. When others humiliate us, we feel inferior.

Humility is to count ourselves among the worms, that is, creatures of earth. To be humble is to step outside of the worldly game of superiority and inferiority. We too are creatures. We too have talents and gifts, as well as lacks and growing edges. Knowing our own fragility, we more easily bear with others' faults. Knowing the value of an earthworm in the sight of God, we consider the hippopotamus and the whale with Job's silence and awe.

Surprisingly, when I am willing to place myself alongside the earthworm, rather than humiliation, I find a peace and joy. What better place is there to be than singing praises alongside all of God's creatures? This is the overall context of the Psalms. We humans want to pretend we are not of earth. One way or another, the Psalms remind us that only if we accept our earthiness will we find ourselves human.