Monday, January 21, 2013

System Down?

This is a brief follow up to one part of a conversation related to sanctity, Christology, and our common praying.  See at Derek's here and at bls' here here

One of the things I have learned as a lover of the Prayer Book and of Anglican history is this: The system has rarely been fully operational.  

To put it another way, drawing on Martin Thornton, our Rule of Life is interpreted and interpretive, reforming and living.  And always just a little bit non-functional and broken, in need of debugging and rebooting.

What this does for me is give me a sense of generosity, appreciation, gratitude, patience, and a wariness toward any need to defend (God, Prayer Book, rigor, Anglican Christianity).  Rather, I wonder at the mess, and treat our pray and profession like an extended, lifelong canticle, psalm, confession, and lament.

Our own Ritualist revival [and later Anglo-Catholic continuance] often led to non-communing Masses and daily Masses.  Sunday Holy Communion and Daily Office were displaced for another rhythm, a rhythm that looks an awful lot like pre-Vatican II and some post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism.

Evangelical practice often led to Sunday Morning Prayer with sermon.

Methodist rigor often led to para-Church activities replacing the parish.

And then there is the average Anglicans over the course of Anglican history post-Reformation who likely knew Morning Prayer as Sunday worship with the possibility of ante-communion for the strange and righteous.  Non-communing was the norm for complicated reasons.  That this is no longer the case in the Episcopal Church is also due to a complicated history.

Currently, in small part to due to the contributions of our Ritualists and the Liturgical Movement, regular Sunday Holy Communion is the norm in the Episcopal Church.  The Daily Office, however, has all but fell off the map as a part of the life of a parish.

All in all, I would aver that in the course of 500 years, it has been the rare and rarer parish congregation (not just the priest, not just the occasional parishioner) that fully lives our rule as given to us in the Book.

Christ meets us through these cracks, continuing to guide us in Himself through the fullness of His Incarnation as prayed together.

Another of the things I have learned as a lover of the Prayer Book and of Anglican history is this: The most of the people are occasional practitioners at best.  

To put it another way, pre- and post- our Reformations, we continue to be people.  The occasional, lax, and Christmas/Easter Christian is not a new phenomenon.  And neither is the call for renewal and rigor.   I only wish that instead of so many of our own sour, defensive, grouchy, ueber reactions, we had instead more calls to wonder, like that bls gives us.  Such calls to wonder are worth a million well-argued apologies.

And we can either get irritated by disorder and imperfections and laxity or we can appreciate folks when they do show up.  Who knows where they have been, and what Christlike deeds they have been doing?  The hope is whether or not everyone shows up on Sunday or Daily, though we wish this were the case, that those responsible for the wonder of our common praying continue to make it available Sunday and Daily regardless of attendance.  Those responsible include our clergy and lay leaders.  

And all in all, I would suggest that the Prayer Book has personally nourished countless ordinary folks in Christ as they went about daily life, sometime daily life that might go for spans without darkening the door of the parish.  A psalm there, a prayer here.  Pieces in the bones for the pilgrimage.

I have wonders: The concern that the system [has not been and] is not in most places fully operational or that most Anglicans have been and likely will continue to be occasional raises questions about our ideals and about holiness.

The ideal of our Anglican catholic rule as I understand it given to us in the Prayer Book is Sunday Holy Communion and Daily Office of priest and people together.  How this is executed will vary from contemplative solemnity to boistrous informality, be they simple or be they elaborate.

And yes, style can say something about our understanding of rite and sacraments, or it can simply say something about our cultural contexts and formation and tastes.  And then there is flexibility and enrichment, both central to our Prayer Book in the Episcopal Church.

And this rule is both reformed, that is, Protestant--yes, I will own this for us, and catholic, that is, in keeping with the Great Chuch.  Indeed, central protesting concerns lodged in our rule of prayer, our rule of living are often catholic concerns, something F.D. Maurice, A.M. Allchin, Michael Ramsey, William Temple, and others have reminded us about.  For example, three of these that Cranmer gives to us are the singularity of Christ's merits and propitiation once-for-all(ways), God's initiative as ground, and a primarily thanking rather than pleading posture or orientation.    

What does it mean for us then that many of those we cherish as forerunners in the race, to one degree or another veered from the ideal?

Holiness is not something grasped.  Holiness grasps us through the less than ideal and even broken circumstances of our praying and living together.  God works with what and who is available.  And that is one  point of our broken rhythm, to open us, to make us available to the One Who Is.

Does this mean that we should not pay attention to our rule?  On the contrary, to continue to hold up the ideal is to hold up a concern for a prayed Christology, that is a living relationship with and in Christ, that encompasses the whole of humanity and creation, and where this has and does continue to deepen in communal reflection, to revise the prayers accordingly.  To hold up the ideal is to be ready for all comers.

Within this Prayer Book rhythm, we are caught up or deepened in Christ's union with us by the power of the Holy Spirit, and much of that is slow, hidden, unnoticeable, and very ordinary and profane precisely because we pray and profess a common Hope, a God become earthy.  Holiness in Anglicanism is on the whole not flashy and extreme, not emaciated and wild, but often drab and dowdy, kind of worldly and sometimes even baudy, even creative and poetic.  

A wonder for me remains, how much flexibility and enrichment?  If flexibility leads to a loss of Sunday Holy Communion or Daily Office as the heart of our common praying, flexibility is not in keeping with our rule.  If enrichment--of number of offices, of number of Saints, portends a break down of the central  foci of the Daily Office, such as there being two main offices or a schedule of psalms and readings not repeatedly thrown off by the sanctoral, then the enrichment is not in keeping with our rule.

Another wonder for me is this: If our notion of sanctity is no longer rooted in looking for those virtues of Christ, yes, uniquely displayed, in the person considered, then we must return to our rites of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion to remind ourselves of the fruits of union, knowing that in every age Christ in us and just so our being in Christ will manifest uniquely for that age in response to the needs of the world, and the needs are always many and various, indeed, as many and various as the fruits--patience, kindness, love, silence, justice, joy, courage, creativity...

I have many other wonders.

And probably we will never get it right.

No comments:

Post a Comment