Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Eastern Rite Anglicanism": Reflection One

I want to say a few things about a notion for an “Eastern Rite Anglicanism.”  I will offer a reflection day by day as time allows. 

When I was 19, icons are what attracted me to liturgies and to liturgical traditions. In a paper I wrote at 22 after a visit to an Orthodox Divine Liturgy:

Incense swirls upward, rises loftily toward the roof and abruptly pours out through the room, descending upon the crowd.  Gold-dusted icons of angels and saints on the iconostasis surround the central doorway, enthroning the icon of Christ, the Lord of the Universe who overlooks the assembly of worshippers.  All sense are enraptured in the sheer majesty of the experience as the Divine Liturgy prepares to unfold….The Divine Liturgy, therefore, is an icon of heavenly realities in which the people of God participate as if angels in the rituals of the Heavenly Court.

At 19, the qualities of color and light of the icons of Christ Pantokrator and of Mary Theotokos stole my heart.  Icons remain a central place in my devotional life and they are a part of the ritual life of my parish where our Mary Chapel features a lovely icon of the Theotokos of Tender Mercy as the central devotional aid.

Icons are not foreign to the sensibilities of the sacramentalitous traditions, traditions that hold that creatures can show forth something of God precisely because of our profession of the Incarnation, that blend in complex ways to make up Anglican common prayer.  And fragments of these pictorial proclamations of the gospel can be found scattered throughout the Western Churches, often as mosaics.  Most notably, we Anglicans know a parallel tradition, that of our poets who brush words to paper, writing these same surprising windows onto Heaven by ink, windows that become a way for us as a way to see all of creation anew and aright.  And those poems are deeply steeped in common praying.  You cannot fully appreciate Donne or Auden or Eliot or Countryman without opening and praying the BCP. 

Also at 19, reading Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton and the Desert Elders, I adopted the Jesus Prayer in simple form.  Combined with the Offices, this form of meditation or contemplative prayer has been my prayer practice ever since.

Some practices we label “Eastern” are in fact deeply rooted in a catholicity that stretches East, West, North, and South.  The Jesus Prayer tradition stems from a way of praying the Psalms, a way of doing so consecutively that is found among the wilderness saints from forests and oceans of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales to the forests and steppes of Russia to the deserts and caves of Syria and Egypt. 

This way of doing the Psalms, one of several ways of doing the Psalms, was taken up into the Office in many places, sometimes in monasteries, sometimes by cathedral chapels.  It has traditionally been the heart of our Anglican Offices. 

Within this way of doing the Psalms, St John Cassian and others recommend choosing a word or verse to return to again and again.  Some, like St. Isaac of Ninevah recommend simply “Jesus” the Name above all names.  His has been my way of doing the Jesus Prayer to this day.  

I first realized the relationship between praying the Psalms consecutively and praying the Jesus Prayer in my formational visits to a Benedictine monastery at 22.  Sitting close to the monastic choir day in and day out for a week here and a week there as I hoped for and prepared for acceptance into the monastery I later turned down, I had an “ah-ha” moment.  One day, as I was chanting with the monks, that feeling stole upon me so familiar to my practice of the Jesus Prayer.  I was “caught up,” to use St Paul’s phrase, in the loving darkness and blinding fire of contemplation even as I chanted on.  Only many years later did I do the research that led me to St Cassian's and others' relating of these two ways. 

The Psalms become like one great rosary or mantra or word.  Cranmer’s own stretching out of St Benedict’s Psalm schedule is continuation of this tradition.  Especially when slowly said or chanted. 

If you want, our Anglican way of doing the Psalms at the heart of the Office, deeply rooted in St Benedict’s reforms and within wider catholicity of the West in their choices of and structuring of content, are readily related to bedrock practices that shape the theology of our Orthodox kin: Psalms and Jesus Prayer.  They remain a central lens by which to see all of creation and greet every creature as Christ.  

There is no need to hanker after others' forms, we need only pray our own.  

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.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

"Indissoluable Bond": Our Beginning, Middle, End, and Ground

In a recent post on Holy Baptism, my friend, Dr Derek Olsen muses:
"Baptism is a beginning. It is the establishment of a new life in Christ. It is the gifting of the Holy Spirit, and the mystical union into Christ and the physically gathered community of believers. It is not the consummation and perfection of the life in Christ, but its start"
I want to begin some reflections that tease out a bit more from Derek's words to clarify somethings vital about our Baptismal rite.  This is just the first reflection.  More will be forthcoming.

In the words of F.D. Maurice, whose invisible hand guides much of the underlying baptismal theology of the 1979 Prayer Book and so much of baptismal theology in revisions throughout the Anglican Communion, "Baptism is the sacrament of constant union."

Maurice, who drew deeply on Luther and particularly John 1, reacted strongly against both Calvinistic Evangelical and budding Anglo-Catholic notions of his time that made of Baptism an event-back-there after which we either ever-worried about holding on to that faith in what we had received or tried to recover the superabundance of grace we received but that was ever-after lost by most because we do sin.

Rather, for Maurice, Baptism being our reception of God's covenant with us made once-for-all through, with, in, and as Jesus, is the the center and circumference, the orientation of our entire Christian life and existence, the faith and grace out of Whom we live (and hence, the ground for the sacramental practice of Reconciliation, etc. rather than means to try to, but never hold onto a necessary faith or recover a pristine state-of-grace).

Like John Wesley, at heart Maurice reinvigorates that catholic insight of justificatory grace found in St Paul and Luther. And he does so by placing it squarely at the heart of Holy Baptism not merely as propositional or a doctrine or a back-there-event, but as reception of Jesus' Personal union and relationship, and therefore, alive.

His revision is Christological, and makes Jesus' Person and work on our behalf in his once-for-all Incarnation primary, central, all-encompassing, and all-embracing.  This means that it is Jesus' faith and Jesus' grace we receive in the waters with the Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus' faith and grace are without end and without limit. And so, these are not centrally up to us to hold on to or recover.  They are to us given...given...given...

What does this mean for us? It contains a vital shift in conceiving of our spirituality, our orientation in how we view, go about, make meaning of, participating in everything. Baptism is more than "a beginning" or "start." Baptism is our beginning, middle, end, and ground precisely because we receive (that is, we are reoriented out of being turned in upon ourselves toward this One and thus all things rather than remaining turned in on ourselves) this unity with Jesus Christ through Baptism, a unity Christ has already once for all made with us and all of creation in his Person through his humanity--by his totus Incarnation from conception to sending of the Holy Spirit. Unlike Pusey, Derek alludes to this shift. I would take it further.

In the words of the Prayer Book, Baptism is "indissoluable bond" (BCP, 298). The real and personal union with Jesus' Person through his crucified and resurrected and ascended (that is available to all), his divinized, humanity is received full and complete in Holy Baptism.

Again, thinking Christologically, in Holy Baptism, the fullness and completeness and perfection and consummation of Jesus is received by each of us once-for-always. Rather than being "a beginning" or "start" on which we build, Baptism is the fullness, completion, and the promise out of Whom we live and into Whom we are called to deepen daily, called to become, called to be really (here I think of St Augustine's Sermon 272), in this real and personal union. And this becoming, this being really is returned to again and again by our remembrance of our Baptism and nourished and strengthened by Holy Eucharist. 

Notice a subtle difference in feel? There is one. And it relates to a real danger that Luther and those of us like myself who struggle with scrupulosity know well, namely, a want to "getting it right" and to perfection that can make a real mess of us.

As Fr Bill Carroll once noted, "Anglicans are not anxious about our salvation." Precisely. Because salvation, that is union with God, is accomplished once-for-all in Jesus' Incarnation and received by us indissoluably in Holy Baptism, we can put worry about our salvation, that is our union with God, aside. That is not for us the issue now. The issue is deepening in relationship with the One who will not let us go (see Rom 8).  Another way of saying this is how is it that this Salvation will now work Himself out in us and with us?  How will that union be deepened in us?  And, how is it I am called to live our this union--which without our ever being able to see, deepens union?  Not, how can we achieve union.  We cannot.

In receiving Jesus in Baptism, we are personally united to Jesus' Person by means of his humanity, and out of this union and relationship we live and move and have our being, that is, we participate in the divine Life already and everywhere always at work in creation and general society, though oft hidden and even reviled.

In receiving this Life, we respond by taking up witnessing to this Life in the midst of all things, knowing we will often get it wrong, may even lose faith, may be anything but gracious.

Now, unlike my Lutheran kin who are shy about sanctification, as an Anglican, I am obliged to consider sanctification, sanctity, or theosis lest we, in the words of Drs Michael Aune and Carol Jacobson, think this an "eschaton collapse."

Note that our receiving this fullness is not the same thing as our living out of, becoming, being really, this fullness. This is partial to Derek's concern. We struggle with sin. We carry burdens. We die.

However, the feel and movement are different. Ours is non-anxious. Christ's is the grounding move.

So, unlike so many Christian spiritualities in relation to sanctity, ours is not anxiety ridden or anxiety driven, and is first of all, not grounded in our morality (important as this is) or our striving for union (God does this) or even our being sinners (for as Maurice reminds us, we are first Christ's "who came to his own").

Rather ours is rooted in union and relationship with God Who Is Love, Jesus' Person and his virtues (work), Who we received forevermore in public and visible sign and out of Whom we grow into Who we received.

There is something relaxed (see James Alison) about us that makes others wonder if we consider sanctity at all important; indeed, there is something worldly about Anglican sanctity that is distinctive from other Christian spiritualities.  And that is central to my point: Getting stuck on becoming holy--striving for union--is dangerous, even deadly to the soul.  

Rather, we are oriented out of Union, Jesus in Whom we are rooted and live. We ask ourselves how it is we are called to be Him for others and greet others as Him.

Jesus who is fullness moves toward us and Jesus who ascended so as to fill all things is quickened and sealed in us (that is in our hearts, our whole being) by our being baptized and we can and should ever turn to that fullness, that sealing (+), especially precisely because we do sin.

In such a reorientation, sin itself is redeemable and can be itself forgiven, redeemed, and even taken up to show and grow something of that fullness of Christ in us. Being able to confess becomes gifted, responsive faith as much as a praise psalm or creed.

And that means that sanctity can have about it a trial-and-error quality, a lived feel, even experimentation and "getting it wrong"(see James Alison) because Jesus is alive!  Because Jesus is alive, we can live life with all of the complexity that is for human beings.

That means sanctity can take shape for the times and the particularities of persons, which inevitably is more complex than our hagiographies allow.  That means that sanctity has a contemplative, a receptive character to it that can never be reduced by us anxious types to something we can "be good" and strive for. Sanctity is first and foremost, received and out of Whom we participate. And this shifts the contours of how we approach sanctity quite a bit.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The One Who You Behold Is A Divine Mystery

A few days past, I was pointed to an article in that left me shaking my head, not because it is untrue, but because it is not a full enough vision. I must confess that I remain unconvinced of the ueber-seriousness sometimes found in the writings of the likes of Hauerwas and Wright. Something of wonder is lost in their want for the singularly corrective historical and ethical, biblical and traditional that finally does not do for me what these are intended to do, make This One alive in our time and place and culture in each of us in our own way together. Moves that, first, would press one season to another, Christmas to Advent, as if the two seasons together, along with Epiphany through Presentation to Transfiguration, indeed, by Lent onward through All Saints, do not break open a fuller and more whole encounter of Jesus, each in their own way, as they comingle, collide, and coalesce. I think of that verse of “What Child Is This?” when Good Friday breaks into Christmas Day:
Why lies He in such mean estate Where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian, fear: for sinners here The silent Word is pleading. Nails, spear shall pierce him through, The Cross be borne for me, for you; Hail, hail the Word Made Flesh, The babe, the son of Mary!
Or of those words of Wesley’s "Hark! The Heralds Angels Sing" when Pentecost closes upon us at Christmas: “born to give us second birth.” Or of Watt’s “Joy to the World” when Advent breaks into Christmas: “Joy to the world! the Lord is come: Let earth receive her King.” Persons are finally irreducible, are ultimately, not amenable to our grasping. And that must especially pertain to the Incarnate Word, the Infinite, Eternal Second Person, who emptied himself and commits himself to our finite and mortal condition in his Incarnation. Jesus Christ is irreducible and not amendable to our grasping. But this same Jesus grasps us as one of my favorite Noon Prayer collects reminds us: “Grant that all the peoples of the earth may look to you and be saved.” Our seeing and hearing this One, these move us to change...can do so for each and all of us, because the One we meet, being God, can meet us each and all where we are at. Not as we might become, not as others think we should be. Austin Farrer’s words posted by Fr. Gunter struck a bingo:
God does not give us explanations; we do not comprehend the world, and we are not going to. It is, and it remains for us, a confused mystery of bright and dark. God does not give us explanations; he gives us a Son. Such is the spirit of the angel's message to the shepherds: 'Peace upon earth, good will to men . . . and this shall be the sign unto you: ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.' A Son is better than an explanation. The explanation of our deaths leaves us no less dead than we were, but a Son gives us a life in which to live. – Austin Farrer (1904-1968)
Moves, that second, can so easily lead to justifications of our agendas. We can move so quickly to press Jesus to our agendas, political and ethical and otherwise, that we fail to leave space for others to encounter the Living and Incarnate and Wounded Person. When we do so, we leave no room for conversion…not to what we think the other person should do, but to what God is calling that person to become, which is never precisely what we think they should be or do. You see, our Mother Mary’s Song, and St. Zechariah’s, and St. Simeon’s, yes, they declare God’s Reign and the overturning of all that is at odds with God’s Reign, but they proclaim a doing of that that is finally not ours to complete, but a Person who is the Ruler and the Dominion. And this One, in the mean time, makes room for each and everyone one of us moved to become a someone called to a particular becoming in Him, a particular part in that Dominion, to be particular and unique…and that usually isn’t who others have decided for us, pressing their own desires or calling or becoming onto all others in pushy, moralizing fashion. Holiness has a million faces, each distinct, all Christlike. Archbishop Rowan Williams puts it beautifully when he writes:
The Church exists to be itself a symbol of God's purpose for a reconciled humanity; as such it works on the assumption that we do not yet know where the boundaries of the Body of Christ might finally lie. It cannot assume that this or that group is ultimately unreconcilable to God or to the rest of humanity. This is not because of any sentimental preconceptions about the natural goodness of human beings, but because of a conviction that the call of God can be addressed to any human person or community, and that is the same call to compassion, justice, conscious, and responsible love. Thus policies which involve wholesale slaughter or which rest on indiscriminate demonisation of a real or potential enemy cannot be squared with the kind of thing the Church is. Just by being itself, the Church will put a question to any such distorted ideas. The Church proclaims that there is one human destiny and that is found in relation to one focal figure, Jesus; but also that what this human destiny means cannot be worked out without "communion", a relation of profound and costly involvement with each other and receiving from each other. This and this alone is what saves the proclamation of Christ's uniqueness from being a piece of ideological tyranny. Only as each different "other" becomes a friend and a member of the Body can we discern how the unity of the Body will look; we do not begin with a blueprint which is to be forced on the stranger, or even a timetable and a programme for how they must accept the gospel. It is a matter of looking at the stranger with candour, patience, and hope, in the trust that our common destiny can be uncovered by the grace of Christ. -Rowan Williams, The Truce of God, 27.
Precisely in hymn sings and liturgies and at table in song of Christ to Christ we are changed…our hearts are moved…often slowly imperceptibly…not all at once…in a twinkling…a bit... Persons with too much may not be moved by a political rant or a hymn so ethically focused that no room for meeting the Living God is left to them, but they may be moved by an Infant nestled on hay at the back of an inn, in a cave surrounded by adoring parents, shepherds, astrologers, and farm animals accompanied to an angel’s praise. By a pageant. By a song of adoration. By candlelight. In our going out into dark night. And looking up to see the moon perfectly ringed by an opening in the clouds, like last night. And wonder. Awe. Tremble. And no the historical accounts we sing are not all sewn up so quickly as the author would suggest of the hymns. Compare ten Christmas hymns on the matter. The accounts aren’t sewn up tight in the Gospels for good reason. This gives us room. On the contrary to the ueber-serious, the point of Christmas hymns is what we will make of the contextualization of this One, this Joy, in our time, and culture, and place, and yes, politics, just as so many of our Christmas hymns do just that in the climes and times of those who composed them. Our politics is response, and necessary, but not the encounter. The setting of things right, God's politics if you will, which is more than our politics can attain, in the Canticles will finally not be ours but the advent doing of the One we encounter. So be careful of reducing these matters, right, left, or center. And what responses in this mean time! “Go Tell It” is a rousing strength by those enslaved the United States every bit as much as powerful as Wesley’s “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” is a revolt against the slave trade. But do we know that about either hymn? To what do they move us today? “Go Tell It” moves me to consider how the Glad Tidings are for all of creation, not just homo sapiens sapiens. Precisely at Christmas, as not other time, save Good Friday, there is room for the flesh in our fullness, for the affective, even yes, the sentimental and schlocky and tacky and kitsch that moves our hearts in ways that moralizing or right history or politics or the correct interpretation or a singular read of tradition alone cannot. I think of my mother-in-law last night, singing along in German to the hymns we sang in English…and later that evening, as we bustled in the kitchen in preparation for today’s open house Christmas Day dinner, my humming “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and her singing along in German as she peeled potatoes. Here too in the singing, a political happening unfolds, a dinner prepared for others. I think of the too many sermons that tell us that Jesus came for some or another group. No, I have to respond, Jesus came for all—all of humanity, rich and poor and inbetween, all sentient and living creatures, rocks and stars, every speck of dust and lone atom. Not first and foremost to save us, but first and foremost to be with us, to love us…and it is his loving us that changes us. Our salvation is the consequence of his becoming flesh, one of us, loving us in the flesh, not as a sort of mechanistic first thing, as the reason for the Incarnation. The Reason is kinship and friendship, and these invite us into citizenship. It is this Love first that we sing at Christmastide, the Reason of the Season, Glad Tidings, sometimes in kitschiness. It is, however, this first thing tendency we give to the reason for Jesus' coming, this same pressing want to make of the Person a result or consequence, that makes me uncomfortable when applied too easily to the Canticles and their declarations of upheaval, for that upheaval is an upheaval Who is King and Kingdom, and none of our politics will remain on that Day. In the mean time, we live as if, and in our own small ways, each in our contribution, our responsive works of love, our citizenship, live out the hope of this End. And the schmaltz of Christmas Day moves my heart toward fellow human beings in a very sad moment in our nation's life when calls to do this or that left, right, and center simply do not and cannot. The contextualization of this One is precisely why the Benedictus and the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis are not only Christmas or Advent songs, but songs we sing in Lent, and Easter, and after Pentecost, and on All Saints. In every season, we are called to put on, contextualize, make manifest the One who became one of us, Jesus Christ. A song about a sweet Child in a manger is political in a way that breaks apart all of our political categories, makes room for us to become the one who God is calling us each to be, uniquely holy, makes room for us to greet others as Christ:
Goodwill greets us by the strong wails of a newborn crying, his wail our own and every, his stillest sleep is no more Peace than his raising a tiny hand, clenched to fist With-Us.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Friday, May 18, 2012

Matter Matters: Anglican Materiality

Everywhere I read these days, I encounter a lot of words about “spirituality.” In a recent conversation with a Lutheran student, I asked, “But what spirit?” “Well, the one in creation.” “Certainly. But Whose?” … Finally, I said, “The Spirit of Jesus.”

For me, as an Anglican Christian, Jesus is the “hinge,” to draw on Tertullian’s famous quotation about the Incarnation. And Jesus is the lens through Whom I am drawn into seeing human social life and all of creation as dignified, loved, redeemed, acting, in the words of F.D. Maurice and Michael Ramsey, as if the Consummation is already. As I observed in a sermon on Philippians 2:

This Lord Jesus, by his birth and life and death and resurrection and ascension and sending of the Spirit, freely shares the dignity of his Person and Name with you, with me, with us, with every creature and the whole of creation. In Prof Carol Jacobson’s paradoxical completion of St. John Damascene’s words, “Because of the Incarnation, God reverences all remaining matter,” you and you and me and us and every creature. Amen. 
This is not one of the many spirits of woo and woo, but the Spirit who leads us into life. And by that, I mean the Spirit Who will not let us divide out a moment of experiencing God in contemplation from a moment of experiencing God in nature from a moment of dealing with conflict in our parish or work or home life from a moment of experiencing absolute Lutheran/Ignatian hiddenness and desolation. For someone like myself, who has experienced God in all of these ways, any lesser spirit will not do because any spirit lesser does not love flesh and life enough to have conceived God’s own Image as one of us in the womb of the Virgin Mother.

All are moments of potential encounter with the One Who promises to be with us always, not finally escaping this world, but continually engaging the world and recreating us all, not only in silence and beauty, as much as these are necessary for my well-being, but through the daily ins and outs of messy life.  Any spirituality worth my time will be one that puts fingers to flesh, not just in the beautiful moments, but in the hard times.

This is what Anglican liturgies do.

Anglican liturgies lead us into encounter with and train us to experience God who comes to us as word and song, innerward and outward, silence and voice, prayer and sacrament, as Word of our need for God in all things, as Body and Blood given to us in such a way that we are prevented from decoupling sweet things from “In the night in which he was betrayed.”  In our liturgies, we taste the vision of a God Who “goes all the ways down,” to quote Reformed theologian, Serene Jones.

The Spirit of this Jesus cannot lead us but to do the same, being of one will with the Father and the Son. So, our liturgies lead us not merely into fleeting moments of bliss, but train us to enduring responses of ecstasy, of going out of ourselves to be with and for others.

At the dismissal, we go forth thanking God, bearing thanksgiving into our fallen human social worlds and joining our voices with those of birds and bees and dogs.  We go forth into our human social worlds that are beloved and betrayer, we go forth into nature that is at once in glorious song to God and disfigured by our fallenness, our failure to acknowledge God in Christ as our “center and circumference,” to quote St. Bonaventure.

And just as Thomas does, we are asked to touch these wounds. For precisely where there is vulnerability, hurt, suffering, hard times and hardened hearts, the Word and Spirit are at work, blessing, healing, reconciling.  They ask our responsive cooperation. Or in the words of Anglican theologian, John Booty, our “contribution.”

This Spirit and any spirituality that goes and be-s with, takes us into the life of the world to be for the life of the world.  Contemplative practices, meditation on Scripture and creation, praying the Office, going to Mass, must be interpreted in this Light or they fail the Incarnation smell test.

[And as an aside, before some object, I would remind them that for St. Augustine, proclamation of the word too is sacrament. I don’t object. Words too are creatures, if you will. Through these too, God makes Godself available. As I’ve written before, words are icons—again, matter encounters with God in Christ Jesus. Use them with care and love.]

Recently in a sermon at my partner’s parish on Faithful, rather than Doubting, Thomas, I pondered for a moment the implications of a resurrection untethered from the cross (and crib):

In other words, in St. John’s proclamation and in Blessed Julian’s revelation and in Updike’s reading, bodies matter. “The flesh is the hinge of salvation.” Precisely from the inside, as one of us, a human creature of blood and sweat and clay, the Second Person, the Word, the Wisdom of God, the Image of God, wholly identifies with you and with me and with us and with every creature and the whole of creation, showing in himself very God, and in himself overcoming our march to an end in non-existence, non-being, hell—we might even say, [in] the spiritual. 
As I have continued pondering my “dense musing,” as a congregant observed to me afterward, rather than spirituality, I would suggest that we Anglican Christians are shaped by a very material orientation, a matter-loving ethos, that is rooted in the Incarnation, God become one of us as Jesus Christ. In the challenging words of William Temple, “Christianity is the most avowedly materialistic of all the great religions.”

And among Christians, though not uniquely, Anglican Christians embrace a vision of all of our human social worlds and the whole of creation reoriented to and reconciled with and united in the Communion of the Triune God, not just in the beauty of holiness in the sanctuary, but in the of joy in being alive even as we have to wrestle with all our complexity and mess and sin.

So, I would prefer to speak and write of Anglican life as practices of “materiality.” What do I mean by this? In a recent article, Lutheran Martin Marty quotes Anglican Martin Thornton.  Thornton reminds us of that distinctly Anglican focus on matter because of the Incarnation.  We Anglicans are a matter-loving people.  Marty spots our sacramental worldview and applies it to his Lutheran own.  So, I mean this way of viewing and engaging our fallen human social worlds and all creation as potential encounter with the Living Christ by the Holy Spirit, not by skirting around blood and flesh and bone, but by meeting the uniqueness of a created being spoken into existence and sustained in being by the Triune God.

I use this term, “materiality,” rather than the theologically proper “sacramentality” because we need a jolt to our system in the midst of the ubiquitous “spirituality” that in many of its various forms as interpreted is more often than not desirous to escape the grind of dust and press of flesh, to be at blissful peace away from others.  Such an interiority is at odds with contemplative practices (for these are the one's most labeled "spiritual"), and indeed, Office and Mass, intended to lead us deeper into the Life of God and paradoxically deeper into the life of the world.  Prayerful peace is a peace engaged with others' needs and sufferings and harms.  Daily bliss is a bliss in the sweeping of floors and changing of diapers.

Our experiences of God, to quote Karl Rahner, are “mediated immediacy.” God meets us through, with, in, or in the words of that ditty, attributed alternatively to John Donne and Elizabeth I, as matter:

He was the Word, that spake it:

He took the bread and brake it;

And what that Word did make it,

I do believe and take it. 
Whose Spirit? The Spirit of Jesus.

The Spirit Who works through, with, in, and as flesh, drawing us into Jesus Christ by calling us out of ourselves to be with and for others, so that indeed, I may encounter God in a bee buzzing in the flowers outside my window this morning as I pause from writing this or in the working out of ugly conflict with a co-worker.  And I might do so because I have been schooled to do so with daily Psalms:
O LORD, how manifold are your works!     in wisdom you have made them all;    the earth is full of your creatures.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reconnecting Confirmation

Derek helpfully opens up another conversation that is all the buzz in Episcopal circles—at least among liturgy geeks. The question is Confirmation. A movement is afoot to eliminate this rite as part of our 1979 process toward recovery of Holy Baptism as our ground. The claim is that it is a sacramental rite or Sacrament in search of a theology. I fear that like CWOB, to do this will cause our Anglican kin to pause and wonder about us regarding sacramental matters. In other words, it raises questions of catholicity.

The issue is that in the Western Church(es), a portion of the oil rites, due to distance, where overtime stretched from the water rite as dioceses became larger and bishops could only make such trips on occasion, sometimes once a in lifetime or even not at all. In know this is hard for us to imagine today, but remember that St. Augustine's own cathedral as we can reconstruct it was likely parish-sized. Connection to the bishop was not so far away. That changed. Both water and oil are part of a whole intended to signify our being made a member of Jesus Christ through Christ’s own Body, the Church, and deepened in this life and identity by the power of the Holy Spirit that continues with receiving Holy Communion. For the Roman and North African rites, those that most influence us, there are two oil rites, a pre-baptismal exorcistic anointing and a post-baptismal anointing [yes, I mixed these up in my comment’s at Derek’s blog]. For the Romans, the post-baptismal oil rites had two anointings. It is this second post-baptismal anointing that moved due to episcopal distance and sometimes lost a connection to Holy Baptism, becoming Holy Confirmation. Other rites had not a pre-baptismal anointing or only had one post-baptismal anointing. I might add, however, that Christmation was not always administered by the bishop, in the East, but could be and is today administered by parish priests as permitted by the bishop. And today, in the Roman tradition, a priest administers confirmation as so permitted as well, especially for adults. For example, I was baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church by my parish priest. So making too much of the necessity of episcopal hands and thumbs directly will not serve the claim of Bodily connections that the bishop signifies.

I do not see a reason why we cannot restore the connection between water and oil in one of two ways, either by placing Holy Confirmation with Holy Baptism as is done with adults being initiated and as the Eastern Churches do to this day for adults and babes alike, OR by restoring the connections theologically. I think both are worth much more consideration, and are less likely to severe catholic connections that are suggested to my mind by eliminating the rite altogether.

The former is a relatively easy fix, given we now commune babes, and the emphasis on understanding has been placed in a careful lifetime learning approach rather than on a moment with the caveat that understanding is always limited when it comes to the Mysteries.

I want to linger on the theological alternative that is in keeping with a recovery of our baptismal emphasis and that is rooted in centuries of Anglican practice and concern for formation. Just as Confession/Reconciliation is grounded in our baptism, as a moment of returning to our grounding in Christ and Christ’s Body, it does not seem a great stretch to suggest that Confirmation is a maturing of our baptism, as a moment of personal owning for oneself by profession of faith and of being strengthened in the life of Christ and Christ’s Body by hands of the one among us that signify our being bound with the whole and oil that signifies quickening of the Spirit in us for a life of service in the Community and for the world. Why is this not worthy? It is much of our present practice, and it has a sacramental practicality about it that is every bit as much valid as theology as the treatises and tombs we have on Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

This is not so very different from current practice where some catechesis and making the faith one’s own is hopefully to occur and where the confirmand is prepared to take up responsibility in the Community.