Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Rhythm of the Days and Seasons of our Church Year

One of the things I am reminded of at two of the greater transitions in the Church Year, After Trinity/Pentecost to Advent and After Epiphany to Lent, is that at its best, as Derek, reminds us again and again, the lectionary is a key to understanding the formation of us by the Church Year.

Transition is gradual. The lectionary texts start taking on the themes of Advent before Advent, and the same with Lent. Preparation is already underway in the trifecta of the Cloud of Witnesses. Preparation is already underway in those formerly numbered weeks.

This is how we are formed and normed by the Incarnation, to the oneness and totality of Jesus Christ's conception, birth, life, teachings, death, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Spirit, and coming, always coming to us explicitly in psalm and canticle and prayer, word and bread and wine, and hiddenly in life everyday and in all of God's creation, until finally, when as Tutu writes, we shall reach a tipping point, and Christ hidden and at work always and everywhere shall burst forth full bloom and we see the Little One in every face and the great Cloud take on flesh before our eyes in the blinding light of Love.

This all gets me to the point of this post. The Advent Sours, those people who go into apoplexy if you dare sing a Christmas hymn in the Advent season, need to take a chill pill. I write this as a former Advent cranky-pants extraordinaire. This sort of thing is a little like an anachronism. Sort of like those in a perfectly pristine sanctuary of 21st Century America trying to recreate in exact replica the rites of 14th Century Hereford cathedral (never mind that local practice in parishes was probably quite unique, and never mind the dogs and horses and stink). Singing carols and hymns in Advent as preparation for the Nativity is longstanding and finds support in all sorts of popular practices if we dare to look at dramas, local customs, and the like. Advent after all has a multivalent character, looking toward Nativity, looking toward Parousia, bleeding into and being bled into by the trifecta of the Cloud of Witnesses, and even carries with it more than a tinge of the Cross and the promise of Resurrection and the goodness of Creation afire by God's Holy Spirit.

The central concern of many sour folk, a very catholic concern, is that the American Reformed tradition's elimination of the liturgical year has led us to a socio-cultural rhythm of the commercial days of Christmas starting after Black Friday, if not earlier, and ending Christmas Day--just when the Days and Season of Christmas are beginning. Commerce swallows up both Advent and Christmas and forms us! And not to the Incarnation! We lose expectation, waiting, preparation, and a bit of penitence (yes, I think, a bit of penitence as much as joy characterizes this season, disagreeing with some of my former professors in this regard. I recommend using the first Collect everyday just as Ash Wednesday's is used in Lent.). But this swallowing up is only so by our own actions and habits. We have been formed in competing ways. That is the catholic concern, and rightly so. But rather than rail and whine and get all pissy, let's take responsibility for this, rather than slam someone down for singing, What Child Is This? Better a hymn to the Incarnation than not. We do not know how God might move a heart to faith by that long stretch of holiday favorites usurping regular radio programming unto Christmas Day.

As Dr. Michael B. Aune noted of Candlemas last year in a magnificent sermon, this is a day already portending Lent. He mused, perhaps we Twentieth Century folk have compartmentalized our Days and Seasons of the Church Year in ways our ancestors in the faith would not--because they knew better. To hear, Lo, How A Rose at Rejoicemas is a welcome relief, a bit of Christmas, and more than a bit of Marian piety for we who swing that way.

Nativity reaches into Parousia, and vice versa. Purposely. As I wrote in my last post, the Nativity is put-to-promise on God's word to us that in the End the fullness of God shall be visibly, completely, fully All in All. Nativity should reach into Parousia. And just so, Parousia should reach into Nativity. God is with us! God is with us, indeed! God has not gone absent in the meantime contra popular cultural tales of being left behind. Though often hidden, unknown, even despised, God in Christ is present, working, redeeming, creating anew through, with, and in flesh. And calling we who are Church to say so. Everyday! Nativity reaching into Parousia is also a reminder that flesh matters. Flesh is fit for showing forth God, as the Damascene writes in defending icons. Yet, crap still happens. Flesh bleeds. The Cross is present, too. Folks still are starving in the streets. People are now dying from wars. Creation groans from our pollution and waste. And we hear God say, "I send you." Flesh matters, love Me in the flesh.

So, if we must offer a liturgical solution so that Advent gets its due in an overly commercialized cultural context, rather than become Advent Sours, I recommend revisiting the possibility of an earlier start to Advent, say the Sunday after St. Martin's Feast. After all, catholic practice, the want to make the Incarnation encountered here and now in proclamation and sacrament, is known to respond to the contextual realities of flesh.

We tried just this solution this year at the seminary. What I have noticed is that the longer Advent season has led on my part to a bit of melancholy, perhaps depression if not despair, and impatience for Christmas to arrive. One person noted, there are consequences for making such changes in the calendar. Yes, there are. And a bit of melancholy and blues, not just contemplation and give aways, are precisely how it should be in Advent. The long seeming slow decay to despair that otherwise haunts this season in a world of hunger and fear and hate makes way to the Promise that we and all flesh shall behold God, in the Child, and Though, With, and In Us and All Flesh. And in this mean time of tensions, when we know Him only explicitly in remembrance of His death and by proclamation, a longer Advent reminds us as does the Nativity to "Love Him in the World of the Flesh." (W.H. Auden, For the Time Being).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

At the Heart of Anglican Catholicity is the Incarnation: Devotion to the Theotokos

Anyone who has read my ramblings over many years know that I tend to resist labels, partially because labels can get in the way of learning from those with whom you disagree and partially because the categories Anglicans tend to work in do not fit very well or have become ossified by their most ardent adherents so that I associate:

Anglo-Catholic not only with the sensuous worship without which I cannot live, but also with some serious 19th Century theological errors related to Baptism and Eucharist; with a tendency to focus on an autocratic if not tyrannical authority of the episcopate to the exclusion of the rest of the Body in Council, sometimes in ways, as of late, that show inclinations toward Roman ecclesiologies at odds with our messy (because alive and engaged with flesh) lived Anglican ownhood (to draw from Auden); with a museum curator's habit in collecting liturgical artifacts that at the same time makes dismissal of any creativity or recycling necessary to make the Incarnate One known in our time, place, and culture even as is lauded the creativity of other times, places, and cultures; and with a don't ask, don't tell tendency that kills members of the Body and is justified for the sake of the greater good in an imperial interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12. While lauding the flesh of the Incarnate One, I have sometimes found a tendency to denigrate the flesh of others, whether women or gays, in the name of theology and beauty. Such seems at odds to me with the Incarnate One in his fullness, of whom we too are members.

What I have come to realize is that these things are not the markers of one who is catholic; many in fact, are conditions of temperament, time, and place, and culture. But as I lit the candle before the icon of the Virgin of the Sign at seminary this last week, made the Sign of the Cross, and said the Ave Maria in Latin, I could not avoid the catholic label in some fashion. Some have thought me Catholic (that is, Roman or Anglican) for such devotion, but I have explained that no, such devotion is just catholic. Just catholic. Meaning simply ordinary, common, universal. The sensuousness of it all in the best of High and Anglo-Catholic worship is the inspiration of imagination, to vision, to a world as seen through the Image of God, Jesus Christ. A truly catholic worship should inspire creativity as response and even as offering liturgically in hymnody, art, poetry, and the like.

I do not flee to Mother Mary because she stands in for Jesus. As Anglicans we did away with any sense that mediation or merit is other than Jesus Christ's. And rightly so. I go to her because in her as like no other, Holy Wisdom was, and is, and comes. She is the one pregnant with promise and possibility. My connection to the Theotokos is not for need of mediation, but it is for comfort and friendship and intercession and inspiration as members of the same One Body, for we are of hers by Him and through His. Like other saints, I have a relationship with her. I talk to Mary, yes, I talk to Mary, often. In hard times and easy, she listens, embraces, and challenges, pointing me to Christ, as if to tell me pray, "Be it done unto me, according to your word." And she really likes, not just loves, her gay children, btw.

At the heart of an Anglican catholicity is the God who gets himself dirty, humbles (makes himself earthy) Godself out of love for us into all the ordinary and messy places of life unto birth in a manger, our theologia incarnationis again. Not that the manger is where it will end in some gross nostalgia, for the Cross already looms in Herod's evil order and Rome's imperial foot-on-neck, but because at the Crib everything is already won. God is become one of us! Today! as the antiphon for the Magnificat declares for Christmas days. In the Word become flesh the powers of sin and death are subjected no matter how they whisper lies otherwise in the meantime, and in this Child, our humanity and indeed all flesh is shown its true dignity as that fit for deity. The promise of Easter arrives in a Crib: God will never let us go! So it has been from the Beginning, when God began to create...

And just so, the promise of the End is given in the Beginning. We were and are ever spoken into being through God's Word, as Maurice noted--the powers never had a chance. Even before his birth in time, we were and do belong to the Word. That is precisely why what feels to be the close of the Church Year is also its beginning. The promise of the Consummation found in the All Saints Octave and its afters, in Adventtide, and Saptientiatide is found in the Nativity and the entire swath of Presentations through Candlemas. That given and promised in the Nativity of the Word of God shall be finished in the Consummation, when that same Wisdom, Jesus Christ, who fills all things in his risen humanity, is All in All, hidden, unknown, even despised, and always at work, shall burst forth full bloom upon us all unawares and overtake all that separates us from ourselves, one another, the whole of creation, and God:

One day, the Gospel tells us, the tension gradually accumulating between humanity and God will touch the limits prescribed by the possibilities of the world. And then will come the end. The presence of Christ, which has been silently accruing in things, will suddenly be revealed—like a flash of light from pole to pole. Breaking through all the barriers within which the veil of matter and the watertightness of souls have seemingly kept it confined, it will invade the face of the earth….Like lightning, like conflagration, like a flood, the attraction exerted by the Son of Man will lay hold of all the whirling elements in the universe so as to reunite them or subject them to his body....[1]

Yes, we live in the tension of the meantime of promise, feeding on him who we know only explicitly as proclaimed Word and ingested Sacrament, but we shall see face to face. But this feeding nevertheless opens our eyes to a creation ever being spoken into being by this One, ever groaning forth shoots of light, and so the catholic Christian gives each due reverence, even praying that God remember a Holy Thorn Tree cutdown without thankfulness or purpose when others would scorn:

Blessed are you, O God, Creator of the universe,

who was, and is, and will ever be our only life: Receive into your care this holy thorn tree, daughter of that which you gave to the people of Glastonbury to twice yearly bloom as remembrance and sign of the incarnate deity and risen humanity of your Son; Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

By Word and Sacrament, we may read Christ in his Other Book from hurtling Asteroid to braying Zebra. For me, the Mystery of God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, and of the Body nurtured by him, and the promised fulfillment of all creation in the Consummation is no where better discovered than in Mother Mary. I cannot help but see that promise most fully in the she who birthed the Creator of earth, and sea, and sky:

Mother of Christ, hear thou thy people's cry
Star of the deep and Portal of the sky!
Mother of Him who thee made from nothing made.
Sinking we strive and call to thee for aid:
Oh, by what joy which Gabriel brought to thee,
Thou Virgin first and last, let us thy mercy see.

[1] Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, 266.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ramblings on Our Anglican Theologia Incarnationis

More Deeply Into the Life of the World: God’s Humility and Human Glory

I live and work among Lutherans. Over time, in fact, I would say that I have become somewhat “bi-lingual,” able to speak both “Anglican” and “Lutheran” theologically, historically, liturgically. A certain vocabulary and directionality characterizes this Lutheran distinctiveness. And it is a gift to the wider Church universal.

This ecumenical conversation has not left my own thinking unchanged. On the contrary, this conversation has led me to appreciate more deeply my own tradition, which shares much with Lutherans, and to examine afresh our own conceptions, theologies, doxologies, teachings--our distinctiveness as Anglicans.

Lutherans often speak and write of the theologia crucis or theology of the cross. I will go so far as to say that this theologia crucis is not so very far from the Anglican emphasis on the Incarnation. After all, if I may speak so boldly, what characterizes Anglican theology is a theologia incarnationis.

The Lutheran focus on Christ on the Cross as the paramount self-revelation of God rubs wrong all of our desires for a glory rooted in success and self-centeredness, excess and exaltation. As an Anglican, I would chime in, so does a God in diapers living under threat of empire and vassals.

This Lutheran focus on the Cross is an Incarnational bent not unrelated to the Anglican emphasis of the crib, heightened this time of year. But just as the Cross is more than the Crucifixion, so is the Incarnation more than the Nativity. Both in my experience indeed take us through the full sweep of the event of the Person of Christ happening among us, not just back then, but here and now among us explicitly in Word and Sacrament. Both in turn take us into the life of our social worlds and all of creation--good, bad, ugly, and shit. This is what Anglicans have tended to call "incarnational," that notion, that because God has become a creature, nothing creaturely is outside the purview of God's concern. This incarnationalism is not unrelated to Anglican emphasis on the Church as Christ's Body, something we take rather seriously, sometimes to the point that Christ who makes us "by the power of the Holy Spirit" is eclipsed by our being made, ecclesiology, and related polity and governance.

Yet, our theologia incarnationis is not first and foremost a mystical emphasis on birthing "Christ in us," though it may be that for some few given particular gifts, but first and foremost a communion or fellowship or commons of "Christ for us and we for others." Irrespective of gifts, explicit means are what remain commonly shared and required. The emphasis is on relationships to God and one another centrally in Baptism and Communion, and in turn, to our social worlds and the whole of creation. And not that we bring Christ to an otherwise Christless world, but that we go forth to name where the Word is at work in our social worlds and creation, though hidden, unknown, and even despised. What we might characterize as Brs. Paul and Cranmer's "we in Christ." That is why leaves can burst forth divine fire and surprise us, why it is that movements and changes in our social worlds too can say something of truth, and so, precisely why Anglican poetry has tended not to ignore God's working in our social worlds and creation.

But before we get to the good and the ugly, something perhaps most obvious in Anglican poetry, being bold enough to look at the bad and the shit begins at Nativity. The close of Auden's For the Time Being is a prime example. This is where Cross and Crib kiss.

The Lutheran emphasis on the Incarnational direction of God’s self-gift, that is a direction toward us as ground for our response, questions any spirituality that would put our own quest for God as the starting point. We are, to quote so many, receptive responders in relationship to the God of the universe. We do not go up to God. God comes down to us. In modern parlance, we do not find God. God searches us out and meets us. In Christ, God has found us, embraced us, once for all times. The spiritual quest under such conditions is not finding God, but loving our neighbor as ourselves in our daily society. At the same time, this Incarnational bent is not unrelated to the Anglican emphasis on participation in God’s own life in the Spirit by Christ to the Father precisely by living lives of good with others in society—that is, a Trinitarian emphasis. Our participation, as Hooker reminds us, is always gift, that is, a receiving.

So it’s a matter of seeing things from different angles.

As an Anglican and Benedictine, I want to appreciate this critical Reformation insight into grace, into God’s unearned Love in Christ—one we have bequeathed to us by Cranmer and our Prayer Book; I also want to appreciate self-examination and contemplation, again, bequeathed to us by Cranmer and our Prayer Book. Self-examination, waiting on God, contemplation, inwardness are not necessarily opposed to love of neighbor as ourselves.

However, much of contemplative and monastic thinking and spirituality is focused on our ascent, our gain in spiritual gifts, our growth in grace, me, me, me. Inwardness can become an excuse for not being in life with and for others. Many books offer us stages of progress. Even the wisdom of our Elders sometimes suggests a division of the personal and communal in the struggle that cannot stand the test of a Trinitarian theology where the personal and communal coarise in the Three Who Are One. Our own personhood is itself formed by others and by Another prior to budding self-awareness. We are never alone when we are with the Alone. All of humanity, each human being, every creature, all of creation is present with us in this One In Three. But stages tend to suggest how we are apart or better or further along. Stage-thinking separates (the definition of Sin I most often use) rather than serves sisters and brothers.

As an introvert, I have always been quite aware of an inward concern and yet skeptical of stages. One because I do not see the life of discipleship as rooted primarily in an inward focus on levels of attainment, but on resting in God’s graciousness and self-examination, where is it that God and Sin are moving the heart? And two because I think we humans are prone to put ourselves higher up the ladder than is truthful or honest. How many of us know someone who announces often and floats about “spiritual,” who yet is narcissistic, self-serving, miserable to be around, all about me, and clueless of this (lacking insight)? For myself, just about the time I start feeling all “spiritual” is about the time comes a moment of crabbiness, snarkiness, or grumpiness to bring me back down to earth. Just ask my partner.

Ascent language, though common in Christian tradition through interpretation of Jacob’s ladder, can be trouble. Too often, it has interpreted gain in spiritual gifts and growth in grace as escape from ordinariness and daily life, and without intending, bequeathed to us portions of a Manichaean inheritance—a distrust or even hatred of flesh or world understood not as vice—the power of Sin (hubris, domination, selfishness, etc.), but as our createdness, our social worlds, and all that goes with this:






Under such conditions, self-control has tended to become hypervigilance, eliminating, or extinguishing passions rather than manifest as moderation, gardening, or tilling our desires: the "mutual joy" of our marriage office. The message underlying such a hypervigilant understanding of ascesis or discipline is that our createdness is evil rather than fallen, has tended to suggest that we have to escape our createdness in order to become more Christlike, rather than to embrace our createdness through direction, that is, discipline, patterns of life, as disciples in the midst of everyday life.

So many of the Churches great ethical errors arise from a theological error to properly appreciate bodies, social worlds, and creation in light of the Incarnation. Our christology, frankly, is not robust enough to deal with a God who ate, slept, wept, and shat. And so we cannot in turn, deal with our own messy createdness and that of one another.

Fear of createdness has tended to rigor.

Every era has its rigorists. And too often those rigorists are dismissive of human finitude. Ethics and ascesis are ever cast in either/or terms and sometimes with little thought about what supports and nurtures fruits of the Spirit for particular human beings. Rare is the rigorist who connects how and what we eat with other’s lack of food or our farming practices. Or if so, the spirit is one of guilt-inducement and shaming. I think of the nobleman in the film, Chocolat.

Rare is the rigorist who connects human lovemaking or refraining there from (as expression of our capacity for connectivity, our sexuality) with Christ’s faithfulness to us as interpretive key in determining styles and manners of life suited to Christian discipleship. Of if so, connects it so as to puff up oneself and tear down another, to paint an aura of light about oneself while denouncing the other.

And alongside the rigorists, we have the moralists and traditionalists, who more often than not simply mouth the past formulae without apprehension of God’s Word at work in the present, often for the sake of institution-protection rather than concern for what serves to support the Spirit patterning Christ in our lives here and now. Formulae under such circumstances become dead letters rather than life-giving expressions. The danger is that left naked by this failure to present the Incarnation in our time and culture and place, formulae are rejected altogether rather than reinvigorated—antinomy. These folks do more to undermine any credibility for Scripture and Tradition than all of the liberals and even libertines combined because the conflations are so strong that one of the traditions of both Scripture and Tradition is completely ignored, namely criticism in light of God’s self-revelation. And hence, the possibility of handing over Christ in our time--traditioning.

On the other hand, love of createdness has tended to extremity.

Quite in contrast to these rigorists, though they may appear the same, we find those who just as extreme, embrace the most messy realities of created existence. Sr Catherine and Br Francis licking lepers sores like dogs to give relief.

But this extremity, while having the same outward appearance as that of the rigorist in discipline, carries a different Spirit. This Spirit loves the flesh even in its vulnerability, passions, and death.

For most of us, however, between rigor and extremity, lies moderation. Moderation is intricately wrapped up in an embrace of finitude, in a recognition of humility. Few are they who can show forth God in the extremes and not become rigorists. Many are the rest of us. And our hope lies together in a community of humility of common humanity at prayer.

In the Rule, Br Benedict gives us a curious ascent. A ladder of humility. To ascend a ladder of this sort is precisely to climb down from the ethereal plane. Ascending the ladder of humility requires climbing down from the ladder of exaltation. To climb the ladder of humility is to step into the things of dirt. Only by stepping into the things of earth will we find ourselves surrounded by God’s ever-Presence.

The point of Benedict’s approach is not a focus on personal inward attainment, but on lived expression of love of God in the things of everyday life together with fellow humans and all creatures.

Old hat to some by now, humility is related to the Latin humus or earth. Other translations of humility might include “down to earth” or “close to earth.”

To be humble is not to be a doormat for Jesus, a popular misconception too readily reinforced by too many Church authorities, who have misunderstood power as control rather than as compassion. Whereever control rather than compassion dominates an understanding of power, we have misuse and abuse in light of the Cross, in light of preferring Christ.

To be humble is to shamelessly embrace ourselves as dust, clay, earth beings without flinching from our vulnerability, without fleeing from our capacity for passion (joy, pain, enthusiasm, despair), without turning away from facing death.

To be humble is to be an earth creature, endowed from our shared creation with all creatures with much intelligence and consciousness, called to lives of service by prayer, work, and play in community on Earth, our garden home.

To be humble is to have a capacity for humor, to laugh at ourselves and with others. Not directly related to humus, humor derives from the Latin for body fluid. But I don’t think being of earth and being fluid filled are unrelated. To be able to smile gently at ourselves and our bodiliness, and we are quite comical, is sign of health. To be able to laugh when we are less than perfect is sign of being close to earth. Sr Hildegaard of Bingen would speak of our being wet, filled with fluid, as the Holy Spirit’s viriditas or greening power. The wet, living fluids of life are sign of God’s creating and sustaining us.

This humility, this earthiness places us in relationship with our fellow creatures with our two arms and two legs and brain capacity oversized for trouble. Rather than leading us to flee from our shared flesh with rocks, plants, humility leads us to a delight in our shared creation, perhaps no more obvious than as voiced in several of the Psalms.

We are of the same flesh, spoken into being by the same Wisdom, Jesus Christ; drawn into new life by the same Spirit, Holy and Life-giving; and beloved of the same Source of All Being, a merciful Father.

Abba Irenaeus once wrote, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” Abba Athanasius later penned, “God became a human being that human beings might become divine.” Many Lutheran theologians I have read balk at these sayings because they suggest a quest for our self-glorification, for holiness, for theosis or sanctification.

But I think they misunderstand. And I think, so do some of our spirituality enthusiasts. After all, given Brs Irenaeus’ and Athanasius’ incarnational bent, the divinity revealed and given in Jesus Christ is one of embrace of the earthly, the dust, the clay—even the shit. Becoming divine is not about becoming airy-fairy, ethereal, far from earthly concerns. Becoming divine in our case is precisely about facing up to our createdness, our fleshiness, our dishonesties with ourselves. Becoming divine is about our becoming more human. And becoming more human is not to fly away on wings of Love. Becoming human is to walk into the tough stuff held by Love. That is the point on our end of the communicatio idiomatum.

Br Cyril of Alexandria’s notion of the communication of attributes is useful in this regard. The attributes of God, such as glory or mightiness, are communicated to us through Christ, that is, on the level of human beings as humility or earthiness. Which vice versa reveals to us a God whose own glory is unlike our fallen notions and scripts, that is, unlike the hubris of Sin. Being embraced by God makes us more salty, not less. Some would call this a reversal. I would call it what happens when the God Who Is Love reveals and gives Godself through, with, in, as flesh, the Human One.

As an Anglican and Benedictine, I, of course, have to ask the theosis or sanctification question. What might better be called the ascetical theology question. How is it that my life is to be a response to Christ that shows forth the pattern of Christ’s faithfulness? A question that I tend to reframe from Br Paul as, “How is Salvation working Himself out in us and among us?” Or from spiritual direction, simply put, “How is God at work in my life? How is Sin at work in my life?”

Both of these sayings of Brs Irenaeus and Athanasius are intricately tied to the Incarnation, to Jesus Christ, who reveals Godself, gives Godsself in a manger, as a peasant teacher, on a curse tree, as the ordinary things of life—drink and food. God’s divinity embraces earthly beings. And makes us not less, but more earthly, accepting of our limitations, our fragility, our need for God so poignant in “keeping death ever before us.” That is what it means to be “divine” on the level of human beings.

This is not a ladder of our glorious movement toward God, but a ladder of God’s glorious movement toward us, a movement that draws us deeper into the life of the world. For in this movement toward us, we are embraced (“caught up”) into the Life of the Triune God, ever at work in the life of the world. We are touched by God not for escape or denigration of this body, this world, this creation, these creatures, but for entering more deeply into skin, going into all of creation to proclaim the Good News of God’s embrace and to serve all flesh in need.

May we do relatedness,

+ love blessing,

and walk close to earth.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Not Mere Subscription, But Wholly Formation

I do not dip as much into Anglican controversies anymore.

I do have serious reservations about the proposed Anglican Covenant, most recently expressed in a two-part piece that my academese made incomprehensible. In short, I do not think it adequately makes room for our peculiarly and messy contextual catholicity, what we have often called "comprehension." Part I and Part II.

A coalition formed to oppose the proposed Anglican Covenant is now underway. There is much to commend it as Fr. Haller notes.

And I do share many misgivings about this proposed Anglican Covenent, not rejection of any possible covenant whatsoever, and while I will continue to raise questions of this proposal, offer my disagreement, and make common partnership, I cannot join this coalition for these words, "We believe in an Anglicanism based on a shared heritage of worship, not on a set of doctrines to which all must subscribe."

We have here a misunderstanding, if not decoupling, of liturgy and doctrine as they function in Anglican tradition, as if the one can be divorced from the other. Doctrine, especially that which we call Core Doctrine, in our tradition is not merely propositional or dry (or dead) teaching, but living and relational presentation and proclamation of Presence, more so, of Persons in relation to us. In that same way, liturgy is not merely a shared heritage, but some common sense and praying of Who God is, Who God is for and with us, and Who we are in God. It is ironic to me that both many defenders of doctrine and many detractors of doctrine seem to fail to see their shared similarity of making doctrine something merely black-on-white, something objectified and cardboard, in contrast to common praying, to living relationship that is doctrine and liturgy.

So, while we do not always agree, and we do not on the problems of the present proposed Anglican Covenant, Fr. Owen is right to point out problems with this divorce of doctrine and liturgy.

That is, doctrine is a living reality of among others, God to us, us to God, we to one another, as liturgy. That is not to say that these central or Core presentations and proclamations cannot be expressed in different ways, languages, idioms, or even liturgies. They have been and will continue to be so, as we share these central with the Whole Church Catholic as summed in our profession of living trust in the God who is this way and this way with us, the Nicene Creed.

And so our liturgies, for each is a happening and more so for we have allowable variety, even in our set praying, present and proclaim precisely about Who God is, Who God is for and with us, and Who we are in God. This includes language of Trinity, Incarnation, Creation, Consummation, Salvation by no merit of our own just to name a few. That is to say, Anglicanism does involve shared doctrines, which inscribe us.

As an example, take the last, Salvation. To notice doctrine by contrast, just compare the collects for many Saints feast days as found in the Roman Rite (or Sarum) to those found in Anglican liturgies. While the former often appeal to merits of the Saint, the latter always close on Christ's merits only. That is a peculiarly Anglican way of handling Reformation reforms, as is the Rite I Eucharistic Prayer. We did not throw out the Communion of Saints (all the living in Christ--i.e., the living and the dead), but we did make of it again a companionship and communion, even an intercessory companionship and communion, in Christ rather than a patronage or mediation to Christ.

On the contrary, then, Anglican Christianity is peculiar precisely because we have the audacity to declare that our confession is praying. Our whole selves at prayer are formed by Who God is, Who God is for and with us, and Who we are in God: To you, O Christ.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ascending by Humility: The Hard Truths of Imprecatory Psalms

Derek has offered a post on the retention of the imprecatory Psalms. While there is merit to reinterpretations of these Psalms, I find these Psalms invaluable for self-examination and social-examination. We do not want to face ugliness in ourselves. We would prefer to think of our sense of justice as untouched by Sin, as we go on (self-)righteous crusade devoid of mercy. Too much ugliness is accomplished in the name of the good, in the Name of God. The Twentieth Century is the bloodiest and most vicious in history. With all of our advances, on the level of human relating, we are not any better than those desiring to dash babes against rocks. And it could be argued that we are worse--sometimes because of our advances in technology. The imprecatory Psalms are a wake up to face what is in ourselves, in our socialities—not just those of society that bugaboo "the world," but those of our Churches, a reminder not lost on me in the wake of so many suicides by lgbt young people.

Abba Isaac of Scetis reminds us that the passions are not themselves evil. His was a revolution in desert understanding. Previous teachers had taught that the passions were either evil or meant to be extinguished. Abba Isaac sees them as fallen, in need of bridling, so as to be redeemed and turned to the good. Anger, he tells us, exists to do justice. But God’s justice, seen through the lens of Crib and Cross, Resurrection and Ascension, namely, Jesus Christ, is not the justice of unbridled self-righteousness. God’s justice on the level of fallen humanity gently firmly says “no” to harm of others while staying close to earth, while recognizing “I too am a sinner.” For Anglicans, this should all be very familiar. Our Prayer Book ever holds before us the mirror of “sinner,” of which the imprecatory Psalms are a part, and reminds us repeatedly that our desires are created good, but fallen, in need of redemption, once-for-all accomplished in Christ, who now works himself out in our own lives if we will to face ourselves and face Reality nowhere more vivid than the Crucifixion, where we who would put to death God, find ourselves "within the reach of saving embrace."

To face our ugliness personally and socially too is confession and profession of need for God. We leave out the imprecatory Psalms at our peril. In a manuscript I am currently working on, I write of the Psalms and their order,

“All of us have favorites. I personally resonate with those that set our praise within the whole of creation. And some psalms horrify us. We do not want to face the possibility of God's anger. Or our own. By neglecting nothing in the psalter, we cannot avoid wrestling with our own want to crush enemies or gloat over another's ruin. We cannot avoid our own alienation from God, one another, and all creatures. A continua practice asks us to enter into the struggle of discipleship.

For busy days and for ease-of-use in keeping up the practice, a psalm has been chosen and arranged in contemplative vernacular for each time and day as a beginning. These are designed for this continua approach to making God's Work. You will notice that the different types of psalms are not avoided. The variety chosen is meant to give a sweep of the types of psalms, each of which reveals our dependence in a different way, a mini-continua. The effect of continua practice is maintained.”

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Keeping Death: Psalms and Conversion

The Rule instructs to keep death ever before us.

Death is the ultimate reminder that we are utterly dependent upon God in our existence and redemption and consummation. To face death is to keep it real. All of our plans, sifted through this lens, are more likely to be less ego-touched, less sin-touched, more concerned with doing God's will. Facing death daily is permission to slow down and not react and not devise. Facing death is wise guidance to first and always adore I AM, One Who Is Who causes us to be.

What is important and what is the dross or the minor is clarified. So does facing the tough stuff. If we face death, then, paradoxically we are free to live in the moment, face the tough stuff with firm gentleness, and not take ourselves so seriously about everything that we forget to laugh, love, live, and, in Blessed Julian's words, enjoy.

Death says, we need God. We cannot escape facing this reality.

We need God whose is the Creative Word ever speaking us into existence and the Holy Spirit ever bringing sustenance out of the chaos sin injects into life together in human social worlds and into our relationships with the whole of creation. God's Wisdom in Word and Spirit is always at work to order things to, in what Borg and Crossan have beautifully called, the share economy. God's economy given to us in Jesus Christ and to be lived by Christ's Body by the sustaining Spirit is at odds with all that would deny that we are interdependent upon one another for our daily bread, for the good things and tangible graces of life meant for all.

Conversion is not unrelated to conversation, especially conversation with God. And the Psalms are par excellence for recognition of conversion to our utter dependence upon God for our existence, redemption, and consummation. If we face death, we can face the ugliness in ourselves, hope to do so so that our actions are rooted in adoration, and where we fail, to ask for pardon and help:

Be compassionate, O God, as is your way;
in your great compassion wipe away my offenses.

Wash away my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sins.

For I know my transgressions,
and my offense is always before me.

Against you only have I sinned
and done what is evil in your eyes.

You are just when you speak,
You make a fair ruling.

You search for truth deep within me,
You make known to me Wisdom hidden away. (Psalm 51)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

God Everywhere: Psalms and Creation

I greet you simultaneously speaking Peace and >{} reverencing Christ in you by bowing with hands clasped together.

The Rule tells us "God is everywhere." (RB 19). And so in relation especially to The Work of God. Why? And somewhat so sternly? Rule 19 is about reverence. About paying attention. All of heaven and earth are present with us: Holy, holy, holy; heaven and earth are full of Your glory.

The Psalms lead us into attentiveness if said or sung slowly and reflectively in the same manner of well-worn rosary beads. Many days, I wake up to birds singing. I give thanks to God for their song. And take their song as their own praise in the midst of their own daily lives to which we are privy to so little. So many peoples and nations the four-legged, winged, crawling, and finned. The Psalms invite us into a universe at praise of the One Who dwells with us and pitches tent among us (see John and Hebrews and Revelation):
Wisdom, you have made your home with us
from one generation to the next,
Before the mountains rose from the sea,
or the land and the earth were formed,
from age to age you are God. (Psalm 90)
These days I sometimes pray the Beginning of the Day with,
Sustain us, O God, for our refuge is in you.
The words come from Psalm 121. We are in God. You cannot pray the Psalms and not find a more connected relationship with all living beings, indeed, all that exists. Even the rocks shout out. As a child, I had a few rock friends on my shelves. I talked to them as if they were animate. In their own way, they do praise. Recovery of a worldview basted in God's love, soaked in God's presence, reenchantment need not take great volumes, just a few songs. For God's praises are everywhere sung, not just by human words in song and chant and speech, but by tweets and meows, slithers and barks:
Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it,
the lands and those who dwell therein.

Let the rivers clap their hands,
and let the hills ring out joy before One Who Is. (Psalm 98)

Praise I AM from the earth,
you sea creatures and the depths;

Fire and hail, snow and fog,
tempestuous wind, doing God's will;

Mountains and hills,
fruit trees and all cedars;

Wild creatures and domesticated,
creeping beings and winged ones.

Let these praise the Name: One Who Is,
for the Name alone is glorified,
Whose grandeur fills heaven and earth.
(Psalm 148)

So many happy voices, so much more to nature "red in tooth and claw."


Friday, August 20, 2010

Preferring Christ: Psalms and Contemplation

I greet you simultaneously speaking Peace and >{} reverencing Christ in you by bowing with hands clasped together.

This morning after beginning my day with my best practice, meditating on the Name of Jesus with coffee in hand and dog by my side, I happened again on Abba Isaac of Syria's words and said them slowly for holy reading:

O name of Jesus,
key to all gifts,
open up for me
the great door
to your treasure-house,
that I may enter
and praise you
with the praise
that comes
from the heart.

Like Abba Benedict, Abba Isaac and many elders before both of them remind us that this one Name, Jesus, is to be preferred above all else. The Eastern Churches have an entire practice of silence wrapped up in this preference for Christ's Name: The Jesus Prayer or hesychast tradition. Many variations exist on this way.

It is, however, no accident that Benedictine's open up the prayer at the end of the day with: "O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us." Abba Cassian reminds us that praying repeatedly this phrase from Psalm 70 leads us to resting in reality, that is, our utter dependence on God. Praise is "recognition of dependence," is practiced trust:

One thing is clear. Praise is not all alleluias and hosannas. If it were, the Psalter would not be listed as “praise.” There is, however, a common thread that runs through the Psalter, regardless of the devotional mood of the individual Psalm. It is the motif of dependency. Regardless of the difficulty that surrounds the individual Psalmist, the solution to the difficulty is always found in trust in and dependence on God….the act of dependence itself becomes the beginning of praise, from which its proclamation comes. (Clifford W. Atkinson, Study Guide for The Daily Office: Proposed Book of Common Prayer, 11)

Praying the Psalms with care, whether said slowly or sung in chant, leads us slowly but gently over the course of a lifetime, to greater and deeper silence. Abba Benedict intends communities that live out of this Great Silence. He sets up practice in such a way that the dangers of the life of solitude are avoided. Silence is among we who pray together the songs that tradition associates with Christ, and through Christ's high priestly ministry, with Christ's whole Body--the Church. And even unrecognizably, or invisibly, the entire Creation.

Praying the Psalms is the Prayer of the Church. And the Prayer of the Church does not divorce communal, outward expression and personal, inner encounter. The contemplative life is communal life. Word and silence are intertwined. Psalms and Christian meditation are cut from the same cloth.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Prefer Nothing to Christ or Keep Death Always Before You: CWOB and Patterns of the Cross

I am allergic to the word “inclusion.” The term does not fit well my concern for a rule of life, a discipline, or ascetical theology as needful expression of our christology in the day-to-day living of our own lives.

Something exists within the tension between grace and sin we find ourselves within as we live in the hope of the Consummation, of which Jesus Christ is first fruits, namely pattern. What ways does Christ’s Society discern over time that are most likely to deepen us to receive and renew us by grace (as expressed in our character by words and deeds) and root out and redeem deforming effects of sin? How is it that we shall be shaped over the long-haul to go out of ourselves for others, formed in the pattern of the cross? Sometimes these patterns vary in expression from place and time and culture. But one pattern is fasting, for example. Expression of this pattern as receiving simple meals on Wednesdays and Fridays is a time-tested example.

Within the poles of grace and sin, our monastic or ascetical inheritance asks Anglicans about patterns of life, patterns of life-for-others. We can disagree about practiced expressions of a pattern and still desire a shared pattern.

While other Christian traditions, I think of our Lutheran kin, who ideally live out their Christian freedom in direct response to neighbor in any given situation forgoing pattern (or so is claimed in much discourse but not so clear in actual practice), Christian freedom for Anglicans on the whole has been about taking up a pattern of life, especially and namely Common Prayer. We, of course, have our exceptions. For example, William Stringfellow, while insisting upon Common Prayer, tended to talk of the Christian life in more Lutheran terms.

I realize that some of you may be thinking, I’m sounding awfully evangelical or conservative. Well, in a sense, yes. Neither Benedictine, nor Anglican tradition lets us off the hook of discipleship. The difference, from say the bulk of our Reformed kin, is that we do not begin with the ethical patterns of our daily life (morality, moral theology, ethics), we begin with the pattern of praise—our dependency on God—namely, our being at prayer together. Our theology of patterns of the cross is thus filtered through our primary discipline of response to God's grace, namely, prayer. This sets the pattern for all else in our life together and in our social worlds. Christ’s faithfulness to us as we encounter him in prayer in turn leads us to ask ourselves together what patterns of life will reflect Christ in our daily living over the long-haul. While we hold these patterns contingent and Christ ultimate, being creatures, contingent is a very solid thing. On the whole, for example, treating our fellow creatures as particular, loved of God in their own right, worthy of our care, and where eaten, to be received by thanks to God at meals is more likely to form us as thanksgivers and Christlike shepherds/gardeners.

Inclusion, to my mind, implies not so much that we can revoke one another’s membership--we can't, but that we need not hold ourselves or one another accountable for patterns of life that do not display characteristics of Christlikeness: faithfulness, promise-keeping, courage, generosity, and so forth. Or that we need not hold ourselves accountable to disruptions of those patterns by our sinning. Discipline at all becomes anathema where inclusion becomes a singular hermeneutic. I have been told I am not inclusive enough because I do not think sleeping around on one’s partner is a positive expression of faithfulness, for example. This raises the question if Christ's sociality is any different at all from those of the social worlds within which we also live? Or does Christ's sociality (admittedly only imperfectly lived out among us as we live in hope of the Consummation) reform, challenge, correct the socialities of the social worlds within which we live and by which we too have been and are shaped?

Related to this is the same invitation of which yesterday I wrote some positive comments: “All who seek Christ are welcome to receive.”

We do not first seek Christ. Christ pursues us, challenges us, corrects us, builds us up to serve the worlds needs. Were I a proponent of CWOB, I would have to rather say, “All whom Christ has called to take up their cross and follow him are welcome to receive.” That, of course, would mean that as a priest, my sermon would have preached Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Questions on Communion Without Baptism (CWOB): Real Presence

Episcopalians are talking Communion Without Baptism again.

Communion Without Baptism (CWOB) is the making of an explicit and ordinary practice of inviting the non-baptized to the altar-table.

The practice has both proponents and opponents, who on theological and practicable grounds argue for and against its being explicit and ordinary practice.

By way of being up front, at the moment, I remain unconvinced and uncertain of this practice as explicit and ordinary norm of our Church and at the same time I have witnessed this practice bring people to Jesus Christ as some most amazing of his disciples. This latter is not mere emotional proof or even personal experience. I have seen fruits.

The questions this practice raises for me relate to affirming governing or norming patterns of the Society while not discounting God's ability to work through God's means.

The practice seems to be rooted in a sense of hospitality. Inclusion is the watchword.

If I were to make a distinction in the parlance of our day, I would prefer "incorporation" rather than "inclusion." And sociality rather than hospitality. As will be seen.

It would be easy on my part to simply quote canons, which maintain a long-standing pattern and strong affirmation of our Reformation commitment to Baptism as ground sacrament and an ecclesiology that does not unChurch our divisions. Our baptismal ecclesiology in the 1979 BCP is a strong outgrowth of refinement of catholic and reformed engagement over several centuries. quoting canons does not address this development.

I have to admit that institutional self-protectionism, though I have little direct stake in that protection beyond great care for our BCP, could very well blind me to a movement of God to reach all peoples in our time and place. More careful assessment of our time and place and how we can present Christ given our theological/practicable commitments is required.

After all, in this time and place, we can neither presume the persecution of the first few centuries, nor the Christendom of many thereafter. Early, Medieval, and even Modern practices of Holy Communion, however, presume either or both in development of sacramental practice.

Further, as contexts changed and new questions were asked, the practice and theology of Baptism, and by turns Church and Christ, were modified. St. Cyprian's practice and the ecclesiology implied were revised by St. Augustine. St. Augustine's by the Reformation. And in our case, the Reformation refined particularly by Maurice who is very near Rahner and Vatican II positions.

We find ourselves in a different context from Early and Medieval and Reformation and even Modern, especially on the West Coast. This does lead to new questions, especially of mission. Is CWOB the beginning of another modification of Baptism, and by extension of our theology of Church and Christ?

After all, in our time The Episcopal Church in our American context is largely irrelevant to the powers of our day. We do little that leads to our persecution and we are no longer at the center of power. Neither the first few centuries nor the long centuries thereafter prepare us for living in a mostly indifferent secularity. So, I do ask myself questions, Is this reordering a means to bring people to the Gospel in our time and place? What does it mean to reorder Baptism and Communion? What are the implications? Responsibilities? What does it say about the relationship between our social worlds and Christ's Society? A post-persecution, post-Christendom existence?

Before I go into criticisms of this practice (CWOB), I think it helpful to highlight positive aspects even as I offer concerns. Here is one: A Higher Altar-Table Christology Than Expected.

Again to be up front, I have a bleeding high christology of Holy Communion. Rather than delve into the distinctions of Real Presence doctrines, I prefer the poets: Jesus Christ gives himself to us as bread and wine. This is a meeting of Person and persons. The bread and wine are Jesus' Body and Blood. I need say no more. This christology of Holy Communion is not unrelated to a high christology in the Incarnation.

The explicit invitation often given by proponents of CWOB is something to the effect that “all who seek Jesus Christ are welcome to receive.”

Surprisingly, in this statement is a positive development. Such statements tend toward recognition a strong notion of Jesus Christ’s self-giving to us as bread and wine, that is, Holy Communion. At the very least, such statements recognize that Holy Communion is a real encounter with our Lord in some way. An explicit encounter with Jesus Christ will not leave us unchanged. Testimony to this fact by CWOB proponents should warm our hearts. Many have sought to be catechized and then baptized by first receiving Holy Communion.

My bleeding high christology of Holy Communion, however, is coupled with an equally strong sense of the Christ's Society, the Church.

My question of this practice as it relates to the doctrine of Christ's Communion Presence centers on Christ’s Body. The realness of this Encounter is not separable from the realness of the Society into which we are bonded irrevocably. Yet, CWOB troubles me because to my mind as a means of bondedness irrevocably it fails precisely because it is the nature of the sacrament of Holy Communion that it be regular and ongoing. More anon.

Traditionally, to receive Holy Communion flows out of a prior reception of, incorporation into, and commitment to the Society of Jesus Christ in Baptism. This Society is called to live out of Christ's sociality, where sociality are those ways of being together (Society) that reflect the life of the Trinity on the level of creatures (recognizing that our persons are created unlike the Persons Three) where Jesus himself is the incarnation of God's sociality in creation and center, ground, firstborn, heart, lifeblood of that Society. Anglicans, like the Reformed, have placed a strong emphasis on our being incorporated in Jesus Christ by Baptism. In Communion, we are nourished: Our failings in this regard are forgiven and we receive strengthening for keeping on the Way. But the being given over into a Society is in Baptism.

A quick perusal of our Prayer Book finds us running up against an understanding of Jesus Christ that is not only personal but corporate, communal, social. This makes sense in light of the fact that personal and communal are inextricably bound up to one another in our relational, that is, Trinitarian theology. The same is true for Christ’s Body. As the New Humanity, the Person of Jesus Christ is necessarily personal and social. A Society lives in, flows out of this One. This Society is not separate from the bulk of humanity, but is none other than humanity in relationship to our Creator, that is, acknowledges the Creator and ourselves creatures meant to be at thanks and praise, to serve the needs of others. I think of St. Augustine’s famed Sermon 272: “Receive what you are, be what you receive.” We are inextricably related to one another in Christ who has once-for-all identified himself with his creation. That is the adoption, the relationship, the sociality we receive in Baptism.

This being at thanks and praise, serving the needs of others is a sociality. This sociality of Jesus Christ, a sociality meant for the whole of creation and every social world I would argue, however, comes with a cost to our sense of self when we receive it, respond to it, and abide in it. Our humanity finds itself wrestling with and taken out of joint by the Risen Lord's. To be Church is precisely to be those who receive, respond, and abide—who take up the cost of Love for Love’s world. Not because we're better. Not because we're not sinners. Not because we're saints. But because God needs witnesses, proclaimers, presenters, friends, workers in every social world. God needs praisers of God's Trusting Humanity, Jesus Christ, in the midst of social worlds comfortable with anything but singing God's praise. The Church are we who explicitly abide in, take up, and proclaim God's faithfulness at any cost for the life of every social world of which we are a part and for the whole of creation. To receive Christ is to recognize that we are not our own (and never have been)—we exist and are sustained by God’s will alone.

This sociality recognizes that while Christ’s work of salvation is once-for-all, that work in us here and now personally and corporately is often a cross to us, where cross is to go out of ourselves for others, is to die to selfishness, ego, alienation. While being in the world, we are meant to live out Christ’s sociality in our (and every) social world, being marked by characteristics or virtues, those ways of being on our part out of response out of Jesus’ way of being with us and for us: faithfulness, embrace of vulnerability, courage, thankfulness, etc. We may disagree about how these are practically and particularly expressed and still affirm that discipleship is part of what it means to receive.

The explicitness baptismal preparation through catechesis and baptismal rite make of this cost in our receiving God’s embrace should give us pause. Being up front about what it means to receive our adoption as children of God by Christ's once-for-all saving work is only truth in advertising. Discipleship will not be always fun, easy, or happy. To live out of trust in God’s promises, to give thanks, to serve others in the midst of personal sufferings and social horrors is no picnic and impossible without God’s grace and our reception of our Risen Lord's own faithful Humanity.

Again, a sociality of Jesus Christ is affected and activated in us. We may and likely will not live it out fully here and now. Indeed, we find ourselves always wrestling with accepting that we are God’s, being shaped a bit here by alienation and redeemed the same by grace, trusting that God will out--of which Baptism is God's mark upon us.

What stands out for me is to think about if and how in CWOB, Communion can or cannot serve as the sacrament of receiving God's adoption in Christ and of celebrating our irrevocable incorporation into Christ's Society in the same way as Baptism.

Can CWOB at its best be practice of assurance in the same way as Baptism done? What does it mean to nibble at the edges and never take the plunge? Or to eat frequently and be drawn into a leap of trust? Can I fall back on Communion in the same way I can always fall back on Baptism when the Tempter whispers lies that I am other than God's in Christ? To my mind, CWOB precisely because of the nature of Holy Communion to be ongoing may imply rather the very thing the likes of Maurice and Ramsey after found troubling in certain positions on Baptism, that somehow we can fall out of God's irrevocable adoption. The singular nature of Baptism, on the other hand. In darkest night, I do not cry out, "I am communed." I rebuke, "I am baptized."

God’s give-away of grace, I trust will not be spurned by those who receive Communion and never come back. I need not protect God’s grace, but I do need to take care that others understand that grace and its power and implications for their lives. God's works through God's means. While CWOB implies a high Presence of Christ in Communion, does it properly warn of God's wrestling grace?

The long days of Christendom have past in our American context, especially so for the so-called Main Line. I wonder if this and because The Episcopal Church is not dangerous to our society, CWOB may indeed have become necessary as a means to share the Gospel. Perhaps the problem is not as much with CWOB as with our discipleship? Or is it that in a our consumer social world, CWOB offers an out?

On the other hand, at its best CWOB has drawn some into radical questioning of our social world in light of Christ's Society. Being fed on Christ has led to the feeding of others good things. And this is direct assault on a social world built on expending the most vulnerable, using up every resource, and declaring ourselves self-reliant rather than God-dependent and one-another-with-all-of-creation-interdependent.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Writing Histories Is Not a Plain Task

Historical literalism or positivism still seemingly abounds. Robert Taft, SJ that great liturgical scholar of history reminds us that histories are not mere expositions of the past without interpretation (not possible) but interpretations of the past that help us understand and create our present. In that sense, histories are related to tradition where tradition is not a mere handing on (replicative), but a handing over (developmental).

Histories both explain who we are and create how we are. More than one telling is possible. Tellings may be more or less careful with the past. Tellings may also require repudiation of our past, often by digging up some other portion of our inheritance or digging more deeply theologically.

That the Scottish Episcopal Church has a different telling of itself and its roots in Celtic Catholic history than the Church of England should not surprise us. Dig enough into the Welsh Church and you'll find as well a different telling from glorious England. The Cornish cry against Cranmer's insistence on English, for example, is not without recognition of a colonial imposition. After all, sermons and sometimes Scripture texts were read in Cornish in 1549. These tellings need not be understood as simple romanticizations or New Age-ery as others accuse, but tellings meant to distinguish and conserve, sometimes naively, other portions of our inheritance easily swallowed up by conformity--and hand over a spirit or ethos.

I would suggest that it is not merely a bishop that The Scottish Episcopal Church bequeathed to us. Our kin bequeathed to us a spirit or ethos born of non-establishment (and persecution) that places us in a different relationship to the social worlds we inhabit from that of the established Church of England of the time. A tension is created in relationship between Church and the social worlds we inhabit, and through time and events (slavery, for example) we learn that we cannot pretend that the Church can extract itself from our social worlds completely or naively. Through time and history, our own Episcopal Church has learned that the Spirit may not only correct our social worlds by means of the Church (and sometimes despite us), the Spirit may correct the Church by means of ourselves and the social worlds within which we find ourselves. Given need for correction, such complexity does not allow anything more than the contingent cry of the prophet--but a cry it must be.

The sermon by Bp Skinner preached at the consecration of Bp Seabury.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Asking the Wrong Question

Over at the Cafe we are having a conversation about the question being asked of our polity and governance, "Who is the head of the Church?"

By asking the wrong question, we end up contravening our own common praying and history, and undermining the very Reason, Logos, Wisdom we have many authorities and dispersed authority in The Episcopal Church: Jesus Christ is Lord.

With regard to polity and governance, I assert that this is the wrong question. A proper question in this regard would be, "Who are the responsible-answerable authorities in this Church?"

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Venite, exultemus: Our Morning Profession of Faith

O Come, let us sing unto the Lord; *

let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.

Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; *

and show ourselves glad in him with psalms.

For the Lord is a great God; *

and a great King above all gods.

In his hand are all the corners of the earth; *

and the strength of the hills is his also.

The sea is his, and he made it; *

and his hands prepared the dry land.

O come, let us worship and fall down, *

and kneel before the LORD our Maker.

For he is the Lord our God; *

and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; *

let the whole earth stand in awe of him.

For he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth; *

and with righteousness to judge the world,

and the peoples with his truth.

I am in the middle of writing a short book on Benedictine practice in the way of the house to which I belong. In doing this, with Hebrew help from my partner, I will be providing certain Psalms in a contemplative vernacular using expanded language in a brief Office setting.

Contemplative vernacular is my way of describing a translation that is pleasing to the ear, respecting contemporary language as capable of the divine, and inviting (mystagogical) of pray-ers into a receptive or contemplative stance. Expanded language, used in Enriching Our Worship, works on the premise that we set aside one another a variety of scriptural and traditional images and names for God so that a resonating and correcting can occur among them. It differs from inclusive language which tends to want to throw out masculine translations. To set aside one another translations and prayers that address Jesus as king and Jesus as mother, for example, produces a wider sense this God Who Is is incomparable to any other, who turns our notions of deity and lordship downside up. The crib and cross being spectacular moments of this explosion of our conceptions. Expanded language encourages a canonical approach to our praying as does already our 1979 Book of Common Prayer in structure and provision. To hear LORD, One Who Is, Self Existent One, and One Who Causes To Exist clarifies that this God is Creator unlike any other god or human master.

This is all prelude to my translating the classic American Venite (Ps. 95:1-7, Ps. 96:9, 12b-13). By pondering the Name and the many connotations, and then "Rock of our salvation" then "a great God...above all gods," suddenly the Venite just opened up in a way I had never read or heard it before as "Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God is one" who creates heaven and earth. It dawned on me as I translated LORD and as I read through the text that the Venite is comparable to the She'ma. The Venite is a profession of faith, a creed in psalmody. How could I have missed this before?

Which then got me to pondering God's greatness above all gods, or God's oneness, which properly speaking makes Jews and Christians not monotheists, or having one God, but rather that God is One, eternal, only, alone, unity, creator, unlike any other being, etc.

And then the eschatological nature of the profession of our classic form with its closing verses from Ps. 96. Creeds are not mere propositions, but profess, proclaim, acclaim, do and hear, the God Who is this, this way, like this because showing himself to be so through these mighty deeds of creation and redemption. Creeds invite us to trust in this One. But more than this, Creeds invite us to trust in this One Who is present to us here and now in the profession, proclamation, acclamation. From God's opening our lips to our profession, we are made aware that God is present, that this is a Real Meeting, a communion with our God in psalm-singing and scripture-reading.