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.