Monday, August 31, 2009

O Solitude

O solitude, my sweetest choice!
Places devoted to the night,
Remote from tumult and from noise,
How ye my restless thoughts delight!

O solitude, my sweetest choice!
O heav'ns! what content is mine
To see these trees, which have appear'd
From the nativity of time,
And which all ages have rever'd,
To look today as fresh and green
As when their beauties first were seen.

O, how agreeable a sight
These hanging mountains do appear,
Which th'unhappy would invite
To finish all their sorrows here,
When their hard fate makes them endure
Such woes as only death can cure.

O, how I solitude adore!
That element of noblest wit,
Where I have learnt Apollo's lore,
Without the pains to study it.

For thy sake I in love am grown
With what thy fancy does pursue;
But when I think upon my own,
I hate it for that reason too,
Because it needs must hinder me
From seeing and from serving thee.

O solitude, O how I solitude adore!

Katherine Philip (d. 1664)

I love hearing James Bowman's glorious voice drawing on these words by Katherine Philip.

I must be getting quite a bit of a hermit these days, since I perceive that my best work is done in complete solitude. Yet it seems that so many people fear solitude with a passion. Solitude breeds loneliness, and loneliness is not a desirable sensation in a day in which Blogger, Discussion Forums, and Facebook as well as the many variegated matchmaking websites can connect the lonely soul with someone to talk to.

There is of course a great danger that solitude can bring. One can become too comfortable with oneself so as to exclude others and make oneself the centre of the universe. Indeed, for many people, the example of the hermit is a great fear, fear of becoming strange like the crazy cat lady down the road, for strangeness creates further loneliness.

For many, loneliness means that they have to face up to what is going on in their head. Whilst work and business, fun and trips to Agia Napa, wine, women and music, and whatever else we choose to fill our day, at some point we have to sit down alone and face whatever is going on inside.

I don't think it's necessary for me to elaborate on just how horrific and upsetting some of our thoughts can be. Indeed, how often do we disturb ourselves with some absolute shockers that seem to have dredged themselves up from the pit of Hell itself that make us doubt our own sanity?

For others, it is the sheer torment of past follies, indiscretions, mistakes that have compounded and built up into guilt, past cruelties, petty hatreds and the misplaced word. They bubble up to tell us that we are wicked, wicked beings and make us shudder and feel worthless.

For others, it is the sheer emptiness of life, its futility, that sense that everything has been done and makes no difference. We can have the sense that there is no point to our lives, that all we are doing is just staving off the inevitable.

I wonder if you are comforted to know that we all have thoughts like this.

These thoughts tend to occur when we are alone, so we try to blot them out, anaesthetise ourselves and pretend they don't exist with activity and chatter.

What would happen if we decided to stop and confront the tyranny of our own thoughts? Just stop sit down for an hour or two completely alone and do nothing except listen to the buzz in our brains, can you do that?

Of course, a Christian realises very quickly that he is never alone. Again, this can paralyse a particularly scrupulous individual on realising that God is aware of every single though that passes through his skull - including those from the Pit. Yet as he grows in maturity, the Christian not only accepts this fact, he derives great comfort from it. Making a good confession really does liberate the soul from past transgressions - I speak from personal experience here. Knowledge that we are loved unconditionally by God, and that we are fallen human beings helps us realise that there is nothing that can stop us from being regarded as valuable.

Armed with this, we can do something quite spectacular - let our thoughts tell us something about ourselves, even the infernal ones. We see how we can be tempted into doing wrong, where we need support and, most importantly of all, where God fits into our lives. If it isn't the centre, then we have to ask how we can put Him there. The more that we can accept our thoughts as they are, the more we can accept ourselves as human beings, and in due course love ourselves and others in the commonality as thinking beings. So why fear solitude? Why not try it out occasionally?

After all, what thoughts await you tonight in the wee small hours of the morning when you can't sleep? What are they really telling you?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Separated by a common Anglicanism?

I've been part of the online Anglo-Catholic circuit for some time now, and I am rather pleased to have done so as I believe that I have learned a great deal from many colourful and interesting characters. Of course, in the current climate, life has become less easy, indeed it is becoming nearly impossible, to hold an orthodox faith in the established CofE. However there is always hope of something better happening.

I find myself pulled from pillar to post by friends of all stripes who say that this is heretical, and that is heretical and I should avoid them or keep out of that, or leave because my soul is in the direst danger. Clearly, I have to listen very carefully to every voice I hear, and trust that, as I keep myself ruled by the orthodox faith given to me by God through the Catholic Church, I shall hear His voice clearly.

How should I make sense of what my friends tell me? They seem to fall into several categories which express themselves in different ways.

First and foremost is the difference in character between my American friends and my English friends. I speak from what I have observed, and in no way infer that all Americans are ..., nor all British are .... There are however big differences in which Americans and Brits approach orthodox Anglicanism.

From what I have observed, American orthodox Anglicans have the passion and conviction of their faith. They love their faith and its identity and they will defend it to the hilt. They are unshakable in their determination that this is the way forward and that they will give it their all, and do and act and make sure that anything that needs to be done should be done.

From what I have observed, British orthodox Anglicans have a consideration and careful examination of all the known facts. They have a desire to accept and to accommodate, to use the renowned British sense of "fair play" and reserve to ensure that all folk are treated fairly, rationally and with respect. They can hold together to some degree conflicting ideas and theories and not worry too much about it.

Of course there are flip sides to these characterisations, which again I have observed. If unchecked, the American passion, in the light of disagreement, can become defensive, antagonistic and polemical. They use intemperate language even in their theological demonstrations so that the argument becomes over-stated, and despite being sound lacks the consideration of people. St Paul reminds us that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Any argument that becomes more important than the care of people and recognising where they are is wrong, no matter how solid the reasoning may be.

For the British way, well the CofE bears this out very well. Accepting contradictory positions can lead to confusion and paralysis. Such a position blurs the boundaries and makes it difficult for anyone to see how they are following the Way or not. Such fence-sitting clouds every issue and the resulting uncertainty is destroying faith in Britain, because there is no conviction of following the right path. They lack the gumption and courage of their convictions to leave behind the aesthetic and adiaphoral in order to do justice to what they believe.

I am given to understand that most American Anglo-Catholics are of the prayer-book variety, and this befits them well. They have the baseline from which they can be certain that the path they choose is the right way.

Many British Anglo-Catholic are of the Anglican Papalist variety of various strengths of conviction about the position of the Holy Father. Some Anglican Papalists are Ultramontane, other Anglican Papalists are into the primacy of the Pope, but not the supremacy. Their source of orthodoxy comes from Rome whence they split and follows along the faultline of history.

Being British, I am happy to hold together these two expressions of Anglicanism as being distinctly Anglican. The reason is that both are decidedly orthodox. My own belief is that a universal church requires a universal primate which leads me straight to the Pope. I find that prayer-book Anglicanism is too deficient in seeking relationships with other orthodox Christians and seeking more to justify its identity - "he who loves his life shall lose it". However, there is room in orthodoxy for both expressions of authentic Anglicanism without this word "heretic" being bandied about.

Let me set down what is clear to me:

  • Rome is not heretical;
  • Orthodox Prayer-Book Catholicism is not heretical;
  • Orthodox Anglican Papalism is not heretical;
  • Anglican Papalism (done properly) is not an enemy of traditional Anglicanism, but rather a way of encouraging good relationships between Anglicans and the Holy See, and should extend as far as is possible with the Eastern Churches.

And now I shall do something unBritish and say that I believe these four statements, and will not hear a word against them unless it can be proved to me in the spirit of 1 Cor xiii that I am wrong.

I am personally fed up to the back teeth of polemical, "I'm right, you're wrong" argument between orthodox Anglicans which spill forth invective and subjective statements like a black tar poisoning relationships between churches which have the same roots. It is this in-fighting that worries me intently as it is the liberal neo-doctrines that stand to damage the church more severely because they detach themselves from Scripture and Tradition, something which cannot be said of any Anglican who holds to the Catholic Faith. Even so, it is the liberal doctrine that is inimical to Christianity - the enemy are not the liberals themselves: they need to be loved as tenderly as Christ Himself would wish us to do.

If we are to argue then let's argue, but if we're going to denounce and lose love for each other, then it's best for us to keep quiet.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

E=mc2: More spiritual energetics

The faithful, as soon as they wake up and are risen, before beginning work, shall pray to God, and then go to their work. But if there is any instruction in the Word, they shall give this preference and go there to hear the Word of God
for the strengthening of their souls. They shall be zealous to go to the church, where the Spirit flourishes.

St Hippolytus Traditio Apostolica Cap xxxv

I am most interested by the last sentence that St Hippolytus writes here as it issues an enormous challenge to each Parish Church of each and every denomination.

I wrote earlier about the need for the Church to be a place of energising for the people of God - after all, it should be hard work being a Christian. Those of us who hold down full time jobs work at the spiritual coal faces as well, bringing our Christianity into the places where we are. We shouldn't suppress that. Saying that, neither should we force it down people's throats. Let us be content to live our lives as to make people curious about our faith and, further, to want to share it. Then, because we are terribly thirsty, tired and hungry we come to the Church. Remember that lovely old hymn by Horatius Bonar:

I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down Thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was, weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting place, and He has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one, stoop down, and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank of that life giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in Him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say, “I am this dark world’s Light;
Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise, and all thy day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found in Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that light of life I’ll walk, till traveling days are done.

The hymn speaks of the refreshment that we receive in the person of Christ, and of course, Christ is present at Mass for the express intent of nourishing us with His very self as far as we allow Him. However, St Hippolytus points us to an unpalatable truth. He implies strongly that the Church is "where the Spirit flourishes."

This then provides us with a criterion for examining our Parishes very carefully. "Is the Spirit flourishing in your Church?" If the answer is no, then it does cast some doubt as to whether one's Parish is part of the Church.

What are the signs of the Spirit flourishing?

St Paul's letter to the Galatians does tell us about the fruit of the spirit being

δ καρπς το πνεματς στιν γπη, χαρ, ερνη, μακροθυμα, χρησττης, γαθωσνη, πστις, πρατης, γκρτεια: κατ τν τοιοτων οκ στιν νμος.

Galatians v.22

But the fruit of the Spirit is (Unconditional) Love, Joy, Peace (in the Jewish sense this can mean prosperity, health and welfare), Patience (literally the opposite of being quick tempered), Goodness (or Usefulness), Goodness (in the senses of personal integrity and, towards others, beneficence), Faith, Meekness (or forbearance) and Self Control (i.e. continence and temperance): against these things there is no law.

(My Translation)

These things need to be seen in each Parish, and if they aren't then one must ask the question, "what can be done?" But we should not be too perturbed: notice that the translation says that there is only one fruit of the Spirit - the word καρπὸς is singular indicating that this one fruit of the Spirit is transcendental, unifying the list of wonderful virtues. One can take heart then that if just one aspect is found in one's parish, then something is growing. Of course, the goal must be to ensure that all of these aspects are active in our parishes.

Such cultivation can only come about if the Sacraments are distributed and received with due reverence, realising that they are the vehicles by which the grace of God abounds in us. If the Spirit of God was present at the Creation (however it happened, pace O Scientists) then it is clear that this Spirit seeks to put into order rather than to allow chaos to reign. This order has to be considered at the level of the person, of the parish, of the diocese and at the jurisdiction. The fragmentation of the church is an impediment to the order that the Spirit seeks at the level of the jurisdiction, and perhaps it is no wonder that we struggle as Christians. There has been no golden age of the Church, unlike the great golden age of Judaism, or the height of the Roman Empire. Either that is God's plan to keep us humble, or it is because we refuse to seek full order.

That order will come, at the hands of the Prelates in building Christian Unity, but ultimately at the hands of God.

We have a lot to do. If we wish to have the energy to serve God truly, then we must seek to ensure that our Parishes allow access to the wells of living water. How will your Parish work towards this?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Elmore 2009

Well, I left Fr Prior Simon, Dom Bruce, Dom Francis and Dom Kenneth earlier this morning, and I am deeply thankful for their kindness, hospitality and unique Elmoreness.

One gets a true sense of community worshipping with them, and the Veil seems to get thinner every time I go.

But for how much longer?

The average age of these four gentlemen religious is 67. The Abbey is large and the monks rattle around in it whenever it is shaken. Dom Kenneth is a testament to the Benedictine direction of perseverence, as he just keeps on going. But he is finding it hard going, and there seem to be so few people who are willing to help them out. It is certainly no surprise that they are looking for other arrangements. The community of four will survive, but it seems likely that Elmore as an Abbey will go the way of Nashdom and Pershore.

I took the time to review my calling, and to my honest regret, it isn't to be a monk at Elmore - at least yet. I still have work to do at the College (I don't regret that) and so my involvement is limited.

The point is that retreating to Elmore may be a nice way to have a break from work, or to review one's relationship with God, but this is a by-product service that is being provided by the Community. They will welcome all and sundry through the doors because they want to and they are called to do so, but their primary objective is to carry out the Opus Dei - the prayer work of God. Nor should we feel guilty about visiting them provided that we are sympathetic to their ways and seek to aid them by praying well in the offices.

If Elmore is to continue as an Abbey then there must be a very swift influx of young men (i.e. under 45s) willing to take up the full scapula and dedicate their lives to prayer and service. I appreciate that these days this is a rare calling indeed, but I do live in hope. Please remember these very special gentlemen in your prayers - they have some hard decisions to make.

Friday, August 07, 2009

E=mc2: ecclesiastically speaking

Yesterday, of course, was the Feast of Our Lord's Transfiguration on Mout Tabor. I didn't go out to Mass.

The first reason was that I am recovering from the flu (which may or may not have been of the Swine variety) which was sufficiently potent to keep me indoors and away from folk of a more fragile constitution.

The second reason that a Mass for the Feast wasn't actually being offered by the parish, probably moving the celebration to the Sunday.

Why do we have this practice of moving the celebration of important feasts to the nearest Sunday, and forget others completely?

This does seem a modern phenomenon: even I, in my comparative youth, remember the Feasts of Corpus Christi, of the Transfiguration and of St Peter and St Paul's being celebrated with midweek Masses. These days a celebration will only occur if the feast falls on a day when a Mass is being held.

Why? Is it solely because "people don't go to midweek Masses any more", the reason being that they are too tired from working? Is it because the priest is frightened by having too tiny a congregation?

To the numbers obsessed clergy, we can easily warn with the Prophet Zechariah against "despising the day of small things". They are not priests for numbers, they are priests for the glory of God and the service of His Church whether that expression of Church be a Cathedral, or a housing estate in Brixton.

There is an issue as to why people do not come to church on weekdays - because they are too tired from working. Of course we are! Work is hard and we try to do a good job and earn our wage. However this does speak of a sad indictment of how the Church is performing in society.

Consider: one of the reasons for Mass is spiritual nourishment, a re-energising effect on the soul. If our Masses are not giving that energy to the congregation, then there must be something wrong with the way we are doing our Mass. Seeing that Christ Himself speaks of the living water that wells up within each of us for our continuing refreshment, one wonders whether the practices of the Church have rather sought to stem the flow of this water so that coming to Church is more of a chore than a joy.

I've spoken before about the inherent Apathy, Complacency and Apostasy that are infecting our society - "don't care, can't care, won't care". The spiritual problem is that of accidie and seems to have overrun the C of E with it's desitre to distract people with innovation which undermine its own teaching such as the ludicrous service of Wedding-cum-Baptism - how is the Church supposed to speak out against the erosion of the family through fornication now that it liturgically supports it, Dr Williams?

The Church needs to seek ways of energising its congregants. Lack of Energy is a sign of the lack of the Holy Spirit acting in the Church life and in her members, and ultimately leads to a vicious cycle of disenchantment and disbelief.

At the risk of seeming a bit gimmicky and silly, Einstein's (overcited) equation E=mc2 could still stand if E stands for the energy derived from Mass, m stands for the quality of the Mass done and c the effort that one puts in to living a prayerful Christian life. I suppose that one could interpret that equation in other ways!