Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Benedict, Augustine and Osmund: Pilgrimage by staying still

I really ought to have blogged last Wednesday being the Solemnity of the Feast of Holy Father Benedict. As it was, there was a lot happening that day, not all of it very happy, but certainly a day of growth - a day of pilgrimage.

One of the big differences between being a member of the Anglican Catholic Church and being a member of the CofE is that one doesn't usually have an ACC Church on your doorstep. I could walk 100 yards to the nearest CofE Parish Church, but as it is, I have to travel a not inconsiderable distance to get to the parishes which I serve as Lay Reader. However the fact remains that I should not be measuring distance in terms of miles but in terms of belief.

This produces a dichotomy of which Dualists would be proud. The measurement of distance in miles is a physical measurement, it possesses quantifiable units (miles) which can be traced with pedometers or tracked by GPS systems and broadcast on Facebook. Spiritually the system of measurement is far different. I suppose one could say that one's belief is 10 miles west of Rome and thus give some impression that one's understanding of Christianity is very nearly Roman Catholic, but it doesn't specify what those further 10 miles are, or even if they are continuous!

How can one measure one's spiritual distance? Is it wise to do so? Is it wise to try?

Well, Saints Benedict, Augustine and Osmund would say "yes".  All of them regard life as a journey or a pilgrimage back to God. While all three made not inconsiderable journeys in their lifetimes, their focus was on the inner journey back to God.

St Augustine is chronologically the first. His philosophy and theology are filled with this idea of the sinfulness of Man casting him very far into the dark moors from which in grief he must work his way back to the light of God. His little Augustinian Rule forms the basis for Dominican spirituality, but it is a Rule none the less. A measuring stick by which one can measure one's progress back to God.

Next comes Holy Father Benedict and his magnificent Rule designed to take away the stifling distraction of the practical ways of living so as to free the spirit into climbing the ladder of humility back to God. Even then, in his last chapter, he says that the Benedictine Rule is just a starter, just the first foot out on the journey back to God.

And then there's St Osmund. Why on earth have I pulled him into this discussion? Well, it being his feast day, I was struck by his short readings in the Monastic Breviary. St Osmund is an 11th Century Norman nobleman and Chancellor who becomes Bishop of Salisbury. He finishes construction on the Cathedral and then suddenly withdraws from the world in order to concentrate on study and contemplation. He is also responsible for the Sarum Liturgy but on completely conservative principles - no innovations or deviations allowed. There is no place for St Osmund's thought in the CofE! For Osmund, the Sarum Liturgy is to provide stability for the English Church.

St Osmund's withdrawal reflects precisely the withdrawal that both St Augustine and St Benedict espouse. This is a withdrawal to a stable base from which a spiritual pilgrimage can be made. By reducing the number of worries that distract them, they purify their lives so that they have light spiritual baggage for a long interior journey. Stability becomes the springboard into the uncharted regions of the soul the Rule of Life becomes the road map into the unknown; the light of the Holy Ghost shining in the Lantern of prayer lights the way.

Every Sunday, I make my pilgrimage to my spiritual community. While I must travel physically quite a way, I am never far away from what is, for me, a spiritual caravan moving purposefully toward the light of God. In that caravan, distractions can be laid aside and the interior journey can continue with priest and people to the Divine Light - a journey that is simultaneously accompanied by a myriad myriad of saints and angels and yet nevertheless completely solitary and lonesome. Commitment to stability and fidelity will help us to hold that great paradox together.

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