Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Short Hiatus

This blog, which is occasional in any case, will be on hiatus during Advent and the Christmas octave. I do have a number of pieces in outline or draft to be completed and published after the first of the year.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Puritan and the Cavalier

A Cavalier boy being interrogated by Puritans in
Where is your Father, Boy?
by William Frederick Yeames

Fr. Charles Caldwell, who taught me Pastoral Theology at Nashotah House, believed that the best paradigm for understanding modernity (in which we are still living), was that of the Puritans and Cavaliers.  Taken as types, not merely examples from history, the Cavalier believes that the creation was good (if wounded by sin) and its pleasures to be enjoyed in a spirit of gratitude and repentance.  The Puritan believed that creation was evil, a snare to sin, and its pleasures to be shunned. The Cavaliers believed in a religion of beauty and love, the Puritans in one of extreme austerity and fear.*

Our present ideological divide represents not these two points of view, but two parties of Puritans, agreed that the creation, including man and man's created nature, is somehow corrupt, to be dominated and forced into a different mold to improve it, but disagreed as to the means, and united in hate for each other. They both demonize the poor Cavalier as belonging to the other Puritan party.

The solution is threefold.

— Self-definition:  We are Cavaliers.

—Self differentiation: ferreting out our own Puritanism, and the way in which it has perverted our worldview, and which internalized Puritanism tempts us to join one of the two Puritan parties in reaction to the other.

—Non-anxious presence: Put our faith in the God who loves us, cast our fears in him, and cultivate peace, including being at peace with who we are.

Those who are at peace with themselves and God, who are moved by the beauty of God and are in love with him, who love his creatures for his sake, can change the world.

*From the time of the English Civil War, the Anglican Church has been the Cavalier Church, although besieged and constantly in danger of subversion by Puritans.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Rediscovering Christian Contemplation

Fra Angelico: Annunciation of Cortona (1433–1434)
One of the things that most concerns me in the churches' life today is the lack of contemplation. This is alarming, because the Christian tradition considers contemplation both the basis and also the summit of the Christian life, its foundation and its highest activity. And it is especially disturbing for me as an Anglican, for we have a great and rich mystical tradition. This includes such writers as John Donne, Charles Wesley, John Keble, and Evelyn Underhill.

An attitude of contemplation, as Christians understand it, is a attitude of openness and receptivity to the love of God, of attentive listening to the Word of God, the God whose nature as love is revealed in God the Son's life, Cross, and Resurrection. The key person for helping us to understand contemplation is Mary, the mother of Christ, and therefore our mother as Christians, as those who have been united to Christ. She is blessed, because she heard the Word of God and kept it (cf. Luke 11:28). She heard and received the Word of God at the message of the angel Gabriel, and bore thereby the fruit of the world's redemption. If we would be blessed, then we too should "hear the Word of God and keep it."

It is not, I think coincidental, that the loss of understanding of the role of Mary has resulted in a loss of Christian contemplation. The reason lies, I think in the disordered and unbalanced hyper-masculinization of Western culture, what Karl Stern calls, in the book of that title, "The Flight from Woman." We are afraid, all us, both men and women. We want to be in control. We want to be God, to have the power of God, so that we can be safe. So we forsake love for power, and in our exercise of power over others we not only damage our own capacity for the love of God, we damage theirs.

The only way out is to open ourselves like Mary, to God's loving embrace, to be attentive to him, to let him love us. If we are men, then we will not lose our manhood in the process, but find it, for it is in being loved by God that we find ourselves. Certainly this has been my experience of Marian contemplative openness to God — it has made me feel more strongly and more surely my own manhood. Nor does Christian history show that women who follow Mary's example find themselves disempowered. Precisely by surrendering our power in return for being loved by God do we discover the power of God in us. In this way women like our Lady, like Catherine of Siena or Theresa of Avila, or Hilda of Whitby found themselves empowered by God. He, or she, who seek to save their own life will lose their lives; those who lose their own lives for Christ's sake, for the sake of Love incarnate, will save themselves for eternal life (cf. Luke 17:33 et al.).

So spend some time with God today. After you've said your prayers and read your Bible, sit back quietly for fifteen or 20 or 30 minutes and let God love you.

As the hymn says:

Thou pervadest all things,
Let thy radiant beauty,
Light mine eyes to see my duty.
As the tender flowers
Eagerly unfold them,
To the sunlight gently hold them,
So let me, quietly
In thy rays imbue me,
Let thy light shine through me.

Come, abide within me;
Let my soul, like Mary,
Be Thine earthly sanctuary.
Come, indwelling Spirit,
With transfigured splendor;
Love and honor will I render.
Where I go, here below,
Let me bow before Thee,
Know Thee and adore Thee.

—By Gerhard Teerstegen
(Vv. 2–3 of Hymn 477 in the Hymnal 1940 of the Episcopal Church)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Christian Faith

Faith is not assent to a set of intellectual propositions, although it entails an assent to certain truths as a consequence. But Christian faith comes from an encounter with the living God, which tells us that he loves us. When we know that we are loved, then we know that we can trust him, that we can have faith in him.

This faith certainly comes from the encounter with the Word of God, (which is Christ) in letters, that is Sacred Scripture. The Scriptures illuminate our lives as well, so that we may see God in action in the Church and in even the most ordinary aspects of our lives. But we must be disposed to listen, and an attitude of standing in judgement over Scripture, or exercising a hermeneutic of suspicion with regards to it will mean that we don't listen, and close ourselves off to that encounter.

We know when we have encountered  God because that encounter rouses us to worship, adoration, contemplation and love of God, and that love makes us humble, and overflows in unconditional and non-judgmental love towards all we encounter.

If these are absent, then so is faith, and our attempts to manufacture faith for ourselves end up being an attempt to manipulate God, to create another God in our own image, and using that image to fearfully exercise power over others.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Healing and Freedom When Others Have Hurt, Abused, and Cursed Us.

"Jesus Christ conquers."

When others have wronged us, and we seem to be living under a curse (which in a very real sense, we may be), life can see utterly hopeless. This leads to sadness, depression, loss of energy, and profound anger. It can also seem like events are conspiring against us, that others hate us and wish to destroy us, that there is no way forward.

Now sometimes people do hate us. Sometimes they do conspire against us. And sometimes, the way that we are doing things, there is no way forward. We cannot change these things. But often we can escape them, and most importantly, we can change ourselves. The first way to do this is to remind ourselves that we are here, that we exist, because God loves us. To be alive, to be able to experience joy and love, is a great and wonderful thing, but our hurt, and the destructive passions that come from being hurt, can blind us to these things.

Of all these passions, anger is the most destructive. By anger I mean the desire to hurt those whom we perceive, rightly or wrongly, to have done us harm. When we have been hurt, holding on to the desire for vengeance gives those who have hurt us more power over us. This is part of the curse of abuse. Sometimes we let this anger hurt others, often themselves innocent, especially those who are close to us and whom we love.

The only way to break this curse is to decide not to take vengeance, not to hurt our abuser back, in short, to forgive. This does not mean that we let ourselves be further abused, or fail to protect ourselves, but it does mean that we let our abuser go. This is key to breaking the curse of abuse.

This is not something that we need to do once, but over and over again. From personal experience, it can take many years before we are finally fully over our anger and pain. And we must work hard at it. Every time that we feel it rising, pray, "God, I forgive N. I choose not to hurt her/him/them back." If we just cannot feel it, then say "God I will to forgive.  I know that you forgive. Forgive this person." This way we find peace.

When we have hurt others we also need to own it, apologize,and seek forgiveness from them, if we are to move forward.  Acknowledging how our abuse has caused us to abuse others it part of being free from it.  And even if those whom we have hurt cannot forgive us, when we have done our part to apologize and make amends, we know that God does forgive us, and that knowledge brings us freedom.

It is also essential, though difficult, to let ourselves experience the past pain, while at the same time putting it in the hands of God whom loves us. As a Christian, I find that letting Jesus, who died on the Cross, suffer with me, and letting him on the cross take the pain that I am feeling, brings relief.

Our anger, and the other consequences of the abuse that we have suffered, such as false guilt and a sense of unworthiness, can block us from receiving or accepting the love that we need to heal. For most of my adult life I was stuck, and unable to be fully healed from childhood abuse, because I was unable to fully accept love that I had received because I felt false guilt about the way that I had received it. But when I was able to face and acknowledge and accept that love, then positive and dramatic changes started happening.

Freeing ourselves from the curse of abuse and hurt does not happen overnight. It is a painful process, and requires persistence and vigilance when destructive thoughts attack us. Regular prayer, including common prayer, sacred study, quiet time with God, exercise (which works out aggression and relieves anxiety), eating right, getting enough rest, keeping focused and busy at our work, accepting the love of those around us, all are necessary to make progress. And, as I can testify from my own struggles, the result is worth it. Things which seemed impossibly horrible ever to live with or ever to be healed, can be. And peace and joy, the delight in being loved and loving, even the rediscovery of feeling young again, these can and do happen.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

On the love and beauty of God, Liturgy and Private Prayer

Giotto, The Tenderness of Christ

I have read a number of theologians who say that love does not come naturally. I must disagree. Christian teaching tells us that we are made to be *capax Dei*, capable of God, or as II Peter 1:4 puts it, we are to be "partakers of the divine nature". The divine nature is love, and God's nature, his love, and the fundamental meaning of his glory as self-sacrificial love, is revealed in his self-giving on the cross, as particularly the Gospel of St. John (not coincidentally "the disciple whom Jesus loved") goes to great trouble to make clear.

For us, the ability to receive that love, and to love in return, is built into us. It is natural, according to our nature.  And the Christian experience, the direct experience of the love of God, is not just the basis of Christian mysticism, but the basis of Christianity. This experience is one of grace, of a free gift of being loved. Without it Christianity breaks down into different kinds of moralism, legalism, and fundamentalism, in our day of both the Right and the Left. This brings us to another point. While it is natural for us to be open to the love of God (it is sin, a wound to nature, that closes us off), it is not natural for us to express self-giving love solely for the benefit of others, or charity, without grace, without the experience of being loved by God.  We can love because God has loved us first.

God shows us his love through other people. For me certain key people during my youth were important for my experience of the love of God—most importantly, three people, my grandmother, Dorothy LaRue, my first boyfriend, David Brown, and my pastoral theology professor, Fr. Charles Caldwell. In this we should remember that we are bodily creatures, and that this love, while not necessarily sexual, is necessarily expressed physically. A key moment in my own spiritual journey was when David, a man who truly love me and cared about me and my welfare, hugged me for the first time. I just melted; we both did, and in a way that I think surprised us both.  It wasn't just the love of David.  I suddenly felt the love of God through that hug as I had never felt it before, and it set in me a deep, deep, firm conviction that God did love me, one that got me through many severe trials. That experience has helped me understand why the disciple who lay his head on Jesus'chest was also the only male disciple to accompany him to the cross. And now I am blessed in a superabundant way to have people who love me, my partner Heath chief among them. Being able to accept the love of God, through other people, is something we must do to experience that love.

Beauty is essential for the love of God. Those who despise beauty, because it is, say, a distraction from the moral ends of the Gospel, or from some political program, close themselves, and often others around them, off from the love of God. But those who cultivate beauty, in themselves, and in their surroundings, enable us to experience the love of God.  To take my own examples, my grandmother not only was beautiful, but she made our home a beautiful place — not an impractical beauty, but a place where a boy could flourish surrounded by beauty and wonder. Fr. Caldwell had perhaps the most beautiful mind I ever conversed with, not just insightful, but filled with feeling and depth and wonder and delight. As for David, he was a beautiful, athletic man, and — I am not ashamed to say it — especially beautiful naked or nearly so, as when wearing a Speedo by the pool. To see him move was to watch grace and strength, and I was stunned by his beauty as a man from the first time I laid eyes on him. This was a feeling which preceded and surpassed any sexual arousal.* As for Heath, I was also struck from the moment I first saw him by how beautiful he was, a beauty enhanced by his gentleness and delight, such that it is a joy simply to watch him sleeping or walking across a room, or brushing one of our cats. God, of course, is ultimately beautiful in himself, and it is the vision of the beauty of God, which comes to us in many different ways, including through beautiful people, that moves us to love him.

We also receive the love of God, not just through other people, but very importantly through spending time with God for his own sake. That is why as a Christian community our Common Prayer, our "liturgy", is so important. It is also why our Common Prayer needs to be focused on God, and needs to show forth the beauty of God. For that to happen, our liturgy must be beautiful, as a manifestation of God's beauty, for it is when we see his beauty that we fall in love with him. Also essential to cultivating the love of God is to have sacred space and time, that is time set aside for no other purpose than God. You don't spend time with friends and bring your work with you, or go out to a romantic dinner and spend it talking on your phone to your friends. We should not treat God that way either, gathering and then effectively ignoring him, speaking words that were written to be addressed to him, but doing so in such a way as they effectively are not. And because we are afraid of beauty, but feel its lack, we try to substitute cheap sentimentality in its place, which ends up just manipulating people — and once they realize that they are being manipulated, they react, and are driven further from God.  The time and place need to be sacred, that is, set aside to spend time with God.

That is why I am so deeply distressed by current trends in our liturgy. Now turning liturgy into a concert, or a play or entertainment, is one danger, but now we increasingly neglect worship to focus on community, such that church becomes a substitute coffee hour, to the detriment of both the liturgy and coffee hour. It is even more distressing to see liturgy used as a tool for political organizing or the advancement of political ideology, something which utterly destroys its sacred character. Any renewal of our churches has to get back to helping people have an experience of God's love and beauty, and to help them learn how to spend time together with him in worship, and that means restoring its sacredness.

Also we need to spend time with God. We need to pray daily and to study Scripture and God's ways, and, without neglecting these two, to simply spend time every day doing nothing else but being in his presence. In this way we learn how receive his love, and how to receive it for his own sake. It is here that things tend to work themselves out, as we allow God to love us and to work on us from the inside.

My hope for you is that you fall in love with God. That in your relations with others, in your common worship and private prayer, you let God love you. I think that you will find, as I have, that the more I do that, the more I not only love God, and want to do what is pleasing to him, but the more I love those around me, and want to show them love, including people whom I might otherwise find unlovable. And then our acts of charity become something genuine and powerful, because they are motivated by the love off God in us, so that others may know that love.

*My purpose here is not to make any argument on sexual morality, but on the essential relation of beauty and love. I should say that I believe in firmly in sexual morality as set forth by the law of God as manifest in Holy Scripture and natural law, and practice it. I also find that with greater understanding comes increasing ability to follow it.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

On the 225th Anniversary of the First French Republic

The Triumph of the Guillotine in Hell
by Nicolas Antoine Taunay, 1795.

On this day in 1792, the National Assembly decreed the abolition of the Kingdom of France. What followed was the execution of the King and Queen, the destruction of the churches, the Terror, 23 years of war that devastated France and Europe, and a spate of revolutionary movements that led to violence, war, the rise of brutal totalitarian regimes of both the right and left throughout the world, and genocide and mass murder on a scale unimaginable to the pre-revolutionary world.

But it seems that something has happened that has never happened before: though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where.

Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no god; and this has never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first Reason,
And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race, or Dialectic.
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards.
— From The Rock, by T.S. Eliot