I Was Afraid and I Hid Myself: Whitterings, December 2005

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked: and I hid myself.”
The Book of Genesis 2. 8-10

This summer I went to my old parish church of St Michael and All Saints in Edinburgh where I had been a parishioner for many years. The Sunday I visited the guest preacher was The Rt. Rev’d Douglas Cameron, the Sometime Lord Bishop of Argyll and the Isles (a Diocese which boasts not only two British Cathedrals but also notable ones: the smallest {Millport; The Islands} and the ugliest {Oban; Argyll}). He preached on this passage and it forms the basis of this short meditation.

It is said that one of the hardest things in the world is just to be yourself. To put it in a more Christian language: one of the hardest things is to accept that you are already loved by God. We believe theologically that we are loved by God. It is the central tenant of our concept of the Atonement and Redemption. The Tranfigurative realisation of this is quite another matter. It is difficult to accept emotionally that we are loved just as we are. Our instinct is to hide among the trees. We know we are naked and we are ashamed.

I have often thought that damnation occurs not because God will not look upon us with compassion and forgiveness but that we will be unable to accept it. When we are finally in the presence of the Almighty we will be totally overcome with shame by our weakness, dirtiness and unworthiness – our nakedness. Those who have not learned trust and submission – faith, will be unable to raise our eyes to meet His. We will choose to remain hidden among the trees. I believe in a rough idea of the doctrine of Purgatory, the place of purification. It is that time (a useless concept of chronos within the realm of eternity or God’s time - kairos) that we come to trust and purify ourselves enough to raise our eyes in Humility to the eyes of Love itself and accept Salvation. Archbishop Michael Ramsey, former Archbishop of Canterbury and unofficial Anglican Saint, said that hell must exist because of the Doctrine of Free Will but that he was doubtful that there was actually anybody there. Instead he believed that the naked were all waiting the time when they could accept their nakedness and accept God’s love for them and come out from among the trees. The parallels with the Parable of the Prodigal Son are obvious.

This shame in our own nakedness belies us at every corner. It makes us stiff and careful, unguinine and detached. It makes spontaneity difficult and in time leads to the calcification of the heart. These are the stone hearts the Prophet Ezekiel speaks of. It makes it difficult to be ourselves. It makes it difficult to accept love and therefore difficult to love anyone else.

“You can’t get any popcorn, child. The machine is out of order. See, there is a sign on the machine. But he didn’t understand. After all, he had the desire, and he had the money, and he could see the popcorn in the machine. And yet somehow, somewhere, something was wrong because he couldn’t get the popcorn.

The boy walked back with his mother, and he wanted to cry. And Lord, I too felt like weeping, weeping for people who have become locked in, jammed, broken machines filled with goodness that other people need, and want and yet never come to enjoy, because somehow, somewhere, something has gone wrong inside.” Andre Aneia

Sometimes those who hide can become very good at it. Richard Holloway, when he was Lord Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, once said to me that I had rather sealed my own fate. I was sitting talking to him in his living room about something (probably some minor ecclesiological concern foreshadowing the end of the Church that I had come to see him about) when he stopped me in mid sentence (rather a feat in itself) and just looked at me for a long time. Then he said something like, “the point of masks is for people to see through them and start to pry them off. Your mask is too clever. You use yourself as your mask. When you use the truth to keep others at bay they will never be able to see the mask and can not rip it off.” That day he saw me, and saw me with eyes of compassion. It was an important event for me to see myself though his eyes if only for a moment. I have always loved him for that. I had learned to be clever and analytical and to hide behind the illusion of self knowledge and profundity.

“Anyone can whistle, that’s what they say – easy. Anyone can whistle any old day-easy. I can slay a dragon I can read Greek – easy. I can dance the tango any old week – easy. What’s hard comes simple, what’s natural comes hard. So maybe you can show me how to let go, lower my guard, learn to be free. Maybe if you whistle, whistle for me.”
Stephen Sondheim

The entire time that we are hidden among the trees the Lord is calling to each of us, “Where are you?”. He waits for all eternity for us to come out and face him. How frightening and yet how beautiful. The courage to come out of hiding is, for many of us, the goal of the spiritual life. All of our life’s experience is training for this great enterprise. All love is training for acceptance of the great love. All relationships a reflection of that one great relationship. We fear the voice in the garden calling to us but even more we fear that we will not be able to answer it. So day by day we try again and again to pluck of the nerve to creep out of the foliage and go to Him.

I end with a quote that has unfortunately become something of a cliché for many in the church because of its overuse in the 70’s by a certain type of cleric. However I will risk it. It is the words of the Skin Horse to the Velveteen Rabbit.

“’What is real? Asked the rabbit ‘Does it happen all at once, or bit by bit?’ ‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the skin horse, ‘you become’. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to those people who don’t understand.”

The Penalty of Love or Vivo, iam non ego, vivit vero in me Christus: Whitterings, September 2005

The Penalty of Love

If love should count you worthy, and should deign
One day and seek your door and be your guest,
Pause! ere you draw the bolt and bid him rest,
If in your old content you would remain.
For not alone he enters; in his train
Are angels in the mist, the lonely guest,
Dreams of the unfulfilled and unposessed,
And sorrow, and life's immortal pain.
He wakes desires you may never forget,
He shows you stars you never saw before,
He makes you share with him, for evermore,
The burden of the world’s divine regret.
How wise you were to open not! And yet
How poor if you should turn him from the door.

Sydney Royse Lysaght

The Christianity I was raised in has a distinct emphasis on the theology of the Passion and the Crucifixion. The basis for my earliest understanding of ordained ministry was certainly that of sacrificial love. The duality of the abandonment of the world for that of the spirit was ever present. The concept was that of a door keeper of Christ, one that was called to be “in the world but not of it”. As Thomas Merton said in New Seeds of Contemplation:

“There is only one true flight from the world; it is not the escape from conflict, anguish and suffering, but the flight from disunity and separation, to unity and peace in the love of other men. What is the ‘world’ that Christ would not pray for, and of which he said that His disciples were in but not of it? The world is the unquiet city of those who live for themselves and are therefore divided against one another in a struggle that cannot end, for it will go on eternally in hell. It is the city of those who are fighting for possessions of limited things and for the monopoly of goods and pleasures that cannot be shared by all. But if you try to escape from this world by leaving the city and hiding yourself in solitude, you will only take the city with you into solitude, and yet you can be entirely out of the world while remaining in the midst of it, if you let God set you free from your own selfishness and if you live for love alone.”

I was reflecting upon this when I went to Whithorn last month to visit St Ninian’s cave in Dumfrieshire in Scotland. In 496 St Ninian arrived on the bleak isolated shore of Whithorn to bring Christianity to the Scots. While I sat in his cave upon the shore and looked out on the dark, choppy waters of the Irish Sea, I tried to imagine what it could possibly have been like to go into lifelong exile, alone to a foreign land in the isolated north of the world. As you may know, he did not succeed. He converted isolated Pictish Chieftains but they reverted to paganism shortly thereafter. It was not until St Columba arrived on Iona in 636 that Christianity began to spread amongst the Scots. What was it all for? Did he waste his life? We honour him today for his courage and the glory of his action. His life though knew loneliness and failure. What strength of Love enabled it?

There is another kind of Christianity that seems rather at home with the world and seems very much to mimic the dominant cultures values. It seems to be comfortable ‘in the world’. From afar, it seems optimistic, joyful and content. It has certainties and does not seem plagued with doubt, and the knowledge of the good news and the promise of salvation give it a peace that I find troubling. It is not that I question the place of joy in the Christian life or that I dismiss the peace that comes from deep faith. It is personal. I simply find it alien to my own experience of life.

My experience of life, thus far, has been much more in the lines of the poem by Sydney Royse Lysaght, the Penalty of Love. I understand Christ as a Man of Sorrows to be truer for my own heart than say the Laughing Christ common in some circles. Thomas Merton again says:

“A faith that merely confirms us in opionatedness and self-complacency may well be an expression of theological doubt. True faith is never merely a source of spiritual comfort. It may indeed bring peace, but before it does it must involve us in struggle. A ‘Faith’ that avoids this struggle is really a temptation against true faith.”

I do not suggest that life is only dark, or only unfulfilled desires and pain. However life in all of its moments contains pathos. The reaction of Christ to the pain of the world, the reaction of the Saints and of many poets has been that of love. It is not the sentimental love of hallmark cards or popular culture. It is the love that is born of the awareness of pain and the inevitable mortality of man. It is the love that comes as the only response to the broken body of Christ in the world, the loving that is often the only thing we can do. It is the love that continually plagues, wounds, and pushes the soul away from the world and towards God. It is the love that calls us to die to self so that Christ may live in us. “Vivo, iam non ego, vivit vero in me Christus.” This is the love that “costs not less than everything” as T.S. Eliot says. I find the Penalty of Love to be truer in my experience of sufferings and love than much of the Christian spirituality that abounds in the modern Western world. I end with yet another quotation by Merton, who also was nourished by the theology of the Cross.

“His physical Body was crucified by Pilate and the Pharisees; His mystical Body is drawn and quartered from age to age by the devils in the agony of that disunion which is bred and vegetates in our souls, pone to selfishness and to sin. All over the face of the earth the avarice and lust of men breed unceasing divisions among them, and the wounds that tear men from union with one another widen and open out into huge wars. Murder, massacres, revolution, hatred, the slaughter and torture of the bodies and souls of men, the destruction of cities by fire, the starvation of millions, the annihilation of populations and finally the cosmic inhumanity of atomic war: Christ is massacred in His members, torn limb from limb; God is murdered in men. From such blood-drinking gods the human race was once liberated, with great toil and terrible sorrow, by the death of a God Who delivered Himself to the Cross and suffered the pathological cruelty of his own creatures out of pity for them. In conquering death He opened their eyes to the reality of a love which asks no questions about worthiness, a love which overcomes hatred and destroys death. But men have now come to reject this divine revelation of pardon, and they are consequently returning to the old war gods, the gods that insatiably drink blood and eat the flesh of men. It is easier to serve the hate-gods because they thrive on the worship of collective fanaticism. To serve the hate-gods, one has only to be blinded by collective passion. To serve the God of Love one must be free, one must face the terrible responsibility of the decision to love in spite of all unworthiness whether in oneself or in one’s neighbour.”

Biblical Hermeneutics: Whitterings, June 2005

For the record, I understand why people are frightened of knowledge. The pursuit of knowledge is a dangerous thing if you seek comfort and security. It challenges you to continually revise and rethink your worldview and your deepest beliefs. Carl Jung describes the attaining of knowledge as drawing a map in your head with a pencil and constantly using an eraser to erase so as to redraw the map’s boundaries. He said that most people stop true learning about the time they end formal schooling. They then ink in the map and then spend their energy defending the mind map from the truth. Those who continue lifelong learning must use the eraser and pencil forever. This takes up a great deal of energy.

I have said before in this column that as I learn more I seem to have fewer absolute beliefs. Yet the core essentials of my faith have become stronger, although my way of expressing them has had to constantly shift. I find the study of philosophy and other religious theologies, linguistics, anthropology, history, physics, and psychology particularly challenging. Philosophy challenges the way we put together beliefs and meaning systems. The study of other religions makes one question the core components of the religious drive. Linguistics challenges the way we understand what words are and how language works in relation to what is perceived as true. Anthropology challenges our assurance that humans have a set way a behaving and believing. History challenges our preconceptions about how we arrived here. Physics, especially quantum mechanics, challenges most of the common sense notions we have about the workings of God’s creation. Psychology, especially the psychology of consciousness, makes us question our motives and the way our brains actually create our perception of reality. However, it is Biblical Criticism that I find the most challenging at this point in my ministry.

We know more about the Bible now than we have ever known. Biblical interpretation, often know as Hermeneutics, is broken into eleven categories. Few will be familiar with these so I humbly offer a quick summation. I will be specific about the New Testament. I) TEXTUAL CRITICISM works at comparing the diversities between the copies we posses of the NT books as there are no original texts. II) HISTORICAL CRITICISM tries to understand what the literal meaning of passages are within the culture of the day. III) SOURCE CRITICISM studies the antecedents from which NT writers got their information. IV) FORM CRITICISM studies the characteristics of writing and reading different types of passages; i.e. the difference between reading poetry and a biography. V) REDACTION CRITICISM studies how the authors of the NT books creatively shaped their materials in their writings by how they put it together. VI) CANONICAL CRITICISM studies how the NT books take their meaning by their relationship to other NT books. VII) STRUCTERALISM looks only on the final form of the NT books and concentrates on the internal structure of the writing. VIII) NARRATIVE CRITICISM studies the NT books, especially the Gospels, as they function as stories and examines issues relating to who is being addressed by the author. IX) RHETORICAL CRITICISM analyses the strategies used by the author to communicate, as such it tries to understand both the mind of the writer and the reader it was addressed to. X) SOCIAL CRITICISM studies the texts as a response and manifestation of the culture and social settings in which they were written. XI) ADVOCACY CRITICISM looks at NT books from a particular vantage point, feminist or Liberationists, in order to address issues relating to that particular group.

Hermeneutics is challenging to say the least. It has challenged many of the basic assumptions we have held about the Bible such as who actually wrote it, and the historical authenticity of many of the passages. For example, many are now aware that the ending of St Mark’s Gospel was added much later on by the church as the abrupt conclusion of the original Gospel was felt to be unsatisfactory. The critical study of the Bible has shaken the assumption that what is found in the Bible can be taken at face value. This has confused and frightened many within the church for almost two hundred years, really since Schleiermacher.

I find that this leads to an obvious problem in ministry. Many clergy and laypeople are aware of the vast implications of Hermeneutics while many parishioners are entirely ignorant of it. Sermons are supposed to bring make Gospel alive for the day and not for teaching the Bible. So the pulpit is not an appropriate place in which to educate Christians about Hermeneutics. Bible studies are an appropriate forum but few people attend these groups. Then there is the obvious question, do people even need to know, for example, about the complex history of the adding of the new ending to Mark’s Gospel? Does it add anything to the faith? However, how does one preach on the text authoritatively when one is aware of its origins?

As I have said before, I hold little with Ontology, the study of the essence or being of a thing, and interpret most of the faith in terms of Teleology, the purpose of function of a thing, and Soteriology, the salvitic usefulness of a thing. The result is that I find it is important to enter fully into the belief of the Church, Her symbols and rites and the Biblical narrative in order to allow it to transform you. Stepping back at looking at the stories critically seems to breed an objectiveness that is contrary to the intimate, emotive, subjectiveness of faith. Faith originally meant trust. Yet how does one foster trust when one is being taught to question the very texts that give you the security to trust in the first place? Then again how do you retain intellectual integrity in the pursuit of Truth, which is God, if you do not question? St Paul tells us to question everything but if we question St Paul how do we have the faith to take his advice to question in the first place? The paradox is obvious.

What I find most difficult is that I often am teaching and preaching on stories and texts which I do not believe are true in a historical or objective way and some which I know to be of a questionable origin. I feel I must present them at face value in order to draw the importance of the transformative message out of them for the community of faith. What is most important about the Ascension, for example, is the retaining of the experience of humanity through Christ by the Godhead and not the way this was presented to the early church by the story of the floating away in a cloud. The story comes from the universal view of the three tired plane creation of heaven, earth and hell which were separated from one another by height. The Ascension shows how Christ went from the earthly realm to the heavenly one. This story fulfilled that function for the early church. However, for the modern world, it not only does not work in the context of our view of the universe but goes against it.

I am becoming more and more conscious that the very function of my teaching and preaching as a priest requires me to be less than honest a great deal of the time. I teach the metanarrative (a great story by which a cultures make sense of it’s existence) as truth for the purpose of teaching the essence of the particular story while knowing that many people accept the story as ontological, objective truth even though I am aware that this is not the case. I am also aware that this has created a sort of ‘in’ and ‘out’ party within the church. Those ‘in the know’ speak to one another differently about scripture and faith than when speaking to those ‘who do not know’. This is not a good state of affairs. There is also fear in some quarters to challenge the old way of interpretation in case one is branded as an unbeliever. It can also lead to elitism by the ones who think they ‘know’ better.

The central theological problem for me is that to pursue truth is to pursue God and one cannot suppress one without rejecting the other. Yet if the truth (in the superficial objective sense) cause people to stumble and lose the essential truth that lies behind the stories, nothing has been gained. The consequences of how one understands the approach to scripture is not to be taken lightly as the gulf between North and South in the Anglican Communion is currently exhibiting.

I once again have painted myself into a corner (and run out of space). I am not sure what the best way to deal with the issues I have raised. I do know it is challenging and I trust that wrestling with it will produce fruit for the church.

Ecclesiastical Humour: Whitterings, May 2005

“One of the joys of belonging to the warm hearted Church of England, safely but not too tightly folded into the cope of Canterbury, is the jokes about ourselves. A sense of humour is a sense of proportion. I hold no brief for those solemn people who are so shocked by ‘high’, ‘broad’, ‘low’ and the various subtleties of ritual and verbal expression in the Church that they refuse to be amused by them. Such solemnity argues a lack of proportion. And if the variety of the Church of England is regarded as something too painful to be contemplated, let those who feel like this read these verses by Father Forrest before taking the plunge to the Pope or Mary Baker Eddy or Total Immersion. The yardstick by which humorous verse about ourselves as a Church must be judged is the yardstick of charity. If we can laugh about ourselves we can love one another…”

John Betjeman (Poet Laureate of Great Britain), from his preface to What’s the Use by Father S.J. Forrest, Published by Mowbrays, 1955

When I was a younger, and Head of the Society of Mary in Scotland, I was wont to observe the all night vigil on Maundy Thursday in my parish church. A dozen or so of my friends would spend the night in the church in prayer, the recitation of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, and meditation and then retire after the early morning Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday to a friends flat to watch movies. We watched the same two movies ever year: ‘Brother Sun and Sister Moon’ about St Francis of Assisi and ‘The Small Miracle’ about a young boy who takes his sick donkey into the basilica of St Francis to be healed at the Saint’s tomb. Then it was off to the Three Hours Devotion. It was a lovely routine. Part of the same routine was the retelling of the same silly story. My friends would tease me that they had planned to remove the large statue of our Lady before the vigil, was fully draped in purple fabric for Holy Week, and one of my friends would take Her place. Then while I knelt in front of Her statue to lead the Rosary she would start whispering from beneath the veil, “Edward! Edward! Free my people!” It is not really that funny now that I see it written down. I guess you had to be there. We, however, thought it was a hoot and we would all cry laughing about it. Probably fasting and being up all night made it funnier. Father Timothy, our Rector, also thought it amusing. Needless to say, no one would have really done such a silly prank with our Lady especially during the solemnity of the vigil. When the new Rector came he overheard us laughing about this story and became furious. He refused to believe that we were not really running around the church all night in front of the Blessed Sacrament playing pranks on one another. He banned the All Night Vigil and it is still banned to this day. He had no sense of humour, as we discovered as the years crawled by, and our parish life became more and more serious. The rot had set in.

I tell this story to illustrate how the church I have grown up in has changed. When I think of the ten years I spent at that church in Edinburgh as well as the churches I grew up in in the United States I seem to mostly remember camaraderie and humour. After every service there was a gathering. After the weekday Masses there was coffee with the elderly ladies in the kitchen. After High Mass on Sunday there was Sherry in the Church (champagne after the Christmas and Easter midnight Masses) and then thirty or so of us would go to the Pub next door for breakfast with the Rector. Often we would while away the whole day wandering about the city until it was time for Evensong and Benediction. After E & B it was off to the pub again for a pub dinner (and a pint or two of course). There were the annual pilgrimages to Lindisfarne, Iona and Walsingham. And that was only one parish. Throughout the city there were other gatherings of clergy, choir, servers, and parishioners you could drop in on. Running through all of it was laughter. We were always laughing, usually at ourselves. I found one of the most disquieting things about modern church is how little we seem to socialise like this. After diocesan meetings everyone disappears. The clergy and laypeople seldom if ever go for a meal or drinks. There is no hanging around to see who is going where. Everyone seems to have somewhere they need to be. The church and the running of Her seems to be totally divorced from the social life of Her people. If we do not socialise together how do we ever get to know one another? It seems as if we do not get past the professional facades needed in the game of church administration. One senses that we become caricatures of ourselves in the minds of most of our colleagues.

I have never understood solemn, serious Anglicans. How you could possibly avoid seeing the irony and humour in our way of life still escapes me. I also admire eccentrics, especially ecclesiastical ones. Their very life adds a sense of relief to the utilitarianism of the modern world. I believe one of the funniest ecclesiastical books ever published is ‘Merrily On High’ by The Rev’d Canon Colin Stephenson. It is basically his personal anecdotes about the various eccentric High Churchmen he had known. It could easily have been called ‘Mad Priests I have Known and Loved’.

Of Fr de Waal he writes:
“Every year he would arrange a Sunday School treat and present it to a poor parish. They always had to start from the same place, even if it meant going back through the station from which they had set out, and he always took them to the same spot in the country. Unfortunately it was sold for building development and every year there was less and less country, until at last he was taking the children into the middle of a housing estate and the residents complained.”.

Of Bishop Roscow Shedden sometime Lord Bishop of Nassau in the Bahamas he writes:

“He never really ceased to be the rather overbearing lovable prefect he must have been at school, who always thought he could get his own way by shouting. And what a voice he had! He seemed entirely unable to modulate his voice and was apt to make what he thought to be quiet asides which would ring throughout the church. Once in the middle of reciting the Angelus he said: “I shall want the lavatory accommodation after this”, in exactly the same tone. On one occasion he was pontificating at a church in Nassau and barking orders he said: “Mitre”, to a small boy holding it. He repeated the word with growing impatience and then said: “Put it on boy”, and the small boy solemnly put it on his own head! I knew the mitre only too well as it had a lot of metal decoration on the top and I have more than once nearly lost an eye when he wanted it off and butted at me like a goat. He once got it caught in the tassel hanging from the sanctuary lamp and began to shake his head like an angry bull so that the whole thing – glass, oil and all – upset over him adding to his rage.”.

What happened to these lovable, eccentric priests and the odd mad Bishop? Most of them seem to have disappeared. We seem so serious in the church these days. It seems as if we stumble from crisis to crisis without a chance to catch our breath. We are polarised, fighting, overworked, worried, and often exhausted. I have to admit the church no longer seems to be very much fun. However, I must say that the new Bishop’s sense of humour is a breath of fresh air, even if his humour often takes the form of bad puns!

I know that this month’s column reads like nostalgic longing. That is because it is. I miss it. I miss poking fun at our solemnity. I miss the camaraderie. I miss the genuine, relaxed, social aspect of our life, especially the clerical life. I miss the eccentrics. I miss the hearty, stress releasing laughter the most. I want it to return like the spring. It feels as though winter has been with us too long. You all know how we get when winter goes on too long: grumpy, and tired, and serious. Surly we need a good laugh. The whole Communion needs a good laugh. As John Betjeman reminds us, we need to regain our sense of proportion.

P.S. The Photograph from 1954 is of Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury, asleep in Wembly Stadium while Billy Graham's preached his crusade. Very Funny.

The Holy Longing or The Ox Rider Riding the Ox in Search of the Ox: Whitterings, April 2005

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12. 24-25

As an Anglo-Catholic I was taught that the preeminent example of the spiritual life was to found in the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary completely surrendered her will to that of the Divine Will by allowing her ego to be subsumed by God’s. Thus she was able to be the Theotokos (the title given to her by the Early Church Councils, meaning God Bearer) and to become the vehicle for the incarnation. We too are to allow our egos to be sublimated to the Will of God so that we too can allow Christ to live in us as St Paul tells us. Mary therefore becomes an icon of our own spiritual life, we are to die to self so that we can give birth to Christ in ourselves so that Christ may enter again into his creation through our lives. This way of looking at Christian spirituality is profoundly feminine as it conceives of the human soul as female and as mother. I find that this is way too often a neglected aspect within our predominantly patriarchical, phallocentric western spirituality.

Interestingly enough the Buddhist religion also conceives of the spiritual life as allowing each persons individual Buddha Nature to shine forth by removing the outer encrustations of egotism (the self refereeing or self centered aspect of the mind and heart as opposed to the God centered aspect of our nature). The idea of the Christ that waits inside each of us to be given birth and the Buddha nature inside each of us waiting to be revealed seem to be extraordinarily close. Actually the two religion’s spirituality are also very close up until they part ways fundamentally at the end. Buddhist seek to leave the world of suffering by detachment and Christians, following the incarnate and Crucified Christ, seek to enter into the world and find redemption through suffering.

In Archbishop Rowan Williams’s book Lost Icons he points to a fundamental flaw in the post modern conception of the soul and its liberation. The soul is the Christ nature within us. His argument runs a couple of hundred pages and it would be impossible to relate the subtleties of his argument in just a few sentences. I highly suggest the book to anyone with the perseverance to struggle with it. Basically he suggests that modern Western people conceive of the soul as being an isolated entity that exists as a complete and separate part of our composition. Most people think that the soul is something that is already formed and that needs to be found or connected with. Archbishop Williams says that the soul is almost the opposite of this conception. He believes the soul is not that which we are searching for but instead it is the searcher who searches. As the Zen saying goes we are in the spiritual life:

An ox rider
Riding the ox
In search of the ox.

The soul is that which is constantly changing and growing as we are open to God in all of our life’s experiences and relationships. God’s nature, as we understand through the doctrine of the Trinity, is in constant movement, God’s creation is also in constant movement as the creation is still in process, and so the soul which reflects God’s nature and His creation is also in movement. The soul does not exist separately from our culture, our community, our past and our interactions with others and their interaction with us.

He suggests that the way the soul is nourished to grow and the egotistical self is decreased is in the open vulnerable experience of true love and in the practice of discipline. In our society we are used to instantaneous gratification. We desire objects and people and when we are unable to obtain them we get frustrated, scared or we panic. It is in this place where we experience this questioning of identity that the real spiritual work is done and not in trying to solve the problem that will allow us to obtain our goal. In our tradition fasting, simplicity, discipline, meditation, prayer and celibacy have all be uses to maximize the experience of questioning that comes when we hit obstacles and are thrown back upon ourselves.

“Authentic religious (in this case Christian) practice begins in the attempt to attend to the movement of self-questioning – to refuse to cover over, evade or explain the pain or shock of whatever brings the self into question, to hold onto the difficulty before the almost inevitable descent into pathos and personal drama begins. ‘The soul’ is what happens in the process of such attention: it is the movement that begins whenever man [sic] experiences the psychological pain of contradiction.” Lost Icons, page151

Goethe in his poem the Holy Longing, written in 1814, looks at the transformation of the soul into dominance in the human self using the other example of intimate love. Here he shows that love, at its best, pushes the self beyond the borders of itself and into the vulnerable apprehension of the beloved. This in turn can push the soul into utter transformation by pushing the loving apprehension of the beloved into a loving apprehension of God (which is really what we love in the other). This Holy Longing and Holy Love cost everything. The ego must become totally consumed into that of the Divine. It is nothing less than the death of the self. What then happens it nothing short of rebirth, Resurrection. You can not hold onto your life and have freedom you must die to have freedom. “If any man would save his life he shall lose it and if any man would lose his self for my sake he shall gain it.” This is when we become like the Blessed Virgin and give birth to Christ within us.

The Holy Longing

Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
Because the massman will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
What longs to be burned to death.

In the calm water of the love-nights,
Where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
A strange feeling comes over you
When you see the silent candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught
In the obsession with darkness,
And a desire for higher love-making
Sweeps you upward.

Distance does not make you falter,
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
And, finally, insane for the light,
You are the butterfly and you are gone.

And so long as you haven’t experienced
This: to die and so to grow,
You are only a troubled guest
On the dark earth.

Blessed are the Peacemakers: Whitterings, March 2005

“Blessed are the peace makers, for they will be called children of God”

Our Lord does not say that the peacemakers will be blessed; He says that they are blessed. I put it to you that the peacemakers, in common with all the categories of people mentioned by Christ in the Beatitudes, are already blessed because they are already journeying on the path of righteousness. To be a peacemaker one must be able to step back from the heat of the conflict and see both parties in a conflict with the peaceful and painful eyes of compassion. A couple of weeks ago I watched as two teenage friends, both already upset with other people, began to spar in order to let off steam. It did not take long before one inadvertently touched a sore point in the other. I watched while in the two seconds taken to respond the other swiftly found an even weaker spot in the other and poked back. In the twinkling of an eye they were well into the process of trying to hurt each other with personal information that only close friends are privy to. While watching them I felt a sense of pain mixed with peaceful compassionate detachment.

Perhaps detachment is the wrong word. I mean the feeling that one gets when one seems to be looking down from a great height upon conflict while loving both sides and seeing them in a way that you realize that they can not see one another. I remember when I was a teenager and had a truly poisonous and vitriolic fight with a dear friend of mine in the sacristy after having served Evensong and Benediction. The elderly priest taking the service, the former Dean of Aberdeen Canon Arthur Hotchison, tried to intervene but neither of us paid any attention to him as we were so caught up in our screaming. A few seconds or minutes later I remember finally focusing on Fr Arthur’s face over the shoulder of my friend and saw that he was silently weeping. Canon Hotchison was in his mid eighties when this occurred and was not in excellent health. My friend and I used to go regularly to his house to clean and prepare meals for him and so we were both very close to him. The second I saw his pain the fire of anger in me died. I felt ashamed and guilty. I felt helpless watching this old priest whom I loved crying because of my violent words. I did not remember what he said exactly but it was something about him loving us and that we loved each other and why were we not kinder to one another. I now think I know what he felt: the compassion to see both parties with love mixed with the painful realisation that one is unable to get the other parties to love one another the way you do. This is also true when you love someone who does not love them self and so you must constantly stand back and watch as they punish them self.

Surely part of being a peacemaker is to learn to live in this lonely land of compassion. We do not often think of peacemaking as lonely or painful. In Leonard Cohen’s song Suzanne there is the verse:

“And Jesus was a sailor
when he walked upon the water
and he spent a long time watching
from his lonely wooden tower
and when he knew for certain
only drowning men could see him
he said all men will be sailors then
until the sea shall free them
but he himself was broken
long before the sky would open
forsaken almost human
he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
and you want to travel with him
you want to travel blind
and you know he will find you
for he’s touched your perfect body
with his mind.”

In 1962 Hector Rondon of the newspaper La Republic in Venezuela covered the violent rebellion in Puerto Cabello when rebel marines clashed with government troops in the streets. As the government troops moved from doorway to doorway to flush out the rebels, peasants flowed into the city from the countryside to side with the loyalists. The rebel marines were pushed into a four block area and a deadly game began. The government troops went building by building to exterminate the revolutionaries. Rondon recalls, “The air was full of lead when I noticed a priest walk into the streets to offer the Church’s last rites to the dying. One badly wounded soldier crawled to the priest, later identified as Father Luis Padilla, and pulled himself to a kneeling position, grasping the priest’s cassock. The sniper fire continued, and bullets chewed up the concrete around the priest as he looked up to face the sniper. Padilla gave the sacrament to the soldier, then moved onto others who had fallen.” The photograph he took at this moment won the Pulitzer Prize in 1963.

When I first came across this photograph I was reduced to tears. For me it represents this lonely love of those who love Christ and who therefore love the world with His love. “Love one another as I have loved you.” In the middle of hell a priest walks into danger to comfort the violent children of this world as they reap the prize of hatred. Indiscriminately he comforts the fallen of both sides while snipers continue to fire at him. In this photograph is revealed the full pathos and the full glory of the Church at Her best.

The beginning of peacemaking is the realisation that ones enemy is as equally loved by God as you are. Your enemy is simply afraid. Fear is the root of all evil. As Yoda reminds us, “Fear leads to violence, violence leads to hatred, and hatred leads to the Dark Side.” In Rowan William’s Lent Book Christ on Trial he quotes from Anita Mason’s The Illusionist, a retelling of Christ’s Passion:

“The trial was taking place somewhere else. From an immeasurable distance, he was aware of the governor’s face staring at him in a passion of fury. Demetrius looked at the face and saw that this man too would one day die. He looked deep into the furious eyes, and far away at the back of them he saw fear.”

To see with the heart is to stand above the fire of passion of this world and see instead with the passionately compassionate, and hurt pained eyes of Christ. Christians are Strangers in a Strange Land, Aliens in Occupied Territory. We stand too much out of the world to take too much comfort from it but too much in it to be protected from it. We stand at the door. It is a lonely place to stand but we are glorious because of it. The Lesson of the Fox in the Little Prince reads,

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Sunt Lacrimae Rerum Et Mentem Mortalia Tangunt: Whitterings, February 2005

Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
Virgil’s quote from the Aeneid roughly means, but does not translates as, “there are tears in things”. He does not mean that everything is depressing or that all is sadness but that the world and all life is poignant. The realisation of mortality and the finiteness of time bring out in some a sense of poetic melancholy as their primary emotional reaction to life. It is often said that the Celts are particularly known for this Celtic twighlight disposition. When I was twenty I preached my first sermon in the Church of St Vincent in Edinburgh on the bitter sweetness of life using the text about the flowers of the field from the prophet Isaiah. All that is passes away and that life is precious and beautiful only because it fades, youth is haunting because it is fleeting.

The bitter sweetness of melancholy can hold together the two great truths about Christ. That he suffered and that he Rose. These two events are opposite sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other. In some mystical theology these two events show forth the eternal nature of the Logos not just singular events in time and space. To be more precise, the two are held together during the span of the created order. In this view Christ suffers with his fallen creation in time. As long as injustice, greed and hate destroy his beloved children he suffers. He suffers with all who suffer. He is eternally crucified.
Eli Wiesel’s describes it like this in his book Night about life in a concentration camp during the holocaust;

“On that day, horrible even among those days of horror, when the child watched the hanging (yes!) of another child, who, he tells us, had the face of a sad angel, he heard someone groan: ‘Where is God? Where is he? Where can He be now?’ and a voice within me answered: ‘Where? Here He is – He has been hanged here, on these gallows.’
This summer I visited the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and spent a good deal of time with Caravaggio’s The Sacrifice of Isaac. In this painting the sad and pitying eyes of the ram looking on from the side revealed to me a deep core within Christian pathos. The foreshadowing of the loving and pained eyes of Christ who loved us so much he is willing to take Isaacs place, to take the place of all who suffer, to take the place of the world. Caravaggio’s changes the entire theology of this central Old Testament story with only the expressive eyes of a sheep!

If Christ is still broken with his broken world then he is also eternally risen. He has triumphed over darkness and the chains of death. For those of us still on our pilgrimage our reaction to Christ changes depending on our circumstances. In many medieval churches there is a rood cross that hangs above the entry to the sanctuary. When one is in the nave of the church (the ship sailing onward through time) you see the corpus, often very gruesome, showing Christ in agony. If you look up at the rood again as you are leaving the sanctuary after having received the sacrament you can see an empty cross painted with lilies, the symbol of the resurrection. Gothic architecture is a grand meditation on time (chronos) and eternity (karios) and mankind’s journey from one to the other. It recognizes that while still in time we experience both Good Friday and Easter Sunday as separate aspects of God and our relationship to Him. I imagine that in God’s time, eternity, the two are merged into one seamlessly.

So is there not a sense of integrity in the poetic reaction to life? Which holds both love and loss, life and death, crucifixion and resurrection in one emotion? I have often wondered why it is that the tears of great sadness and the tears of great joy come from the same feeling. There are tears of joy in things, tears of love and relief and of happiness. I often become teary at baptisms because of the juxtaposition of images and emotions: the glory of new life; innocents; the warmth of family and friends; the hope of a life who will know love and affection and safety and the love of the community of Christ, as well as the certainty of loneliness; rejection; the death of the parents; doubt; aging; and the eventual death of the baptised. These images seem to conflict and then merge into a deep sense of completeness which is sadness and joy mixed together gently and sweetly. The tears are the result of all of it together.

I have never been comfortable with pessimism and depression but neither have I ever been comfortable with wild joy and optimism. I find comfort in the paradox, in the in between where it is not ‘either or’ but ‘both and’. The most poignant moment in the Christian year for me occurs during the Easter vigil. The Passion has finished, the harrowing of Hell is over and the Resurrection has yet to occur. After the vigil of readings, while the church is still dark with only hand candles silently flickering, there is a long pregnant pause in the liturgy. Then the organ softly begins the strains of ‘Now the Green Blade Riseth from the Fallen Grain'. This first moment of Easter, in the womb of silence, darkness and night, is not triumphant. It is not majestic or powerful. It is gentle, mysterious, and reflects on light quietly triumphing over darkness and death. In this moment of transition, this moment of the light slowly almost imperceptibly emerging out of what seems like eternal chaos is for me the central moment of the whole Christian year. It is what I variously call the poetic sense, melancholy, the Celtic twighlight and what Wordsworth calls the philosophic mind. It is this moment that I feel the fullness of truth about our lives lies.

This ability to hold both the crucifixion and the resurrection together at the same time can give a sense of glory to the sacrifice of mission and witness. From this place the world seems more real to me because it denies neither pain nor redemption, death nor life. Annie Dillard says it so much more beautifully in her glorious little book The Holy and the Firm than I ever could. Although she uses the term artist it can just as easily be Christian or lover, minister or Saint.

“How can people think that artists seek a name? A name, like a face, is something you have when you’re not alone. There is no such thing as an artist: there is only the world, lit or unlit as the light allows. When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is abomination. What can any artist set on fire but his world? What can any people bring to the altar but all it has ever owned in the thin towns over the desolate plains? What can an artist use but materials, such as they are? What can he light but the short string of his gut, and when that’s burnt out, any muck ready to hand? His face is flame like a seraph’s, lighting the kingdom of God for the people to see; his life goes up in the works; his feet are waxen and salt. He is holy and he is firm, spanning all the long gap with the length of his love, in flawed imitation of Christ on the cross stretched both ways unbroken and thorned. So must the work be also, in touch with, in touch with, in touch with; spanning the gap, from here to eternity, home.”
Sunt lacrimae rerum in mentem mortalia tangent.
Fr Edward Simonton OGS
Priest of the Oratory of the Good Shepherd

Trailing Clouds of Glory: Whitterings, January 2005

Henry Scott Tuke ii

The beginning of the new year often leads to introspection about the past. So as I reflect on the events of the previous year I find myself in a familiar predicament. I can not remember a good chunk of it.

Memory is a strange thing. I know people who can remember the details of a dinner party twenty years ago including the conversation topics. I know people that seem to remember everything they ever did or watched or even read. I often envy them.

My memory is esoteric, impractical, and totally unpredictable. I seldom remember the particulars of my own life but can discuss at length some obscure archaic belief system long since dead. I can remember that I have visited a place but can recall nothing about it. I can remember abstract things such as poetry, history, philosophy – in other words abstract thoughts - but not where I have been or what I have done. My friends joke about the fact that they know more about my history than I do. I have come across articles and monographs which I would swear I have never seen before concerning things I swear I know nothing about only to discover that I wrote them. Once when I was doing Doctoral work at Cambridge I received a telephone call from a man enquiring about the controversy over the foundation date of a Lazarite Leper Hospital in the north of England. I thought the man had the wrong number and informed him that I had never heard of the place. There was a long pause on the other end of the telephone before he asked sheepishly if I was the author of the monograph ‘Medieval Foundation of the Order of St Lazarus in England and Wales’. You guessed it, I wrote a book in which I spent two pages discussing the Foundation date of the particular leprosarium in question!

There is some comfort in knowing that the trait seems to be genetic as my mother suffers from the same eccentric memory. After my Grandmother and Aunt both died my mother commented that not only did she lose her family she also had lost her childhood as they could remember her past and help her remember it while she is unable to do it alone. For awhile I kept journals and took photographs constantly. I no longer do so as my journal writings seem to be those of a stranger writing about people I do not recall doing things I cannot remember. As for photographs they often only seem to mock me by reminding me that I should recall the people and the event of which I only have a vague recollection.

I always thought that leading an exciting life was done not only for the adventure but also to store up treasures in the memory chest for later years. I once dated a model mostly so I would be able to take pleasure later knowing that I had done so. I shouldn’t have bothered as I have no memory of it. Overall I have been haunted with a sense of loss and guilt. I also feel cheated by my own mind.

William Wordsworth reflected deeply about this pain of forgetting in his poem Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. In it he traces the birth of man from God and the gradual losing of that memory of Him and the feelings of awe experienced in childhood to be replaced by reflective melancholy and estrangement. He sees forgetting as part of a much greater problem of the human condition: The forgetting of innocence, joy, and God.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar:

Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Shades of the prison-house begin to close

Upon the growing boy.

Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind;

In the primal sympathy

Which having been must ever be;

In the soothing thoughts that spring

Out of human suffering;

In the faith that looks through death,

In years that bring the philosophic mind.

In Wordsworth I find the melancholic but freeing sense that forgetting is not just about a trick of the mind but actually echoes the end of all things, including humanity itself. The Prophet Isaiah reminds us, “All flesh is grass, and its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surly the people is grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever.”

Remembering has been a sacred thing to humans. The remembering of our ancestors, the stories of our race’s beginnings, our myths, our lives, our mistakes. Remembrance plays a central part in our faith as well. We recall the life of Our Lord with the yearly round of feast and fast, the lives of His Saints, we recall his words week after week, and we gather around the altar to celebrate the Eucharist in memory of him. Yet within the Eucharist lies the key to the solution to the problem of forgetting. The key is the word remember. The Greek word for remembrance used by Christ is anamnesis. The word does not really mean to remember something that happened before but to reach back and pull it forward again – to make it real again. By doing so the thing remembered is resurrected and given new life.

This is impossible for us. We remember darkly at best and even if we remember we too will die and our memories with us and down through the centuries the remembrance of love, and beauty, loss and pain will all vanish. There are also those who have no one to remember their stories at all. Those who die alone, on battlefields, those who have disappeared, those who have no one to witness their lives. Archbishop Williams reflected upon this in his Easter Sermon last year in speaking about the horrors of the modern world such as the holocaust and Rwanda.

“We may and we should feel the reproach of the risen Christ as we recognise how easily we let ourselves forget; and nearer home, we might think too of those who die alone and unloved in our own society - the aged with no family (or forgotten by their family), the homeless addict, the mentally disturbed isolated from ordinary human contact. But Easter tells us to be glad that they are not forgotten by God, that their dignity is held and affirmed by God and that their lives are in his hand.

When we pray at this Eucharist 'with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven', we say presente of all those the world (including us) would forget and God remembers. With angels and archangels; with the butchered Rwandans of ten years ago and the butchered or brutalised Ugandan children of last week or yesterday; with the young woman dead on a mattress in King's Cross after an overdose and the childless widower with Alzheimer's; with the thief crucified alongside Jesus and all the thousands of other anonymous thieves crucified in Judaea by an efficient imperial administration; with the whole company of heaven, those whom God receives in his mercy.”

So although remembering in the human sense will not resurrect the past and will not heal the broken lives that have gone before us, God’s remembering will. St Luke tells us that Christ said that not even a sparrow is forgotten before God. God’s remembering is like that of the Eucharist: all will be made alive again, all will be made whole again, and all will be healed. Wordsworth’s man will return to the God from whence he has come and enter back into his lost innocence. Aristotle told us that all wisdom is just a remembering of that which we already know in the secret place of our heart.

Remembering is essential for not repeating the past mistakes of our collective life as well as for keeping steady on the path of faith. However if you are like me and find that much of life seems to be lost in the unreachable recesses of the mind, take comfort that although we forget, although we die and are forgotten by the world, and that this world will also one day vanish and be forgotten, God remembers. He not just remembers us in the past which is no more, He remembers us always in the eternal present and makes us whole again.

“To me the meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that do often lie too deep for
tears.” W.W.