i have just finished reading diarmaid mcculloch's huge biography of thomas cranmer. it was one of the most imformative books i've read in a while, and i find it inhabits my dreams. it has also done much to confirm my opinion that i find cranmer a much better writer than theologian, and has broadened my understanding of the complex ways in which what has come to be "the church of england" and "anglicanism" has been formed by the vagarities of english foreign policy.
cranmer famously spend the last several months of his life in prison, first in london and then in oxford. it was in oxford that he was burned for treason and heresy. just before his death, he was "visited" by spanish friars, who allegedly convinced him to recant. then of course he recanted his recanting in his last sermon in the oxford cathedral.
things were a little easier for john of the cross, who was a monk, not a friar, but who was also considered for a while at least a heretic by some of his own order, the carmelites. they were a little gentler in spain than in england, at least at that time, and he was released from his cell, although his life was not easy after that; he remained for all practical purposes still a prisoner.
i am reading john of the cross's poems as a sort of chaser to cranmer, partly because of the spanish connection to cranmer's last days, and partly because today is john's feast.
i am struck by how entirely differently cranmer and john of the cross approach truth. cranmer recognized that he was no poet. s. john was a consumate poet, and must have been aware of the gift, since most of his writings were commentaries on his own poems. what i find ironic is that the truth that has endured in cranmer's writings, the truth we find today, is what is expressed in the poetic nature of his prose. despite his anguished efforts to say exactly one thing at a time, whether about where authority is found in the church, or how we are saved, or what happens in the liturgy, his readers have found, again and again, many meanings, sometimes contradictory, often meanings the archbishop would have rejected angrily.
ultimately, i find both thomas cranmer and s. john of the cross, if not proof, then surely strong corraboration that the only safe way to "do theology" is apophatically. so i'm back to read more of john of the cross. i leave you with his
"i came into the unknown"
"i came into the unknown and stayed there unknowing rising beyond all science.
i did not know the door but when i found the way, unknowing where i was, i learned enormous things, but what i felt i cannot say, for i remained unknowing, rising beyond all science.
it was the perfect realm of holiness and peace. in deepest solitude i found the narrow way: a secret giving such release that I was stunned and stammering, rising beyond all science.
i was so far inside, so dazed and far away my senses were released from feelings of my own. my mind had found a surer way: a knowledge of unknowing, rising beyond all science.
and he who does arrive collapses as in sleep, for all he knew before now seems a lowly thing, and so his knowledge grows so deep that he remains unknowing, rising beyond all science.
the higher he ascends the darker is the wood; it is the shadowy cloud that clarified the night, and so the one who understood remains always unknowing, rising beyond all science.
this knowledge by unknowing is such a soaring force that scholars argue long but never leave the ground. their knowledge always fails the source: to understand unknowing, rising beyond all science.
this knowledge is supreme crossing a blazing height; though formal reason tries it crumbles in the dark, but one who would control the night by knowledge of unknowing will rise beyond all science.
and if you wish to hear: the highest science leads to an ecstatic feeling of the most holy being; and from his mercy comes his deed: to let us stay unknowing, rising beyond all science."
i have been reading jean leclerq's the love of learning and the desire for god: a study of monastic culture (new york: fordham university press, 1961), and i am struck again by how much of the current antogonism betwen "science" and "religion" originated in the twelfth century as the practices of the schools and the monasteries diverged.
in that context, i am encouraged by the collegiate and monastic community of st. illtyd at llanilltud fawr, where many of the most illustrous of welsh and cornish scholar saints and bishops were trained. illtyd was described by his student samson as "the most learned of all britons in the knowledge of scripture, both the old testament and the new testament, and in every branch of philosophy--poetry and rhetoric, grammar and arithmetic, and he was most sagacious and gifted with the power of telling future events."
the result of the loss of real education has results so obvious they hardly need mentioning: "sciences" whose primary gifts are splintering of societies into groups in which all the "individuals" have guns to solve their problems and the "sovereign nations" have weapons of mass destruction to solve their problems, and "religions" which have produced people who are "spiritual" but not religious.
of course there were problems in wales of the late fifth century. but there was also a comprehensive understanding of the solutions, taught by st. illtyd and his students, which we seem to have lost. might there be a solution not in trying to produce more "renaissance men [and women]" but in educating more of the sort of christians who came from st. illtyd's school? we will not know, of course, unless we make the efforts to return to an understanding of all knowledge as coming from one source, and serving one lord.
it was by no means a bonfire. the closest i had to bones of animals, slaughtered for the feast because there is not enough food for them to winterover, was an empty pizza box. i had dived the dumpster for it, and put the five slices of pizza--with olives and artichokes--into bread bags: enough to feast for the octave. i thought of burning the box, but put it back into the dumpster instead.
nor was it a samwain fire. i had seen the misinformation of the history channel, claiming the sinister catholic church had somehow taken over a fine feast it claimed had been celebrated by the celts in ireland 3,000 years ago. bah! there were no celts in ireland 3000 years ago, and the church had been in ireland 300 years, celebrating all saints' day on the sunday after pentecost, when pope gregory iii changed the calendr to make all saints' day fall on the first of november. it was a minor part of what the celtic christians resisted in the practices of rome, but resist they did for about 200 years.
pope gregory's reorganization was part of the western church's structuring of the calendar as a round of eight feats of our lord, with remembrances of mighty acts and the prophecies or explanations of them, at the solstices, equinoxes, and the "cross-quarter days," halfway in between.
christmas, the feast of the nativity of christ jesus, is balanced by the feat of the birth of the last of the great prophets, john the forerunner. caldlemass, the presentation of christ in the temple, halfway to easter, is a proclamation of christ as light, seen more clearly six months later at the feast of the transfiguration. lest we forget the role of the cross in the paschal feast at the spring equinox, we are reminded in the exaltation of the holy cross at the fall equinox.
and the gift of the holy spirit bringing new life to the small gathering on pentecost, when seven-tongued flames of fire danced on their heads, is remembered by my little fire at all hallows day as the gift of the holy spirit to all believers in the truth of the trinity.
halloween has long been one of my favourite holidays, but i did not always understand it this way. i was raised in a pleasant southern baptist church that really had only three big feasts. the one with the clearest liturgical celebration was mothers' day, with a distribution of roses: no matter how we may deny her, the role of the mother will out. christmas was semi-liturgical: there was the pageant. i still remember the smell of the gum arabic of my wise man's brown beard, and the soft rustle of my father's wine coloured silk dressing gown. but we did not sing "once in royal david's city," nor did we hear of the incarnation, john's gospel having been reduced to a single verse, and ahab somehow having become our favourite king.
we slightly celebrated easter, wearing new clothes and getting junk food from the easter bunny. it mostly seemed an embarfassment to our pastor, who felt perhaps that he should condemn such shenanigans but who never quite knew why.
the other holiday, the third great feast, was valentine's day, when we had the sweet heart banquet. i found among my mother's photo's a complete documentation of my sweetheart banquet dates. i had only remembered ramona baswell.
it was a banquet rather than a dance, such as the sinful methodists had, because we did not dance. perhaps it was david's ecstatic dancing that had bumped him from our pantheon to make room for ahab.
over the years i learned more about the feats of the church, but all saints' has remained one of my favourites. my ordination to the priesthood was on all saints' day. i spent most of the night before, hallowe'en, praying with the theotokos, then i went dancing. i remember that one of the songs was "my own personal jesus."
all of this was in the background of my little fire, but there was more to develop in the foreground as the light shone in the darkness.
one of the advantages of being a solitary is that there is no pressure to hurry vigils. in conflated three published vigils, two for "the even of all saints," and one, with bones and witches, for "all hallows eve." my readings and psalms and prayers started with the promises to abraham, and progressed through stories such as daniel in the lions' den and eliphaz's vision in the night and the martyrdom of the maccabess to the war in heaven. i added a mug of coffee in memory of the saints of ethiopia, being particularly grateful for the seven desert monks who took their practices to wales and ireland. i smoked a cigarette in memory of the early native american martyrs, even peter the aleut, who probably didn't smoke.
of course, i didn't want it to end, so when it became too dark to read, i pondered the stars whose numbers that clear night rivaled that of the descendents of abraham.
but it did end, and that most wonderfully, and with another understanding of my little fire. i had put the last of the wood on the fire when two friends walked up, wanting to sing compline. so we did, once more chanting the song of old simeon who waited in the temple to see the saviour of israel:
"lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou has prepared before the face of all people; to be a light tolighten the gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people israel."
my friends departed in peace, and i went back to the fire. i had not ceased from wondering, so i came back to where i had begun. the fullsome moon was now high, the moon of the beginning of genesis "for signs and for seasons."
and i knew it was a camp fire. i was on the same journey as abraham, a journey of the children of israel, in stages. i knew that the next morning in the liturgy i would hear of its end in the new jerusalem. i knew i would break my fast with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. but for now i had, in the phrase of one of the hymns from my baptist boyhood, "a foretaste of glory divine." julian had her hazelnut. i had my little campfire. it was enough.
an often overlooked part of the "collateral damage" of the american military adventure in the near east is the price paid by arab christians. american smart bombs recognize them no better than did the european crusaders, and their non-christian neighbors are able to be convinced that since they are christians and america claims to be christian, they must be on the side of the enemy.
the problems caused the church by being involved with the state is nothing new. as st. columbanus and st. gall travelled across europe, being part of the "irish who saved civilization," they constantly found themselves befriended and the betrayed by the various local princes who were in constantly changing alliances with or against the pope or the emperor.
yet st. gall managed to continue the tradition of the irish monks at his monastery until the eighth century. whether this saved civilization or not, it did keep alive a strand of christianity which was often strenuously opposed by a papacy whose primary dogma more and more seemed to be its own power.
some scholars suggest that the areas in europe which were evangelized by the irish missionaries such as columbanus and gall and willibord were more inclined to rebel against the papacy at the time of the reformation because of the suppression they had experienced. if that is so, their revolt went many times far beyond what would have been approved by the irish missionaries. the orthodox faith brought by st. gall to switzerland was often abused in the collateral damage of the reformation.
but, just as the christians in palestine have survived, despite their difficulties, the orthodox faith does as well. and i am very delighted that the far-flung members of christ's holy catholic church are sometimes recognizing each other more clearly than did the crusaders. this new brotherhood of st. herman calendar is devoted to the orthodox saints of pre-scism britain. i'm looking forward to reading what it says about st. gall.
the calendar of the church is a fascinating creation, which i have studied for a long time. one of the first projects i pursued after my ordination was a round of prayers for the church year based on what i could find of the celtic church's calendar. although there was a major publisher interested, i was dissatisfied, and only made some xeroxed, spiral-bound copies for friends. i wish i still had one, i guess.
i have a friend who finds the whole calendar thing just wrong, citing, of course, paul. he insists that each day is like any other, and he celebrates the whole of what our lord has done for us every day. i confess i find his understanding of what the lord has done for us, and his celebration, to be rather wan.
i have another friend who is a practicing hindu, who claims that she received shaktipat when she met her guru. i think that means she got the whole thing in an instant. her life remains one of longing and terror, however.
for slow learners like me, the calendar, or calendars, as the church throughout the world has several variations, is helpful in presenting some view of the pearl of great price nearly every day, with major viewings on the feasts of our lord.
st. michael's day is one of the second level of feasts, important but not so important as feasts of jesus christ himself. often, saints are commemorated on the days of their deaths. st. michael, being immortal, does not fall into that category. another common source of date is the finding (the invention) or the moving (the translation) of a saint's relics. st. michael has no relics. a third is the dedication of a church to the patronage of a saint. this is the source of 29 september as the feast of st. michael, at least for part of the church. but there are twelve different feasts of st.michael scattered throughout the world, based on miracles attributed to the archangel or some dedication. the abyssinian church celebrates michael on the twelvth of each month.
i love the simplicity of the story which led to the founding of the church of st. michael on mount gargano, because it illustrates the close proximity of the world of angels and the world of mortals. the lord of septanto was looking for a lost cow on that mountain, which he saw in a cave. in his anger at the beast for straying, he aimed an arrow at it. the arrow hit instead his own bare foot. he reported the event to his bishop, lorenzo, who investigated the site and was rewarded with a vision of the messenger, who said, "i am michael; i am always in the presence of god. the shrine to the event is pictured above.
the interweaving of the lives of angels and mortals is also reflected in the english church's collect for the day:
"o everlasting god, who hast ordained and constituted the service of angels and men in a wonderful order; mercifully grant that, as thy holy angels always do thee service in heaven, so, by thy appointment, they may succour and defend us on earth; through jesus christ our lord, who reigns with thee and the holy ghost, one god, through ages of ages. amen."
it might seem strange that i would choose maddox brown's painting of aidan kissing oswald's hand for today's post, unless one knows much about oswald's hands.
oswald famously prayed sitting, with his hands on his knees, open and facing up. when on one easter feast there was a crowd of hungry subjects outside, he sent the silver platter from which he was going to eat to the crowd, and asked that the platter then be broken up and shared amongst the poor. aidan, impressed by the king's generosity, took his right hand and said, "may this hand never wither." when oswald was killed at age 38, on the fifth of august, at maserfelth, the mercians took his head and hands as trophies. his brother oswy recovered them, and the incorrupt hand is still among the relics of durham cathedral.
i have come to black bass "lake," a park all improved since i was last here nearly two years ago. despite all the new fences and signs, of improvement, the creek still falls over a rough ledge abut forty yards below the damn, and i sit to listen to its psalm, in an area marked "pedestrians prohibited." it's one of the worst examples of officialese i've yet encountered. the whole world cries out for more pedestrians, more people willing to walk in love as christ loved us, and here, in this place beautiful despite its damnation by our greed, greed erects its signs.
but that is the nature of the whole groaning creation, isn't it? so this seems like a very good place for a little pilgrimage.
i slowly make the circuit of the impoundment, stopping to say the psalms of ascent, wondering whether the good people of eureka springs could see what they have done to this gulch as "the scorn of the proud."
and i am blessed in many ways. one is particularly remarkable. two years ago, before the place became a city park, i spent the night, something now forbidden under the homeland security act. then i woke to watch four does dancing in the early mornings mists at the shallow end of the impoundment. this year, walking along the perepheral trail, i met the stag who is probably their father. he has the largest rack of antlers i've ever seen around here. we nod to one another, and each continues on his pilgrimage.
some of you have been privy to my struggle with what to do and how to do it. with so much of the church in what seems to be, in r. r. reno's wording, ruins, it has sometimes been difficult for me to see how to proceed. i profoundly believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church, and if that church is not visible, if it remains some sort of nebulous body to be revealed at some future time or only in eternity, then it's mission becomes rather hard to see.
as has so often been true in the past, my archbishop, richard gundrey, helped me again to see both the mission of the church and my own mission. talking last month about difficulties of jurisdictions and divisions, paraphrasing st. paul a bit, he reminded me that there were no laws against doing what i felt called to do, and that my consecration and commissioning were all the authority i needed. sometimes occam's razor rules.
so, dismayed by the puttering professionalism of what most often passes for theological education these days, my old and dear friend j. michael matkin and i are letting our nets down into the deep and starting a new effort to promote the sort of old school christian formation that happened at lindesfarne under st. aidan.
the official start-up date will be st. aidan's feast, 31 august a. d. 2009. it will be a place for mystagogia not only for those seeking ordination in the church, but "for all who seek god or a deeper knowledge of him." we plan to organize it around the ember days, with most prayer and study done in homes, connected by internet and mail and telephone, with quarterly intensive residence sessions. the first "course," a sort of mystagogy 101, will explore the readings and prayers of the great paschal vigil, leading up to our death in christ that is our baptism.
as our plans become firmer, we will have other posts here. if this sounds like something in which you would be interested, or if you have suggestions for what you would hope st. aidan's might provide, leave your e-mail address as a comment on this post. and pray for our success, please.
it is a mild monday morning, before the sun climbs the hazed blue sky of summer, piebald with small high clouds, and i am sitting on my friends the matkins' porch in mcalester, oklahoma. there are fewer or at least quieter birds here than in eureka springs. the wind hums softly in the maple and the sycamore. once again i am enjoying elaborate hospitality completely un-deserved on my part. i find this amazing, and a bit scary. in the morning office i was reminded that the son of man has no place to lay his head.
the 8:00 o'clock priest yesterday at all saints compared himself to john the baptist, but, even after 47 years of service, he was in no danger of being jailed. have i looked back too often to be a follower of jesus? have the pillars of the church become pillars of salt?
my path is littered with false starts. the road behind me, traces of which are here in mcalester, is marked not so much by the way of my daily cross, as by book plates of the holy cross library. as i ponder these thoughts the wind words speak, cry out, loudly in maple and sycamore.
one of michael's books, one about bibliomania, is called a gentle madness. this madness is not one that obviously casts me to the ground, although there is some foaming at the mouth.
but i justify my madness to myself this morning by naming it the communion of the saints: my way of conversation with gregory of nyssa and ephrem of syria. as i think these thoughts the wind words return to a gentle hum. i pray they are not a ground bass to my own prelest.
and what has moscow to do with northumbria? or why might i commemorate the murders of the russian royal family on the day most of the united states is setting off explosives to commemorate the american colonial rebellion against england?
some who know me might dismiss me as a recusant tory. they might be right in so classifying me, but i think not in dismissing me. we tend to think of revolutions as an acceptable way of achieving short-term political purposes; we tend not to remember the horrors that most often follow them. the french terror might have been a clue. no one can truly number the millions who were slaughtered following the communist revolution in russia, most of whom were christians, killed for being christians. (to be fair to the leninists and stalinists and their followers, they did not limit themselves to christians, but they did particularly single out christians, both orthodox and protestant.)
they started with the czar and his family, not only murdering them but dismembering the bodies and scattering the remains.
there were of course many jews at the time of jesus' life on earth who wanted a revolution. but our lord insisted his kingdom was not of this earth. and i think it can be demonstrated that the celtic church also recognized the futility of violence as an evangelical tool.
but beyond the question of the politics of "the celtic church," there is also the gift that all christians have of being first citizens of the kingdom of god, in which all our brothers and sisters in christ, whether they be russian or welsh or american, are "very members incorporate in the mystical body of [god the] son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs through hope of [the] everlasting kingdom," and that this hope is not the result of any political actions which we may make, but it is "by the merits of [our lord's] most precious death and passion."
what's going on in the hills, this may morning? look at it all, the gold on the broom and the laburnum, the shoulders of the thorntree bright with its surplice, the ready emerald of grass, the quiet calves;
the chestnut trees have their candlesticks alight, hedgerows are kneeling, the birch is still as a nun, the cuckoo's two notes over the hush of bright streams and a ghost mist bending away from the mead's censer;
from the council houses men come--oh come out before the rabbits all scatter! with the weasel come and see a wafer immaculate lifted from the earth and the father kiss the son in the white dew.
st. brendan is one of the best-known of all celtic saints. had he never made his famous journey, the account of which was as popular in the twelth century as angels and demons will be next week, he would still be remembered as a founder of monasteries, the total population of which has been claimed to be 3,000 monks.
but he did make his journey. whether it is history or legend has been discussed often, but it is still celebrated today in music, and tim severin has proved it could have been done.
still, the most important part of the journey as it is recorded in written account is not the facts so much as the structure of the facts.
before he embarks on his journey, the saint makes a forty-day fast and a trip up a mountain where he prays:
"shall i abandon the comforts and benefits of my home, seeking the island of promise our fathers knew long ago, sail on the face of the deep where no riches or fame or weapons protect you, and nobody honours your name? shall i take leave of my friends and my beautiful native land, tears in my eyes as my knees mark my final prayer in the sand? king of the mysteries, can i trust you on the sea?
christ of the heavens, and christ of the ravenous ocean wave, i will hold fast to my course through the dangers i must brace, king of the mysteries, angels will watch over me, christ of the mysteries, when i trust you on the sea." (celtic daily prayer, p. 179)
he is told by a holy man whom he meets, and who brings them what they need for their liturgies, that he will find his goal in seven years. after five years, he returns home, where st. ida, who had fostered brendan, tells him that he will never reach his destination "on these soft, dead skins . . . build boats of timber, and you will find the country your are seeking from god." after another two years of celebrating the feasts, they reach their goal. "when they saw paradise in the midst of the ocean waves, they marvelled at the wonders of god and his power." wisdom of the celtic saints, pp. 62-63.
brendan's journey parallels our own, celebrating the wonders of god and his power through the cycles of the year as we come to find the goal not attainable in the skins that clothed the old adam, but only in the wood of the cross.
"brendan's example speaks to us each: have i the courage to leave the familiar and journey into the unknown? to journey beyond the way i have prayed, the life i have lived, the sensible and the secure? to trust god to take me beyond these familiar shores?
"christ of the mysteries, can i trust you on the sea?" (celtic daily prayer, p. 179)
for those of us who are slackers and pray the psalter monthly rather than weekly, this morning"s psalms included these lines:
"thy name . . . is so nigh; and that do thy wondrous works declare." (75:2)
i read these lines sipping my coffee on the edge of the great holler, with many oaks and one most magnificant sycamore swaying gently, graciously letting me share their lauds, and so i thought upon reading these words, amen, amen.
but then i walked down into another holler, and looked down upon a blue jay, eating his breakfast. he was a wondrous work indeed.
today is the first warm, humid day of summer this year in eureka springs, a kind of weather no one seems to have described so well as thomas merton in the sign of jonas, writing about fire watch on the fourth of july. it will be hotter, perhaps, on the fourth of july, but the muggy embrace of the pine-scented air will be the same.
i find today to be a special gift to me. for the second time, i have tried to leave this place, and found myself unable to do it. three years ago, when i first visited this land of limestone for what i thought would be a week's retreat, i could not force myself to the ticket office in fayetteville to buy a ticket back. now, after telling myself and my landlord and my friends that i was moving back to the pacific northwest, i find i cannot. i will visit. but for reasons which i do not understand but which i trust to be the compulsion of the spirit, this is where i will stay. and today i remember last summer in the cool fir-scented air of bellingham, missing the heat of the lime-stone hills while watching whatcom creek rush over georgeous sandstone.
early celtic christians sought out what they called the place of their resurrection: the place where they would be buried, and therefore where they would be resurrected. it seems i have found mine. now the task is to be faithful in the time before my burial.
on either calendar, lent is coming to an end. i was delighted to find that shirley hughson's athletes for god: a saint a day commemorates st. mary of egypt on the 9th of april. most of the church puts her on the 1st or 2nd, but since zosimus found her body as he was taking her communion on maundy thursday, this year's coincidence is particularly delightful.
mary of egypt is celebrated in the synaxis of the fifth sunday of great lent as an example of what real repentance can accomplish, what the english church prays throughout lent in one of archbishop cramner's most successful collects:
almighty and everlasting god, who hatest nothing that thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent: create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the god of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through jesus christ our lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the holy spirit, one god, for ever and ever. amen.
my own penitance has, i'm afraid been pretty sketchy this lent, as usual. i have missed rising for matins as often as not, my fasting has amounted to very little, if the mirror is any measure, and my giving started off well enough but sort of coasted to a halt.
and yet, i believe god still forgives me, not because of what i have done but because of who he is and what he has done.
and yet, despite my rather slight measures, this lent has been a time of greater clarity for me in many ways. i am always willing to try to do anything except be constant in what has seemed for years to be a calling to solitude. but i think the time has finally come for me to make peace with it. it is at the same time the solution to my lenten koan, and a gift from reading unseen warfare, where theophan writes: "the enemy strives to destroy the peae of the soul, because he knows that when the soul is in turmoil it is more easily led to evil. but you must guard your peace, since you know that when the soul is peaceful, the enemy has no access to it; then it is ready for all things tht are good and does them willingly and without difficulty, easily overcoming all obstacles." (ii, 23)
st. mary of egypt and the solitary life are both almost entirely contradictory to and disdained by "modern life." but, modern life has proven singularly inefficient at providing peace, has it not?
st. john of the ladder is one of the more unusual saints. he was a syrian, but is claimed in spirit at leastby the celtic church, is celebrated by both the eastern and western church with a feast day, 30 march, and he is also celebrated in the mid-lent synaxis by the eastern church. his book, the ladder of divine ascent is the only book with its own icon. it is traditionally read during lent in monasteries.
a brief outline of his life is available on the website of st. john of the ladder orthodox church in piedmont, south carolina.
it has been a few days since i've posted anything, but that does not mean that i have not been busy: i have been trying to discern "what next?" how do i best carry out my ordination vows, trying to see the one holy catholic and apostolic church and to serve her in a world gone full-bozy zonkers while the church chases after?
it has been helpful to read about the struggles of earlier men who have had the same struggle. i have read john henry cardinal newman's apologia and maria trench's story of dr. pusey's life.
the struggle for me has been whether my own position was that of newman, before he famously "went over to rome:" that i had been ordained in a part of the church that was not merely scismatic but invalid, or whether pusey was right, as he fought for the church to remain orthodox against the growing tide of modernism.
on page 542 of trench's book is a quote that has helped me immensely, written as the church of england was debating whether to withdraw the athanasian creed from its worship:
"that a church which would withdraw from public worship . . . the athanasian creed would, in the convictions of thusands of its members, no longer be the same church as that in which we were baptized, and which at our ordination we vosed to serve. . . . it would not be my own orders, but her character, as having abandoned the trust committed to her, which would be brought into question."
i was ordained in a lineage as mongrel as barak obama's family tree, combining old catholic and syrian and coptic and malabar apostolic successions, the purpose of which marriage i understood to be the preservation of these ancient traditions in the west at a time when the continued existence of them in the post-colonial wars seemed uncertain. alas, the followers of that lineage these days have withdrawn from those traditions, and i no longer feel it possible to continue with them.
but, i also know the vows i made and the tradition i received, and so i am excited to explore the celtic and syrian traditions which have been given to me, seeking to remain faithful to the celtic, the western orthodox, church.
celtic and syrian and coptic? you might wonder. the answer is at the base of most of the high crosses in ireland, where the meeting of paul of thebes and anthony of the desert is usually the bottom panel. the wonderful tradition is that seven monks from the desert came to ireland around the beginning of the fourth century, bringing the teachings of the desert fathers to that green land: western orthodoxy; an understanding of the faith onc held which needs, i firmly believe, to be held today, despite the anxiety that it is unfashionable.
so, i ask the most holy theotokos, blessed chad, blessed bridgit, blessed john the wonderworker, all the saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me as i begin this next part of my pilgrimage.
of all the legends surrounding the "hidden years" of jesus, which according to luke's gospel weren't hidden at all but rather usual for a jewish boy growing up in first-century nazareth, my favourite is that he was taken by his foster-father joseph of arimathea on a trip to cornwall to trade for tin.
the legend continues that after the resurrection joseph returned to cornwall to become a missionary to the british. and although there's certainly a big of perhaps-unwanted gnosticism to william blake in general, and a certain chiliasim in the last verse, i of course still love the the great hymn, "jerusalem".
(of course, there's another and wonderfully ancient legend about the conversion of britain, too, connected to st. aristobulus of 16 march.
there is snow under the pine trees this morning, reminding me of the snowy morning by the pine tree at amelia white park in santa fe eighteen years ago when i took chad as my patron in my journey with christ. chad the barefoot walker who recognized that fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom.
my faithfulness in that journey has been far from consistent.
now i am in the ozarks, back to the place i was sent 14 years ago, on a morning with snow under the pines once again. the pine underneath which i took my first vows of obedience, poverty, stability, and chastity, has been cut down. in its place is an ugly statue. that's it in the picture above. one that statue is plaque that i can only paraphrase: be careful what you do here. simple acts can have great consequences. i came back to the ozarks on what i thought to be a retreat, to spend some time in silence, listening to the wind words. ah, that can be a dangerous thing to do.
on this second day of march, the feast of st. chad, bishop of mercia. i find the wind owrds saying, inconveniently at this time when once again there is no king in israel, albeit the new israel, and every man does as he pleases, to call for a return to the faith that has been given to us by the apsotles, to call us to receive it. alas, this morning's matins reading for a patron saint who is a bishop is from the tenth chapter of the gospel according to matthew: go to the lost sheep of the house of israel. so, i pray this morning, under the tall pines among which i know dwell, for the grace to be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves. amen.
st. colman is remembered nowadays mostly, alas, as the "loser" at the council of whitby. as esther de waal reminds us in an essay she wrote for i have called you friends, in honor of frank t. friswold, "[whitby] was no more than a local council, common enough at the time, called by a politically motivated king for immediate practical reasons."* that is true so far as it goes. true enough, whitby was a local council, called mostly to allow domestic tranquility for oswy and his wife eanflaed. i myself have argued for an easter date corresponding to the actual equinox rather than to a mis-predicted one, and i follow neither of the customs of tonsure considered at whitby. what makes whitby so important, however, is not what was decided, but how it was decided.
to quote miss de waal: "when the saxon wilfred finished speaking, the king asked 'with a smile, that famous question: "tell me which is greater in the kingdom of heaven, columba or the apostle peter?"'"**
this morning's gospel reading for matins was peter's confession, according to mark (8:29=9:2). it is the tradition from the second century that mark's gospel is based on the recollections of peter, and in mark's account of peter's confession there is no basis for petrine primacy, no rock of the church, no keys. perhaps this is because peter well knew jesus' answers to the questions about greatness in the kingdom.
oswy asked the wrong question. wilfred gave the wrong answer. there is no "greater" in the kingdom of heaven, at least not knowable to us mortals. both peter and columba learned humility in their lives, and so both may be considered "great" in the kingdom. but neither would, i suspect, claim to be greater than the other, and certaitly any greatness they achieved was not inherited by future abbots of iona nor by bishops of rome.
unfortunately, rather than being a mark of unity, as miss de waal suggests, whitby came to be used as a precedent for the papal split of the church, resulting in lack of communion between the eastern and western church, and presenting a problem in the english church which has been only partially and painfully solved in the post-tudor english church.
*"a fresh look at the synod of whitby: a mark of unity and reconciliation," in i have called you friends (cambridge, massachussets: cowley publications), p. 31.
the morning dawns warily, with clouds and little bursts of wind that suggest rain may be coming: an appropriate beginning for a day whose matins readings are the building of the ark, and jesus with the twelve on the lake after feeding the 4,000. the 1943 lectionary skips the second reading story, which i read anyway, but it does wisely link the boat without bread with the healing of the blind man that takes two attempts.
i have read several modern scholar-critics of the lectionary who deplore the "redundancy" of including "the feeding stories" twice. we are, alas, certainly no quicker and often much slower than the twelve to see who christ jesus is and what he is doing. if we wer the blind man at bethsaida, it would almost certainly take three or more applications of spittle and mud to our eyes before we would be willing to see.
i was given a lesson in the meaning of "praise ye the lord" this morning. there is a fallen tree about thirty-five yards into the holler beyond my small yard. i often sit on that log for mattins and vespers. this morning was unremarkable enough after i went back in for my sweater, cold, overcast, still.
but in benedicte, omnia opera, my regular saturday morning canticle to celebrate creation and sabbath, when i recited the lines, "o ye winds of god, bless ye the lord: praise him and magnify him forever," a wind began to rise out of the valley. and at the lines, "o ye ice and snow, bless ye the lord: praise him and magnify him forever," flakes of snow or frozen mist began to ride on that wind.
"praise the lord" is a common enough phrase. what does it mean? it means to do that for which i am created. it means, without ceasing to be grateful to christ jesus for being my saviour, that i pay careful obedience to christ jesus my lord. it means i follow the admonition of his holy mother at the wedding in cana, "whatsoever he saith unto you, do it." it means i must attend to the voice of his father omnipotent on mount tabor, "hear ye him."
to praise the lord means we must never forget that of which annie dillard reminds us in holy the firm, that "we are created."
jubilate deo. "it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves."
"o ye servants of the lord, bless ye the lord: praise him, and magnify him for ever."
on a cold march morning in 1992 i earnestly presented a rule and made vows to bishop richard gundrey for something to be called the order of st. chad. i had chosen chad as our patron (at that time, my patron) because he lived in times just as confusing and transitional as ours, and had managed to remain faithful to his lord and the traditions in which he had been trained (by st. aidan, no less) and to remain humble even when he was made bishop.
at one time there were six of us in this little order, trying to follow a rule of life as we lived in the busyness of the modern, urban world. we dwindled, more or less, over the years. one who still follows the rule is now the directress of an orphanage. two became benedictines, and left the busyness of the modern, urban world. one decided to return to the native american traditions of his adopted father. one i have lost track of. and then here am i, in a small town in the ozarks, but certainly in the buzyness of the world.
the icon that heads this post is of st. john the wonderworker (of shanghai and san francisco). it is he who has encouraged me to start up again taking seriously the need for what st. chad and the other orthodox celtic saints have to offer us. i have followed the rule, at times less faithfully than others, for eighteen years now, and i have no regrets.
so here i will post lives of celtic saints, suggestions for a rule of life, and stories of my wanderings trying to follow my patron. in the early days of the order, we had a quarterly newsletter. now it is much easier, and i hope not too much against the spirit of st. chad, to do something similar on-line.