This year’s Advent message from Katherine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
Posts Tagged ‘episcopal church’
It’s been almost a year since I’ve posted here, I see. I’ve been busy elsewhere on the Internet, and somewhat busy with personal upheaval as well. Long story short, my spouse and I separated in January, and I’ve been living on my own for the first time in over twenty years, with the company of my faithful cockatiel Rembrandt (also known as Spanky).
In the past twelve months, I’ve been writing fanfiction, working slowly on an original novel, and holding forth with various opinions on Tumblr, in between reblogging pictures of cute parrots and cute British actors. What brings me back to this blog is that, for the second time in my own blogging tenure, I’ve recently seen someone who was a very prominent pagan blogger publicly return to the Church. And I’ve seen some, not all, of the pagan blogosphere’s reactions to that return, not all of which have been understanding or supportive.
What strikes me funny is that, at least in the most recent instance, I think I predicted this very thing several years ago. The blogger in question is a cradle Episcopalian, and one Episcopalian knows another. The Roman Catholic Church’s hold on its members is proverbial, but the Anglican tradition’s ability to print itself on the mind and heart and soul deeply and permanently is a well-kept secret. Anglicans rather famously go off to be New Agers or Theosophists or Revival Druids or ceremonial magicians, but they also never stop being Anglicans and going to church.
The thing is, in the past year I’ve done the same thing. I am once again a full-time, committed, practicing Christian, an active member of an Episcopal parish. On the Sunday after Christmas in 2012, I woke up and thought, “I’d like to go to church. I’d like to have a proper Sunday after Christmas liturgy.” The parish where my husband was working at the time always celebrated the Roman feast of the Holy Family on that day–a nineteenth-century invention, a celebration of the nuclear family that did not exist in Jesus’s time or for most of history, in most cultures, until the nineteenth century. I wanted something else.
I went to the principal service of the Episcopal church right across the street from our house. I found a new rector who preached engagingly, intelligently, and who invited all, even the non-baptized, to come to the altar for Communion, if they were “hungry for God”. And I realized that I was, indeed, very very hungry for God, and for the carols we sang, and for something in the liturgy, the preaching, the energy of the place that I recognized. As progressive as the liturgy was, a far cry from the old 1928 Prayerbook and 1940 Hymnal in the little church of my childhood, there was something going on in this church that I had first felt in that little church. It was the same current, to borrow a magical term. It was the first indication I had had in over a decade that the Anglican tradition I knew and loved was still alive and well in the Episcopal Church and had not been trampled to death by either extreme liberals or extreme conservatives.
I went back twice more, I think, before I officially changed my parish membership from my husband’s church to my new church, Emmanuel Episcopal in downtown Baltimore. And then my husband and I talked, on the MLK holiday, and acknowledged it was time to part.
The change in religion was not something I wanted to talk about, for a long time. I didn’t know how to write about it. I did not want to be seen as bashing paganism, or demonizing it. I have problems with parts of pagan culture, but I sure as hell have problems with large parts of Christianity, too. The problem with both paganism and Christianity is that human beings are involved, with all their fallibility and their baggage and the capacity for self-deceit. So I didn’t blog about it.
People grow up Christian, or Jewish, or atheist, and it doesn’t work for them. They need something more; they try something else. They become witches, pagans, druids, Buddhists, Muslims. Sometimes they find an alternative that works and stabilize in it; sometimes they don’t. Going back to the Church, for me, is largely a matter of acknowledging that all the other things I tried didn’t work, and the nourishment I thought was no longer available in my native tradition is actually still there, so I’m putting down all the things that didn’t work, with gratitude, and going back to the system that does. I make a pretty good Episcopalian and a pretty poor anything else.
At the time I spontaneously went to church last Christmastide, I had been experimenting with devotion to Antinous for a couple of months, with some positive results. I suspect that it was actually Antinous who realized I didn’t want him, really, I wanted that Jewish guy who became a god, and Antinous who prodded me to get up and go out that Sunday morning, and discover my people and my tradition once again. To the Bithynian god, I am grateful, un-Christian though it may seem. Ave Antinoe! Gratias ago tibi!
And so in my own weird way, I conclude this post on returning to Christianity with a thanksgiving to a pagan god, and hope that some of my readers will stick with me as I begin to write about what makes the Episcopal style of Christianity work for me.
I don’t know if churches everywhere do this, but I find services about the Fourth of July and nationalism extremely disturbing. I believe I’ll be sitting at home reading the bible online, thank you anyway.
The Episcopal Church has propers for the Daily Office and the Eucharist for Independence Day, and for Thanksgiving Day, too. I don’t think most places will have a service unless they’re Anglo-Catholic enough to have Mass every weekday, or on most holy days. The propers walk a line between the north American continent as a Promised Land, and keeping true to the ideals of the nation and offering freedom and welcome to all. I will probably observe it as part of my daily office.
We understand that the life of faith, and life in general, is filled with both hope and skepticism. For that reason we want our communal life at Emmanuel to be honest and provocative. Services and sermons are rooted both in tradition and in the real world, the spirit is joyful and fun, and the congregation is warm and welcoming. We believe our spiritual life is marked by the following characteristics.
Liturgical/Biblical. Anglican spirituality is rooted in communal daily prayer (Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayers, Evening Prayer, Compline) as laid out in The Book of Common Prayer. The Anglican way of praying tends to have structure and to be shaped by the Scriptures and a prayerful meditation on the psalms.
Communal. Communal prayer comes before and shapes personal prayer. Prayer is seen as an activity that connects us to God, to each other, and to the world around us. Communal prayer is part of daily, weekly and yearly rhythms and both surrounds and informs community gatherings and meetings in which decisions are made.
Sacramental. We see the world, itself, as sacramental and therefore capable of mediating the grace of God. We are centered on the two primary sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist along with other sacraments: confirmation, holy matrimony, reconciliation, unction, and ordination.
Incarnational. We emphasize the incarnation, God’s entry into human life and history. Accordingly, we have an earthy spirituality that affirms the goodness of life and the created world and believes that the extraordinary is to be found in the ordinary.
Mystical. We experience union with God as happening over time, bit by bit through a journey aided by spiritual discipline and prayer. Such a belief is consistent with the description of spiritual progress found in the mystics.
Comprehensive. We believe that truth is to be found in the tension between opposites. We therefore affirm both the sacred and the secular, the material and the non-material, the mind and the heart, the transcendent and the intimate closeness of God.
Ambiguous. We are not “black and white” thinkers, but instead affirm the ambiguity of experience and the value of learning to tolerate and embrace complexity and ambiguity in many aspects of human life and in the spiritual journey.
Open-minded. We are people of a questioning faith. We search for wisdom in many places and encourage people to listen to each other and to bring their honest questions to their spiritual life.
Intuitive. We are at home in the world of image, symbol, myth, ritual, and the arts. Very few Anglicans write systematic theologies. Instead we are writers, poets, pastors, and musicians.
Aesthetic. We believe that beauty is a doorway to truth and goodness and therefore a doorway to God.
Moderate. We avoid extremes, believing that a godly life is one that is disciplined, balanced and temperate.
Naturalistic. We have a reverence for nature and its rhythms. Anglicans believe in working to protect the natural world and its creatures.
Political. We believe that Christian life has political implications and that civic life is both a legitimate and important place to struggle with and engage our faith and values.
I did not learn from the Church that the Bible was the only important book. I learned from the Bible that books were important.
I did not learn from the Church that the story of Jesus was the only important story, or the only true story. I learned from the stories of Jesus, David, Abraham that stories were important, stories were true.
I did not learn from the Psalms that only “religious” poetry was worth reading. I learned from the Psalms that truly religious poetry left no part of the human condition outside. I learned from the Psalms that poems were true and important.
I did not learn from the Hymnal that only one kind of music, one kind of singing, was pleasing to God. I learned from the Hymnal that people singing together is a holy thing, that my singing was something I could offer to God, and that all eras of music have something to offer.
I did not learn from the Prayerbook that only one kind of language is acceptable before God. I learned from the Prayerbook that truth is expressed in beauty, that form is as important as content, that my language is a magnificent language.
The Gospel stories made the stories of Narnia, Earthsea, Middle Earth, Prydain, Albion important. The Psalms taught me to pay attention to the poetry of Dante and Eliot and Donne. The hymns taught me to read music and to understand that music was more than just the latest tunes coming out of the nearest radio. The Prayerbook taught me how to subordinate clauses, punctuate long sentences, and conjugate the second person singular correctly. The Episcopal Church taught me how to read, write, listen, speak, and sing.
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged church, creative limitation, episcopal church, heresy, julian of norwich, Religion and Spirituality, rule of st. benedict, showings, st. benedict, thomas merton on 21 February 2013| Leave a Comment »
The word “heresy” comes from the Greek word for choice. A heretic, according to the Christians who considered themselves Catholic and Orthodox, was someone who didn’t accept the whole body of Christian faith and doctrine, who didn’t take the system as a whole; they chose bits they liked, according to their own lights, rejected what they didn’t like, made up bits to fill in the gaps. They were somewhere between the “cafeteria Catholic” who agrees with the magisterium on the rights of workers but not on the sinfulness of homosexuality and the New Age self-help guru who invents a system that will make him money and win him followers, especially attractive, available female followers.
Not that one has to agree with this characterization of much of the early Christian movement. Definitions, as well as histories, are written by the victors.
What has caught my attention over the past couple of days, however, is the necessity for a kind of picking and choosing in one’s spiritual life that is not heresy, just accepting human limitations. It’s the same sort of picking and choosing that a poet does in order to write a sestina, which requires a pattern of six words shifting in position across six stanzas of six lines each. The poet has to choose six words on which the changes of the poem will be rung. It’s a highly complex form of a game all humans, until recently, have known how to play, the game at the root of all games: Limitation for the Sake of Freedom.
I have come back to the Church, specifically the Episcopal Church, and to Christianity generally, after some ten years of experimenting with alternatives. I would be lying if I said that I have not learned a great deal from exploring Tibetan Buddhism, ceremonial magic, Wicca, Druidry, and various kinds of Neopaganism. I have, and I’m starting to see how much of what I’ve learned can illuminate the tradition I grew up with and have come home to. But on a practical level, I can’t really be a Wiccan-Buddhist-Anglican-Druid-Magician (with a full-time day job), any more than you can write a sestina with ten key words instead of six. There aren’t enough hours in the day, and besides, I’d be evading the rules of the game.
The game of limitation says that a sonnet has fourteen lines, a sestina six key words, a musical scale eight notes, four bases on the diamond, no touching the ball with your hands. If you don’t accept the seemingly arbitrary limitations, you aren’t playing the game. And the object of the game is to see what you can do within the limitations. Think of Shakespeare, Mozart, and your own personal heroes in the arts or sport or science and what they did with freely accepted limitations like blank verse, sonnet form, and the Western musical scale. On the other hand, anyone with a minimum competence can pick up those rules and play with them, write poems, compose songs, practice shooting hoops.
I can view being an Episcopalian, an Anglican Christian in the U.S.A., as a happenstance derived from my place and time of birth and the events of my childhood, or I can view it as a freely accepted creative limitation. Within that structure, I can dabble in all manner of theory and practice across the spectrum of Christian tradition–labyrinths or Ignatian meditation, centering prayer and the Rosary, the Rhineland mystics, the desert fathers and mothers, Henri Nouwen or Thomas Merton–or I can accept another creative limitation. I can accept that I don’t have time, energy, or brain cells to learn everything there is to know about every Christian tradition and practice, and I can stick to those that have resonated with me consistently for decades: The Showings of Julian of Norwich. The Rule of St. Benedict. The medieval mystics of England, Julian’s contemporaries, such as the author of The Cloud of Unknowing. Saying the Daily Office. Keeping a journal as a form of meditation. Writing in general, fiction, poetry, journal, or public blogging, as a form of meditation, digestion, lectio divina.
I shall string up my net across the court, pick up my racket, and wait for God to serve the ball.