Saturday, April 28, 2012

Solitaries As Bellweathers

People continue to make posts about me on a list I cannot access. I am hoping the following will be posted on that list:

T.....'s new post is a patronising and completely misleading account of our conversation. He cannot, or will not, understand the subtle and complex issues surrounding this very bad canon which has, for all the reasons I have already cited, inhibited and distorted the solitary life and given the bishops license. All he proved to me was that he was totally unqualified to write this legislation: he not only has no experience of the solitary life, he has no experience of monastic life. He appears to be locked into an institutional mindset that has created the ever-widening gulf between clergy and laity, and ignores any but its own agendas. The issues surrounding the solitaries are the issues the church at large is facing: beyond what Richard Holloway has inimitably called 'trading poetry for packaging, the clerical attitude of infantilising the laity is the primary reason that people are leaving the church. If this canon is a disaster, then Sisk's guidelines are apocalyptic. Asking someone who has not lived the solitary life to write legislation for solitaries is like asking someone who likes to make paper airplanes to write an aerospace manual.

But this whole sorry mess is symptomatic of much wider issues.

The clergy, for the most part, are completely deaf—to solitaries and to everybody else. It's the way they're trained. The abyss is absolute. In my view, getting ordained in the present situation is spiritual suicide. Most clergy know nothing of prayer; they're not trained for it in seminary (I get a lot of complaints about this from seminarians)—and in any event, most of the key texts, ancient, patristic, and medieval are mis-translated and mis-interpreted because of the Cartesian methodology that allows for only one form of epistemology whereas these texts are based on a model of two epistemologies (which accords with the findings of neuro-psychology). The word experience does not mean the same thing before the end of the 15th century that it does today, and this illusory modern idolatry of experience, is now nothing but a commodity that is bought and sold and used for packaging. 

For example, the Cloud-author uses the word experience exactly once: to ground something he is saying; to make sure the reader knows that what he is saying is embodied. The rest of the time he uses the word prove, which is in fact how most pre-fifteenth century people whose texts we read as guides to interior life understood experimentum or experientia They knew that experience is ALWAYS interpretation. The scripturally grounded Cloud is based on the word behold, which is arguably the most important word in the bible (it occurs more than 1300 times in the imperative). The Cloud-author uses it 35 times. The translation by Walsh (which is a disaster) in the Classics of Western Spirituality uses the word behold exactly once, and inserts the word experience in the modern narcissistic sense, 108 times. [I would be happy to send anyone the paper which will be published later this year in The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England VIII, coming out from Boydell and Brewer in Cambridge but I have addressed most of these issues already in my blog:]. 

Furthermore, scholars translating from Latin, e.g., Richard of St Victor, insert the word experience in the modern sense where it does not exist in the Latin, even in the passages about excessus mentis: if there is excessus, there is no mentis, and therefore, no experience. Hence the phrase 'mystical experience' is total nonsense. Incidentally, neuro-psychology supports the medieval view of experience as opposed to the narcissistic modern version, which is a linear, banal, and dead artifact, and is all that the left hemisphere can cope with. 

The reason I am going on at such length about these two words is that what passes for Christianity is now exactly opposite to what it was for the first 9 centuries. The loss of the word behold (in the NRSV it occurs only 27 times in the OT and not at all in the NT), which in itself is a précis of life in God, combined with the idolatry of the word experience, summarize not only the disease that affects the very roots of contemporary Christianity in general and TEC in particular, but also why people leaving are the church in droves in order to seek poetry and silence. Unless the people who are running religious institutions understand these issues (including the role of solitaries) then the situation will only continue to be destructive and to deteriorate.

What is going on vis a vis the solitaries is the same thing that went on in the middle ages when clerics wrote rules for anchorites in order to increase their status (bragging rights), rules that were so crammed with kitsch devotion that there was no space for prayer. People aren't writing that sort of rule these days per se, but they are trying to legislate what needs to be left alone. This has always been a problem in the church: too many words, too much desire for control, and if you have read McGilchrist Part I, the left hemisphere is taking what belongs and should remain the right hemisphere's and doing violence to it. It is the way of death: the death of humanity, the death of metaphor, the death of incarnation. 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Ross,

The PB is your protector? What does this mean? That Rowan Williams is your protector I gathered -- is the Archbishop of Canterbury the PB of the UK? Will you be left without a protector when he goes to teaching? What kind of protection is it that a solitary needs? Could a solitary be a single person with an ordinary job? I take it this is in fact an official position? I didn't realize that. I guess I just assumed it was some kind of informal thing even though I realize I've seen indications of its officialness in your blog.

In any event, I don't know what list it is where they're condemning you. I don't even know what this legislation is or where to find it or this, that, or the other thing about all this. I could of course go searching the official websites of TEC and Anglican Communion, but they are such dreary places full of the most hot air jargon. You use long words, but you don't throw jargon. There's a difference!

Your tone the last several days has me worried about you. You have been such a great help and encouragement to me. Please let us know if those who still pray while thoroughly estranged from TEC somehow can help you. Even if not, here are many thanks and a few prayers.


12:00 pm, April 28, 2012  
Blogger Daisyanon said...

I have been mulling over your recent posts about the relationship between the institutional church and solitaries.

I must start by saying I do not have anything approaching your experience, intellect or qualifications.

But; although a painful process, I am now glad that my own sense of vocational calling was not recognised by the church in any shape or form.

It must be so painful to be trapped in a church that has such limited spiritual resources.

I suspect that many solitaries are just going about their hidden business having little or nothing to do with the church. This is my own path now. (Although I wouldn't say my journey into physical solitude has more than just begun).

I know all the things the church 'leaders' would say about people like me, but, as Princess Anne famously said in another context, 'they would say that wouldn't they'.

I have yet to find one whose opinion I trust more than my own instincts and experience.

In fact I am almost beginning to suspect that the solitary vocation is ultimately best expressed by leaving formal church labels and attachments behind.

12:28 pm, April 28, 2012  
Blogger Sr. Valerie said...

Amen! Well said.

12:41 pm, April 28, 2012  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

To Anonymous: Thanks for your concern and your prayers. I'm fine, just fed up to the back teeth. I will recover.

Rowan Williams is my protector. Solitaries need protection from the institutional church!

There should NOT be any legislation about solitaries, and as far as I'm concerned I would never make vows in the context of the present institution; the context in which I DID make irrevocable vows is long dead and vanished.

The list in question is the House of Bishops and Deputies list, their private internal gossip machine utterly divorced from reality and often, it seems, truth. Kind friends who have access to the list forward posts when I'm mentioned.

I love your characterisation of the TEC and Anglican Communion websites. May they crumble into dust, the quicker the better, before we all lose the will to live from their 'hot air jargon', as you put it.

1:32 pm, April 28, 2012  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

To Daisyanon

Well put! You are absolutely correct, and the fact that some solitaries are pushing for greater insertion into the institution makes their motives highly suspect.

1:34 pm, April 28, 2012  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Thanks, Valerie!

1:34 pm, April 28, 2012  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

PS I came across a comment this morning in Karsten Harries book 'Infinity and Perspective'. She is writing about transitions in art at the Renaissance. I have substituted the word 'church' for the word 'art'—they are, of course, interconnected:

"We stand on the threshold of a conception of church that no longer places the work of art in the service of truth, but reduces it to a kind of entertainment."

Unfortunately it's no longer the threshold. We are standing with the wreckage all around us that is the consequence of this folly.

1:40 pm, April 28, 2012  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

"... conception of church that no longer places the work of art in the service of truth, but reduces it to a kind of entertainment."

Yes to this. And its not just a problem in any one branch of the Christain tree, it is systemic.

8:10 pm, April 28, 2012  

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