Friday, June 30, 2006

The Sixth Beatitude

"How blest are those whose hearts are pure; they shall see God." How blest are we when suddenly we realize that the struggle to become single-hearted has begun to be born in us, when we realize that nothing, not even life itself exists outside that Gaze, when we realize that it is in stillness that we come to be; how blest are we when all the false polarity of our lives begins to come to convergence, the density of glory, when we are still free creatures, yet transfigured; how blest are we when the silence of obedience comes to live within us, so that the ear of our heart receives the whispered Word that is First and Last, and our action is tempered by its wisdom; how blest are we when ever where we look we see the Face of God.

Pillars of Flame, pp. 139-140

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Fifth Beatitude

"How blest are those who show mercy; mercy shall be shown to them"

"They are merciless, totally without pity," wrote Etty Hillesum from her concentration camp, "and we must be all the more merciful ourselves.... Each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others. And remember than in every atom of hate we add to this world makes it still more inhospitable." [Etty, a Diary: 1941-1943, London, Jonathan Cape, pp. 157 and 180.]

How blest are we when we no longer need to take the role of the accuser, the evil one; how blest are we when we know that every sin is our sin and our forgivenness unites us with the other; how blessed are we when our hearts are broken by compassion and become unflinchingly honest because we see that the sin of the other is the sin we do not wish to face in ourselves; how blest are we when our wounds open us to the Silence of God, which creates in us the context of forgivenness, the environment where others no longer feel the need either to oppress or rebel, the moment when condemnation dissolves and, embracing, we wash one another with tears.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Falling Through Despair Into Hope

Never has eating my words been so sweet. Something significant has indeed come out of General Convention.

The unequivocal election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the new Presiding Bishop is already being both celebrated and vilified by various factions. Above all the political wrangling, however, it points to a clear decision by the bishops of ECUSA that they will no longer participate in the presumptuous, blasphemous ecclesiastical game of claiming to be qualified to pronounce who is fully human and who is not.

In the face of international pressures, the Convention has set aside old prejudices and found the courage to elect the person most needed and most qualified for the church at this moment in time.

May all our thoughts and prayers be with Katharine Jefferts Schori as she undertakes an office that is arduous enough without the additional pressures she will face.

And let us give thanks that General Convention has shown that it can listen to the Spirit and act according to the law of Christ.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Third Beatitude

"How blest are those of a gentle spirit; they shall have the earth for their possession." No one, remarked St Thérèse, fights for the lowest place. How blest are we when we can take no notice of status at all, when we look at nothing created with eyes of exploitation. How blest are we when in each moment we can receive creatures a they are, pregnant with laughter and tears; how blest are we when we can truly listen, truly see, truly smell, truly taste, truly touch and be touched, when we can have our senses impressed by the Eucharist of creation, when we can reverence and contemplate what we no longer need to dominate and put to use; how blest are we when little children and wild things laugh with us and invite us to play, when plants breathe to us their secrets, when we hear the stars sing and reply, when earth breathes the Word of life.

[Pillars of Flame, p. 138]

Friday, June 09, 2006

Clergydom and the Failure of the Gospel

[Reader, if you are not in the mood for polemic, this week's reflection on the Beatitudes is below.]

Ho-hum, another General Convention is beginning, a clergy clambake and insider's trade show that claims to be a meeting representing the whole church. I have always found this a fantastic claim of the 'in your dreams' variety. The media have twigged to the real situation and habitually write articles that assume an adversarial relationship of 'the Church' vs 'the laity'.

I have yet to understand how any General Convention touches my life. Oh yes, the prayer and hymn books change occasionally, we start getting women at the altar (most of whom have been sucked up by the lust for power), the clergy are shifted around, the church tries once again to look and feel like a Fortune Five Hundred company (fortunately a conceit at which it fails abysmally).

Clergy have become professionalized in the most negative sense and layers added (minister of this, certified as that), whether or not they are wanted or even useful. 'Ministry' has come to mean, 'imposing my agenda on you.' Presiding bishops are elected and people have absurd disagreements, all the while displaying themselves extravagantly. It's a week-long fancy dress party during which everyone is playing out a fantasy called 'church', schmoozing, politicking, kissing the appropriate asses and hustling for the next step up the ladder.

It might be objected that the Episcopal church is at a unique crossroads, but this one is no different from that which it faced over the ordination of women, except, perhaps, in the degree of hypocrisy. It is all about power struggles among clerics and trying to hide bigotries based on fear. The entire homosexuality 'crisis' is a typical consequence of clerical self-glorification, grandiosity, ass-covering, and posturing. It's laughable that the Convention is taking place at the same time that Dubya is squawking about a constitutional amendment against gay marriage.

Convention and Dubya have about as much relevance to the real world as pronouncements on sexuality by a supposedly celibate Pope. Each declaration simply confirms that the clerics are talking only to themselves and puts them at one more remove in the land of white noise. To help stabilize a society as fragmented as ours we should be supporting consecrated commitment of every sort of living arrangement.

General Convention delegates may claim all sorts of issues as sources for the current 'problems of the church' but in fact it boils down to one issue: clericalism, clerical self-preservation and who is going to be in control of hearts and minds of the last few people who will be the ones to turn out the lights. Both the primitive wrathful god of the evangelicals and the wooly touchy feely ones of the liberals leave me cold. The gods of General Convention are too small, the Convention a sort of ecclesial fun-fair, a me-oriented carousel of 'spiritual' titillation with each self-interest group barking its wares.

When did clergy ever give up power and preferment? The weaker the personality, the more overweening the ego, the less likely a conversion to the self-emptying of the gospel. While it would be sad to lose the buildings, many of which are beautiful places where prayer has been valid, it might be the best thing ever to happen to the church if it went out of business.

As my meeting with the senior faculty of GTS confirmed last September, the last item on any religious professional's agenda is the passing on of a tradition of self-giving holiness, as the old prayer put it, 'to give and not to count the cost'. Instead, 'If you're not ordained,' one of them opined, 'your work will be forgotten.'

It's all about celebrity, saving the appearances, dressing up, showing off, raising money by dropping famous names, building enormous buildings for which there is no clear purpose, imagining that there are people who really care whether or not one is wearing a collar. At one time when to be ordained meant a commitment to scholarly reflection and a relationship with God that was manifest to all, there might have been.

General Convention will inaugurate a new liturgical setting in honor of the outgoing Presiding Bishop, but will it inaugurate the liturgy of the wounds of ordinary people? (As Martin Laird would put it in his new book, 'Into the Silent Land'.) Is the hungry, thirsting, hurting mass of seekers going to find healing in clergy self-congratulation?

At one Anglican website there are several blogs that have the 'My Journey into the Priesthood' theme, as if we should give a flying duck about pious narcissism or a model of 'priesthood' which Jesus specifically condemned. Why not join the human race, guys and girls? Why not realize that it isn't YOUR precious journey into the idol you have made of God that is important; God is already here within us.

How does the way you live your life help us become aware of this and how are you learning to efface yourselves to help others become aware? Are you willing to be ordinary? Or is your pursuit ordination about being 'special'? (And in the early days of the church, to desire to be ordained meant automatic disqualification.) How will you escape acquiring the attitude of contempt for the non-ordained that is inculcated along with your ordination training? How will you sustain spiritual authenticity in the face of peer pressure to be merely trendy? Will you become a professional deceiver? Will you retreat behind your collar to avoid resolving your deep interior conflicts?

From where I sit there is little hope. What will Convention tell us of our shared nature with God? What will it say to us of transfiguration? How will it help us to awaken to the awe of being a human person, of being alive? How, as John the Solitary cried out in the 4th century when the church was first becoming official, will we learn to move from the world of the voice to the world of the Word to be raised to silence?

Our theological anthropology has sunk to the lowest level since the first communities were called Christian. Jesus did not say, 'The kingdom of heaven is with the clergy,' or 'The kingdom of heaven is hidden in the latest exercise in self-absorption that can be bought in the spiritual marketplace.'

Poor little talkative General Convention. It would be nice to hope that something significant might come out of it but the gospel (which contains nothing about priesthood or power structures except negative commentary) is too simple, too poor, too self-effacing and too silent ever to flourish in a situation like that.

For the rest of us, despair has its use. In Olivier Clément's memorable phrase, we fall through despair into the hand of God.

The Fourth Beatitude

The Fourth Beatitude

[NB I am skipping to the Fourth Beatitude because of its relevance to General Convention. The reflection on the Third Beatitude will appear next week.]

"How blest are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail; they shall be satisfied." How blest are we when we realize that the cure for social ills begins with our selves in solitude, with reverence for others; how blest are we when at last we can look beyond our senses, beyond color, beyond sexual orientation, beyond illness, beyond poverty, beyond class, beyond degradation, beyond ugliness, beyond wealth, and see the glory that arcs across the abyss in recognition and kindles us into a single flame; how blest are we in that moment, for we know that this is true right prevailing in eternity though our struggles to transform the social order may seem to fail.

[Pillars of Flame, pp. 138-139]

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Second Beatitude

"How blest are the sorrowful; they shall find consolation."

How blest are all tears of loss, for ultimately they set us free: tears for loss of loved ones, because we finally begin to accept that there is nothing we can do to bring them back, and more, that their gifts can now be manifest in us; tears for loss of our sense of omnipotence, because we no longer need to reject our creatureliness, to struggle to be larger than life; tears for loss of the security of our sins, because, trembling in the insecurity of possibility, we may begin new life in eucharistic engagement; tears for loss of denial, because we can stop decorating our lives with vapid illusion; tears for loss of idols, because we are freed into the vastness of the humility that is the love and glory of Christ, whom we reverence in the poor, the sick, the sinner, the ugly, the outcast, the disgusting, the useless, who are both created beings and despised parts of our selves; tears for loss of bitterness and hatred, because this loss leaves a allow field in which tears may be sown and joy reaped; tears for loss of the scales from our eyes, because we can see with clarity what our tears magnify, not only the paradox of failure and glory we are as forgiven humanity, but the Face of God, which our tears magnify as they fall unceasingly in joy.