Monday, October 29, 2012

[And people wonder why the church is dying...This sort of thing happens all the time on both sides of the Atlantic.]

From the Telegraph 29.10.2012

A small royal saga, and a blow to spirituality
Tucked away just below the Strand in London, stands the Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy. This beautiful, rather hidden place is all that remains of the hospital for the poor founded by Henry VIII in 1512. On Thursday, the Queen will visit the chapel for the unveiling of a window in honour of her Diamond Jubilee.

When I worked in Fleet Street in the 1980s, I used to drop in to the chapel for the occasional service or quiet moment. Last year, I returned there for a meeting which the chaplain kindly let me hold, and was reminded of its charm. But more recently I have discovered that the chapel has become a sad, divided thing.
It would take the pen of Anthony Trollope to do justice to this delicate situation. The Savoy Chapel is a very English phenomenon, a sort of anomaly of an anomaly. It is the Queen’s because she is the Duke (not, despite her sex, the Duchess) of Lancaster. At all services the National Anthem is sung, with the variation “Long live our noble Duke”. The Duchy of Lancaster is a big, well-run land and property owner. Since the 13th century, its revenues have gone to the Crown.
The Savoy Chapel is the Duchy’s only working church. But it is not a royal “peculiar”, like Westminster Abbey or St George’s, Windsor, because it is not, exactly, royal. It is all alone. Since a decision of King George V, it has also been the chapel of the Royal Victorian Order, an order of chivalry personal to the Sovereign. The order’s heraldic devices hang there.
But in modern times, the chapel has also served, in effect, as a parish church, and a much-loved one. In the week, it provides spiritual succour for office-workers. On Sundays, it furnishes a good choir. It has – or had – a loyal congregation, many of whom came in from far afield. It was rather a holy place.
In recent years, this has somehow gone wrong. It seems that the chaplain, Peter Galloway, though a learned man, made liturgical changes that the congregation disliked. Some felt he lacked pastoral skills. The life of the place began to decay.
The chapel was looked after by wardens, but, unlike in a typical Anglican parish church, these wardens had no rights. Lord Shuttleworth – good Trollopian name, that – is the Chairman of the Council of the Duchy. Lord Shuttleworth, a grand, commanding man, is the Archdeacon Grantly of this story. One day last year, he summoned the three wardens to a meeting and sacked them. He said he would take charge of the place himself, chairing a newly invented chapel council. Three of this council’s four members are Duchy employees, only one is from the congregation. Lord Shuttleworth was entitled to do this, since the Duchy is all-powerful, but the wardens – a senior coroner, the former master of a City livery company, and an army colonel – were very upset. They had not done anything wrong; they had served for many years.
It was as if the parish life was to be disregarded. As one member of the parish (not a warden) put it to me, “There’s no joy any more.” The size of the regular congregation, apart from the choir, has fallen a good deal, to below 30, often below 20. Only two of the nearly 5,000 members of the Royal Victorian Order attend regularly. Lord Shuttleworth himself has never attended a normal Sunday service at the chapel. On the website, it says that “collections are donated to charity”; but, in fact, under the new dispensation, the collections are used for the chapel itself.
One of the ex-wardens, Colin Brough, has refused to accept what is happening with the deferential restraint that a royal institution can often rely on when things go wrong. He has kept records and protested persistently. I can understand why a busy man like Lord Shuttleworth might find him irritating, and there is certainly no evidence for Mr Brough’s claim that, within three years, the Duchy will close down the congregational side of the chapel altogether. I rang up Lord Shuttleworth and Lord Strathclyde, the leader of the House of Lords, who is also Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Both denied the charge. Lord Strathclyde says he is “wholly in favour” of a continuing congregation.
All the same, there is a reason why this small saga matters. Particularly with the present Queen, the monarchy is a strong part of the nation’s spiritual life. In 2010, the Queen’s Christmas message centred on the King James Bible. This year, she has spoken publicly about the importance of the Church in giving protection to all faiths.
Part of this spiritual dimension comes from the chapels which exist under the royal wing. This year, I visited St George’s, Windsor. I had known it as the home of the Order of the Garter, but had regarded this as a pleasant piece of chivalric flummery. I had not previously realised that it is a religious order – the only one, indeed, which is continuous in the Church of England from before the Reformation. I was overwhelmingly impressed by the holiness of the place, the presence of daily prayer among the tombs of our monarchs (King George VI being the latest). It is vigorously alive, and well attended by the public.
The Savoy Chapel should be a modest version of the same thing. In a capital city which is oppressively material, the direct, personal royal link to faith in this country can provide a warm heart, a place which stands for what is prophetic rather than what is profitable. This surely matters much more than the administrative convenience of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

II Why Religious Life Died

Anglican religious had their own set of problems. They were founded in the mid-nineteenth century as an offshoot of the Oxford Movement, to the consternation of much of the rest of the Church of England.
One of the main difficulties was that, like the movement from which it sprang, Anglican religious looked to, and took its stereotypes of what religious life ought to be like—the original fallacy—from a romantic fantasy of a Tridentine 'Catholic' church that never existed, just as extreme Anglo- and some Roman Catholics do today. Anglican communities were often the brainchild of, or subjected themselves to, the judgement of ordained men who were misogynist, and had absolutely no idea, much less experience, of religious life or, for that matter, knowledge of human psychology. Thus the Anglican women's communities suffered from a double dose of the authenticity problem: they not only had to endure the often sadistic ideas of misogynistic men about how women religious should live, they also lived with one eye on Roman Catholic religious. Their perpetual question was, and in some cases still is, 'Are we real religious?' And of course as long as you are asking this question, you cannot be real, that is, authentic. You re-present instead of manifesting. In North America, a third layer was added: religious not only had one eye on what the Roman Catholics were doing, they had the other eye on what the English communities were doing.
Another problem was that there were inherent conflicts between the Anglican and the Tridentine points of view, which were inserted into the Anglican Communion not only by Oxford Movement clegy, but also by people such as Evelyn Underhill, who was a wannabe Roman Catholic, and whose cold, icy ideas of life in God—and, it is said, her retreat house—had been cycled through Baron von Hugel. The more extravagant solipsistic devotions such as those centring on reparation, and the destruction of humanity for a kind of angelism, didn't sit well with Anglican middle-of-the-road common sense, not to mention its stiff upper (class) lip. Anglican theology itself was halted between two opinions, or two poles; among its compromises was a liturgy that contradicted itself theologically every other paragraph, a situation that still obtains today.
No one, it seems, had the sense to get a like-minded group of people together to live the life and allow it to unfold as it would in the light of the Spirit, without the superficial competitiveness, vanity, class, manners, dressing-up, exhibitionism and stereotyping borrowed from other religious houses, legend, and myth. Nuns in priories such as Ascot wore habits with huge sleeves and trains. It is said that when Queen Victoria visited, as she was walking down the cloister with the Prioress, a sister approached who curtsied before she passed by. The Queen remonstrated to the Prioress that she, Victoria, had specifically requested that no one take notice of her royal presence by any particular gesture. The Prioress replied, 'It was not you to whom she was curtseying, your majesty.'
For all of these problems, several communities became world-wide presences, and the mere existence of religious in the Anglican Communion presented a challenge to what in the twentieth century was an often wishy-washy, bland, formulaic, success-oriented religion. Some of the work of these religious was world-changing, such as that of the Mirfield fathers in South Africa, which influenced Desmond Tutu. There were many similar, if not as widely celebrated, but equally important works that flourished and changed lives under the auspices of Anglican religious.
Winfred Douglas and the Community of St Mary did everyone an incalculable service when, in 1932, they published the Latin Divine Office in English, and edited Gregorian chant to fit. This updating of the liturgy came long before Vatican II and is still, in my view, the best and most sing-able vernacular version of the monastic Office, standing out from a quagmire of banalities. The 1979 American Book of Common Prayer's Psalter and Offices are probably the best contemporary vernacular English versions, though not without their own problems.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Why Religious Life Died

Recently someone told me that he was puzzled and saddened by his mother's closely-guarded pain over something that happened long ago which had led to his birth—something that had been her own choice over which, she emphasised, she had no regrets. Nonetheless, it continued to sound a ground note of pain in her life. He said she hardly ever talked about it, but that he knew it had something to do with the fact that she had been in a religious order and, after meeting his father while at university, had left her community to get married. On the rare occasion when she had spoken of it, she always insisted there were no regrets, but even so, the pain endured. There must be hundreds of thousands of women like this man's mother, and, although I am in vows, as I listened, it crossed my mind, not for the first time, that I am numbered among them. 
In this series of posts I want to explore what has happened to religious life, why it declined abruptly after Vatican II, and why the few women and men who want to explore religious life today have no place to go; why the relict communities that want to attract these women are doomed to failure. I am a member of the last generation to have lived the religious life both before and after Vatican II, and it seems a useful exercise to write down my impressions, which are not necessarily those of others.
Religious life—both Roman Catholic and Anglican—as it was constituted before Vatican II, was both inhuman and unsustainable. It was anti-incarnational, turning people into robots through a complete misunderstanding—some of it deliberate—of the notion of what constituted 'loss of self'. Sadistic and frightened male superiors and bishops, many of them misogynistic and struggling with the immaturity and sexual confusion that seminary education engendered, didn't want any problems from the women; they had enough of their own. A survey taken in New York City in the late sixties suggested that 72% of the clergy of all denominations were gay—and firmly in the closet. Women were barely tolerated; for a woman or a community to have a problem meant a black mark and censure, perhaps even persecution.
         There were equally misogynistic and sadistic women superiors, who, in addition to enforcing the male ecclesial attitudes, confused emotional dependence with obedience. Of course this renders obedience illicit, for licit obedience must be freely given and without constraint or coercion. Enclosure had become a prison: it violated all common sense. It was used to keep nuns in rather than keep the world out.
There was little screening at the time, and when, for example, the absolute silence of the Trappists was lifted, it was found that many monks had been crushed, mentally and physically damaged, some of them to the point of psychosis. What was discovered about the women was even worse: in addition to their suffering similar problems to the monks, a survey carried out in the 1970s suggested that perhaps three-quarters of the women in enclosed religious life had been molested or raped by their fathers. The dreadful theology of the day dictated that women were the cause of sin. These women had entered the monastery in order to make life-long reparation for having led their fathers into sin, and in spite of this perpetual immolation, still felt that even so they would go to hell—but perhaps their fathers would be spared for Purgatory.
To remove the habit was unthinkable even when it endangered the person wearing it, whether walking down the street or driving a car or handling machinery in the kitchen or on the farm. Superiors chose to ignore both safety concerns and the much bigger problem that there are damaged and perverted people in the world for whom the habit is a magnet for sexual or revenge fantasies. When I see veiled women today, whatever their religion, I cannot help but think of the missionaries to Hawai'i who discovered that by covering the nakedness of women they became more of a sex object.
        Some of the coifs had become unmanageably elaborate—a symbol of competition for status among communities of women who had no way to live 'authentically' without the approval of a man, and so, without any solid ground to stand on of their own, fought among themselves for any swampy tussock on which to place a single foot, whether inside or among communities. If you were a 'diocesan' religious, a sister, you were the lowest of the low; if you were a member of an 'exempt' enclosed community, such as the Cistercians, you were considered upper class. The canons reinforced these attitudes: you were allowed to go up from sister to nun, but not down, from nun to sister. Clearly for the Vatican, nuns were totems: papal enclosure was the closest substitute the men could come to for burying women alive at the doorposts. Furthermore, papal enclosure kept the women out of sight. One story that circulated after Vatican II was that a pope commended a retiring cardinal by saying, 'Your courtesy was perfect: you never once mentioned women in my presence.' John Paul II, in his decree on religious life, even declared that women should shut up and take it as God-given penance that they should have what was often inadequate housing and funding. 
In addition to preventing women from driving or working safely, some of these habits permanently damaged women's bodies: in a manichean religious atmosphere, bodies were problematic but women's bodies especially so. The men, too, had their absurdities: the Cistercians, for example, had to sleep in their woolen cowls whatever the climate until some high mucky-muck from Rome was sent to hospital when he caught a terminal case of prickly heat at the Conyers, Georgia, monastery in mid-summer. There are few better or more ridiculous examples of literalising the metaphor of not knowing the day or the hour of the apocalypse. In one of his books, Peter Anson tells of a Spanish royal house of nuns whose habit was so elaborate that it required two hours for the nun with the help of a maid to dress herself appropriately for a feast day liturgy.
Religious women were not thought worth educating, although some communities, such as the Adrian Dominicans, refused to be kept down and sent their sisters to major universities to obtain good degrees. Education in the interior life was almost non-existent except for the passing on of aphorisms whose referents had been long forgotten, but which were applied like a template on which the religious were to try to force themselves by sheer willpower. There was little or no discussion—or knowledge—about topics such as contemplation, even in enclosed orders, beyond the formulas (God forbid that anyone might think for herself); anyone aspiring to contemplation was thought to be arrogant, getting above herself, wanting what was reserved to God's special elite (and of course it was the male superiors who decided who was elite and who wasn't). 
Observance for the sake of observance was all that counted, down to the last jot and tittle: put your soul's money in the ecclesiastical vending machine and your reward will come to you in the next life. There was little about the love of God and neighbour, and but a great deal about poor little Jesus, prisoner in the tabernacle, for whom one was suffering in reparation. Such attitudes, especially towards the Eucharist, reduced religious life and especially sacraments, to magic, and infantilised and reified the lives of the practitioners. There are, of course, people who still insist on magic, and local clergy where magical attitudes obtain appear to do little to enlighten them, lest the laity become uppity and have ideas. I was once leaving a mass when I overheard a man complaining to his companion that one of the chalices was not on the corporal during the words of institution and the epiclesis, and so had not been validly consecrated.
Those were the days of babies in Limbo, and the ever-present threat of hell—a notion invented in the twelfth century—if one died unshriven. My roommate at Stanford in the early sixties, during the break between the two sessions of Vatican II, was a devout Catholic studying chemical engineering. Her father was a mining engineer. One day he was caught by a cave-in and buried under tons of rubble. When she came back from the funeral she was clearly distraught. Finally she told me that she was terrified that he had gone to hell because he wouldn't have had time to make an act of contrition.
Those were the days when organists in Catholic churches didn't play Bach because he was a Protestant; when Catholics were afraid to go into Protestant churches and Protestants were afraid to go into Catholic churches for fear of being struck by lightning. The first cracks appeared in this absurd wall during the last few terms I was at 'The Farm', as we fondly called Stanford: I will never forget going for the first time to one of the inaugural 'dialogue' masses at the Catholic chaplaincy—a radical, very radical move to make in those days, and a heady experience.
                          [To be continued]

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Rowan's Address to the Roman Catholic Synod

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Address to the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith
Your Holiness, Reverend Fathers,
brothers and sisters in Christ – dear Friends
  1. I am deeply honoured by the Holy Father’s invitation to speak in this gathering:  as the Psalmist says, ‘Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum habitare fratres in unum’.  The gathering of bishops in Synod for the good of all Christ’s people is one of those disciplines that sustain the health of Christ’s Church.  And today especially we cannot forget that great gathering of ‘fratres in unum’ that was the Second Vatican Council, which did so much for the health of the Church and helped the Church to recover so much of the energy needed to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ effectively in our age.  For so many of my own generation, even beyond the boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church, that Council was a sign of great promise, a sign that the Church was strong enough to ask itself some demanding questions about whether its culture and structures were adequate to the task of sharing the Gospel with the complex, often rebellious, always restless mind of the modern world.
  2. The Council was, in so many ways, a rediscovery of evangelistic concern and passion, focused not only on the renewal of the Church’s own life but on its credibility in the world.  Texts such as Lumen gentium and Gaudium et speslaid out a fresh and joyful vision of how the unchanging reality of Christ living in his Body on earth through the gift of the Holy Spirit might speak in new words to the society of our age and even to those of other faiths.  It is not surprising that we are still, fifty years later, struggling with many of the same questions and with the implications of the Council; and I take it that this Synod’s concern with the new evangelization is part of that continuing exploration of the Council’s legacy.
  3. But one of the most important aspects of the theology of the second Vaticanum was a renewal of Christian anthropology.  In place of an often strained and artificial neo-scholastic account of how grace and nature were related in the constitution of human beings, the Council built on the greatest insights of a theology that had returned to earlier and richer sources – the theology of spiritual geniuses like Henri de Lubac, who reminded us of what it meant for early and mediaeval Christianity to speak of humanity as made in God’s image and of grace as perfecting and transfiguring that image so long overlaid by our habitual ‘inhumanity’.  In such a light, to proclaim the Gospel is to proclaim that it is at last possible to be properly human:  the Catholic and Christian faith is a ‘true humanism’, to borrow a phrase from another genius of the last century, Jacques Maritain.
  4. Yet de Lubac is clear what this does not mean.  We do not replace the evangelistic task by a campaign of ‘humanization’.  ‘Humanize before Christianizing?’ he asks – ‘If the enterprise succeeds, Christianity will come too late: its place will be taken.  And who thinks that Christianity has no humanizing value?’  So de Lubac writes in his wonderful collection of aphorisms, Paradoxes of Faith.  It is the faith itself that shapes the work of humanizing and the humanizing enterprise will be empty without the definition of humanity given in the Second Adam.  Evangelization, old or new, must be rooted in a profound confidence that we have a distinctive human destiny to show and share with the world.  There are many ways of spelling this out, but in these brief remarks I want to concentrate on one aspect in particular.
  5. To be fully human is to be recreated in the image of Christ’s humanity;  and that humanity is the perfect human ‘translation’ of the relationship of the eternal Son to the eternal Father, a relationship of loving and adoring self-giving, a pouring out of life towards the Other.  Thus the humanity we are growing into in the Spirit, the humanity that we seek to share with the world as the fruit of Christ’s redeeming work, is a contemplative humanity.  St Edith Stein observed that we begin to understand theology when we see God as the ‘First Theologian’, the first to speak out the reality of divine life, because ‘all speaking about God presupposes God’s own speaking’; in an analogous way we could say that we begin to understand contemplation when we see God as the first contemplative, the eternal paradigm of that selfless attention to the Other that brings not death but life to the self.  All contemplating of God presupposes God’s own absorbed and joyful knowing of himself and gazing upon himself in the trinitarian life.
  6. To be contemplative as Christ is contemplative is to be open to all the fullness that the Father wishes to pour into our hearts.  With our minds made still and ready to receive, with our self-generated fantasies about God and ourselves reduced to silence, we are at last at the point where we may begin to grow.  And the face we need to show to our world is the face of a humanity in endless growth towards love, a humanity so delighted and engaged by the glory of what we look towards that we are prepared to embark on a journey without end to find our way more deeply into it, into the heart of the trinitarian life.  St Paul speaks (in II Cor 3.18) of how ‘with our unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord’, we are transfigured with a greater and greater radiance.  That is the face we seek to show to our fellow-human beings.
  7. And we seek this not because we are in search of some private ‘religious experience’ that will make us feel secure or holy.  We seek it because in this self-forgetting gazing towards the light of God in Christ we learn how to look at one another and at the whole of God’s creation.  In the early Church, there was a clear understanding that we needed to advance from the self-understanding or self-contemplation that taught us to discipline our greedy instincts and cravings to the ‘natural contemplation’ that perceived and venerated the wisdom of God in the order of the world and allowed us to see created reality for what it truly was in the sight of God – rather than what it was in terms of how we might use it or dominate it.  And from there grace would lead us forward into true ‘theology’, the silent gazing upon God that is the goal of all our discipleship.
  8. In this perspective, contemplation is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do: it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom – freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them.  To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit.  To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly.  It is a deeply revolutionary matter. 
  9. In his autobiography Thomas Merton describes an experience not long after he had entered the monastery where he was to spend the rest of his life (Elected Silence, p.303).  He had contracted flu, and was confined to the infirmary for a few days, and, he says, he felt a ‘secret joy’ at the opportunity this gave him for prayer – and ‘to do everything that I want to do, without having to run all over the place answering bells.’  He is forced to recognise that this attitude reveals that ‘All my bad habits…had sneaked into the monastery with me and had received the religious vesture along with me: spiritual gluttony, spiritual sensuality, spiritual pride.’  In other words, he is trying to live the Christian life with the emotional equipment of someone still deeply wedded to the search for individual satisfaction.  It is a powerful warning: we have to be every careful in our evangelisation not simply to persuade people to apply to God and the life of the spirit all the longings for drama, excitement and self-congratulation that we so often indulge in our daily lives.  It was expressed even more forcefully some decades ago by the American scholar of religion, Jacob Needleman, in a controversial and challenging book called Lost Christianity: the words of the Gospel, he says, are addressed to human beings who ‘do not yet exist’.  That is to say, responding in a life-giving way to what the Gospel requires of us means a transforming of our whole self, our feelings and thoughts and imaginings.  To be converted to the faith does not mean simply acquiring a new set of beliefs, but becoming a new person, a person in communion with God and others through Jesus Christ.
  10. Contemplation is an intrinsic element in this transforming process.  To learn to look to God without regard to my own instant satisfaction, to learn to scrutinise and to relativise the cravings and fantasies that arise in me – this is to allow God to be God, and thus to allow the prayer of Christ, God’s own relation to God, to come alive in me.  Invoking the Holy Spirit is a matter of asking the third person of the Trinity to enter my spirit and bring the clarity I need to see where I am in slavery to cravings and fantasies and to give me patience and stillness as God’s light and love penetrate my inner life.  Only as this begins to happen will I be delivered from treating the gifts of God as yet another set of things I may acquire to make me happy, or to dominate other people.  And as this process unfolds, I become more free—to borrow a phrase of St Augustine (Confessions IV.7)—to ‘love human beings in a human way’, to love them not for what they may promise me, to love them not as if they were there to provide me with lasting safety and comfort, but as fragile fellow-creatures held in the love of God.  I discover (as we noted earlier) how to see other persons and things for what they are in relation to God, not to me.  And it is here that true justice as well as true love has its roots.
  11. The human face that Christians want to show to the world is a face marked by such justice and love, and thus a face formed by contemplation, by the disciplines of silence and the detaching of the self from the objects that enslave it and the unexamined instincts that can deceive it. If evangelisation is a matter of showing the world the ‘unveiled’ human face that reflects the face of the Son turned towards the Father, it must carry with it a serious commitment to promoting and nurturing such prayer and practice.  It should not need saying that this is not at all to argue that ‘internal’ transformation is more important than action for justice; rather, it is to insist that the clarity and energy we need for doing justice requires us to make space for the truth, for God’s reality to come through.  Otherwise our search for justice or for peace becomes another exercise of human will, undermined by human self-deception.  The two callings are inseparable, the calling to ‘prayer and righteous action’, as the Protestant martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, writing from his prison cell in 1944.  True prayer purifies the motive, true justice is the necessary work of sharing and liberating in others the humanity we have discovered in our contemplative encounter.
  12. Those who know little and care less about the institutions and hierarchies of the Church these days are often attracted and challenged by lives that exhibit something of this.  It is the new and renewed religious communities that most effectively reach out to those who have never known belief or who have abandoned it as empty and stale.  When the Christian history of our age is written especially, though not only, as regards Europe and North America—we shall see how central and vital was the witness of places like Taizé or Bose, but also of more traditional communities that have become focal points for the exploration of a humanity broader and deeper than social habit encourages.  And the great spiritual networks, Sant’ Egidio, the Focolare, Communione e Liberazione, these too show the same phenomenon; they make space for a profounder human vision because in their various ways all of them offer a discipline of personal and common life that is about letting the reality of Jesus come alive in us.
  13. And, as these examples show, the attraction and challenge we are talking about can generate commitments and enthusiasms across historic confessional lines.  We have become used to talking about the imperative importance of ‘spiritual ecumenism’ these days; but this must not be a matter of somehow opposing the spiritual and the institutional, nor replacing specific commitments with a general sense of Christian fellow-feeling.  If we have a robust and rich account of what the word ‘spiritual’ itself means, grounded in scriptural insights like those in the passages from II Corinthiansthat we noted earlier, we shall understand spiritual ecumenism as the shared search to nourish and sustain disciplines of contemplation in the hope of unveiling the face of the new humanity.  And the more we keep apart from each other as Christians of different confessions, the less convincing that face will seem.  I mentioned the Focolare movement a moment ago: you will recall that the basic imperative in the spirituality of Chiara Lubich was ‘to make yourself one’ – one with the crucified and abandoned Christ, one through him with the Father, one with all those called to this unity and so one with the deepest needs of the world.  ‘Those who live unity … live by allowing themselves to penetrate always more into God.  They grow always closer to God … and the closer they get to him, the closer they get to the hearts of their brothers and sisters’ (Chiara Lubich: Essential Writings, p.37).  The contemplative habit strips away an unthinking superiority towards other baptised believers and the assumption that I have nothing to learn from them.  Insofar as the habit of contemplation helps us approach all experience as gift, we shall always be asking what it is that the brother or sister has to share with us – even the brother or sister who is in one way or another separated from us or from what we suppose to be the fullness of communion.  ‘Quam bonum et quam jucundum …’.
  14. In practice, this might suggest that wherever initiatives are being taken to reach out in new ways to a lapsed Christian or post-Christian public, there should be serious work done on how such outreach can be grounded in some ecumenically shared contemplative practice.  In addition to the striking way in which Taizé has developed an international liturgical ‘culture’ accessible to a great variety of people, a network like the World Community for Christian Meditation, with its strong Benedictine roots and affiliations, has opened up fresh possibilities here.  What is more, this community has worked hard at making contemplative practice accessible to children and young people, and this needs the strongest possible encouragement.  Having seen at first hand—in Anglican schools in Britain—how warmly young children can respond to the invitation offered by meditation in this tradition, I believe its potential for introducing young people to the depths of our faith to be very great indeed.  And for those who have drifted away from the regular practice of sacramental faith, the rhythms and practices of Taizé or the WCCM are often a way back to this sacramental heart and hearth.
  15. What people of all ages recognise in these practices is the possibility, quite simply, of living more humanly – living with less frantic acquisitiveness, living with space for stillness, living in the expectation of learning, and most of all, living with an awareness that there is a solid and durable joy to be discovered in the disciplines of self-forgetfulness that is quite different from the gratification of this or that impulse of the moment.  Unless our evangelisation can open the door to all this, it will run the risk of trying to sustain faith on the basis of an un-transformed set of human habits – with the all too familiar result that the Church comes to look unhappily like so many purely human institutions, anxious, busy, competitive and controlling.  In a very important sense, a true enterprise of evangelisation will always be a re-evangelisation of ourselves as Christians also, a rediscovery of why our faith is different, transfiguring – a recovery of our own new humanity.
  16. And of course it happens most effectively when we are not planning or struggling for it.  To turn to de Lubac once again, ‘He who will best answer the needs of his time will be someone who will not have first sought to answer them’ (op. cit. pp.111-2); and ‘The man who seeks sincerity, instead of seeking truth in self-forgetfulness, is like the man who seeks to be detached instead of laying himself open in love’ (p.114).  The enemy of all proclamation of the Gospel is self-consciousness, and, by definition, we cannot overcome this by being more self-conscious.  We have to return to St Paul and ask, ‘Where are we looking?’  Do we look anxiously to the problems of our day, the varieties of unfaithfulness or of threat to faith and morals, the weakness of the institution?  Or are we seeking to look to Jesus, to the unveiled face of God’s image in the light of which we see the image further reflected in ourselves and our neighbours?
  17. That simply reminds us that evangelisation is always an overflow of something else – the disciple’s journey to maturity in Christ, a journey not organised by the ambitious ego but the result of the prompting and drawing of the Spirit in us.  In our considerations of how we are once again to make the Gospel of Christ compellingly attractive to men and women of our age, I hope we never lose sight of what makes it compelling to ourselves, to each one of us in our diverse ministries.  So I wish you joy in these discussions – not simply clarity or effectiveness in planning, but joy in the promise of the vision of Christ’s face, and in the fore-shadowings of that fulfilment in the joy of communion with each other here and now.
©  Rowan Williams 2012

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Computer Dork

I've just had a very reasonable request from a reader to link to previous posts and archive posts so that people can find them easily.

Daisyanon, m'dear, I am 71 years old. I bought the first Mac when it came out. I am a complete computer dork. I would no more know how to do what you ask—much as I would like to—than fly to the moon. I am still using the original Blogger template because when I looked to switch to the new one I was warned that my blog might be lost.

At my age you have an acute consciousness that your remaining time is very limited, and my body reminds me of that every day. I have a major book to finish. My funds are extremely limited, so private instruction is out of the question. Everyone I know is working flat out in the University.

If you can find a solution to this conundrum I would be very glad to hear it.

In the meantime, I will try to do something about creating an old-fashioned index.

Bless you.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Comment Worth Foregrounding

...I think that a lot of the life of the general parish church is engaged in the shallows rather than the depths but I would also like to defend the clergy (and many parishioners) because we are often forced into 'busyness' by the demands of 'keeping the show on the road'. I am constantly struggling with the sense that time spent praying or reading (or responding to a very thought provoking talk) is a luxury I can't afford - that I am wasting my time and should be doing something 'useful'. 


Thank you for writing and expressing so well the problems facing a lot of parishes.

What you describe is all too familiar; it's not a problem for parishioners only. One of the main temptations for solitaries—and one of the main hostile criticisms of them—is exactly what you say: 'I am constantly struggling with the sense that time spent praying or reading (or responding to a very thought provoking talk) is a luxury I can't afford—that I am wasting my time and should be something 'useful'.

First I would ask: who 'forces' you into busyness? Is someone holding a gun to your head? Why do you have to 'keep the show on the road'? Whose show? Are these real-life people applying pressure or are you trapping yourself by imagining what the mysterious 'they' might think? Either way, there needs to be some gentle confrontation with these imagined critics; often if you face them down, they vanish.

Why don't you organise a revolt if you understand, as you do, that that 'life in the general parish church is engaged in the shallows?' Call a parish meeting. Find out if people want to deepen their lives or if they want to go on with this ecclesial charade. Ring up other parishes. Suggest they do the same. Then if there are enough interested parties, organise a deanery-wide meeting.

Put more silence into liturgy. Simplify it; leave a lot of the verbiage behind such the creeds, which have no place in the liturgy; such as the (gasp!) prayer of humble access which is not only full of dreadful theology but drags the worshipper back into thinking about him or her self rather than letting go in God. There is huge latitude in the liturgy these days. In January 2006 in this blog there is a 'Rite for Contemplative Eucharist' that is catechetical but can be adapted for Sunday or other use.

Make it clear to the powers that be that you (as a parish) are not interested in playing ecclesiastical power games but deepening your life in God. You (a general you) will have to be very vigilant at first: the traps are subtle and seductive, but gradually you can root yourselves in silence.

There will always be people who want to be busy and 'keep the show on the road': let them do it so you don't have to. 'The church is like a swimming pool,' someone once said, 'all the noise is at the shallow end.' Let them have their own noisy liturgy, while you do something else. Forget the jargon and the 'targets' and the numbers game.

This sort of change doesn't happen overnight, and a lot of clergy have a vested interest in, as Richard Holloway put it, 'exchanging poetry for packaging' because they are interested in control instead of deepening into God. But you (a general as well as a specific you) can effect change only as you yourself do the work of silence. It's work, of course, much more difficult work than busyness, which gives the appearance of short-term 'success' (a word which should be deleted from the religious vocabulary), and it demands changes in the way one lives. But if you stick with the work of silence through thick and thin, not only will you find that it merges with the fabric of life, it becomes the fabric of life. You will effect change around you no matter what you do, but unbeknown to you, the resonances of silence affect those around you far more profoundly than any words or programme could. The group can deepen only if each individual works at silence, and each person's work with silence deepens the group. Above all, don't talk about it beyond the minimum needed to change direction. No one was ever persuaded by words in these matters. 

There's a new 'keep calm' mug available: Keep Calm and Press Delete. Ask your self about everything that comes your way: 'Is this really necessary? What purpose does it serve? Does it generate static or does it deepen me/us into silence? Is this a need or a want? Will this help me and other people be more quiet or is it going to generate complication? Where do I hurt? What do I really want? What price am I willing to pay? When you catch your head entertaining noise, simply turn away from it and 'reach into the dark'. 

People are leaving the churches because they can no longer abide the banality and the gimmicks, the contradictoray demands that they support clergy but allow those clergy to dominate and infantilize. People want to worship 'in spirit and in truth', participating in liturgy that helps them forget themselves as they engage God at the deepest level. There's an article on these issues in an essay on liturgy in the book I published last year, Writing the Icon of the Heart: In Silence Beholding.

There is, of course, a caveat: if you do effect changes in your parish, be prepared to be attacked by the frightened and uncomprehending people who want to 'play the game' at any price. If you re-do your liturgy so that it is a proper liturgy and not just a sing-song with interruptions by a lot of words, you will find it extremely difficult to worship in a church that is still into packaging. You will start listening more careful and you will be saddened, if not revolted by what is unthinkingly taught, and the banality of the concepts of 'church' that underlie them—and they are a lie.

Such changes are wrought quietly, without fanfare. They require humility. It's not a matter of a offering a 'better' way; it's a matter for each person to decide if they want to do the work of silence or not, and whether they will stick with it.

Don't make the mistake of having so-called spiritual directors, or 'experts', or celebrity gurus, who try to tell you how to live, but whose motivations are highly questionable: these are just distractions. All you need to do, metaphorically speaking, is sit in your cell and seek to the beholding. It's so simple, and we make it so very complicated.

Thank you again for writing.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

XIV Manchester Talk May 31, 2012

To sum up: we need to reconsider the methodology we use; we need to re-explore our Christian heritage which has to a great extent been lost, experimenting with the two epistemologies model in every aspect of our lives; and we need to incorporate the evidence of contemporary neuro-psychology and Margaret Barker's discoveries about the First Temple liturgy of atonement, which symbolically re-enacted the transfiguration of the mind in order to heal the breach created by the people's destructiveness to the ecology.
Contemporary scholarly methodology is at war with the texts it purports to explicate. It is folly to use a methodology to examine texts that teach contemplation using the very system of thought against which they are written. To use a methodology that demands closure on a text that is leading the reader into infinite openness; to employ a methodology that imposes a single epistemology on texts that are based on two epistemologies working in concert not only destroys them, but also locks the reader into lesser beholdings, into his or her own self-consciousness. This is a recognized problem in philosophy, and if philosophy, then even more ipsa philosophia Christus. As Karmen MacKendrick notes:
We still must use words; we still must draw out the questions that lie within philosophy. It is only that we have learned that we must use philosophy against itself, wrap our words around spaces without words, and leave them wordless, as if they could thus be kept, though we know that we lose them together with ourselves.[1]
McKendrick's words, along with the model I have presented, with its correlations in modern neuro-psychology, and Margaret Barker's discoveries from a former age, suggest that a viable theology for the twenty-first century must be relational and molecular, employing a rationality that may use the linear as a critical tool, but which goes beyond it to its full flowering in the deep mind. To engage such a theology, language generated by the self-conscious mind must continually be sounded, refined and layered in the echo chamber of the deep mind, so that it becomes more truly incarnational.
But how this might be accomplished must remain a topic for another day.

[1] Karmen MacKendrick, Immemorial Silence (New York, 2001), p. 5.