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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maggie, this post takes my breath away.
Thank you

12:57 pm, October 12, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Maggie - I have read and printed your response. I want to read it through again and keep hold of it as a word against shallowness and busyness. I am so thankful for your response.

10:43 am, October 13, 2012  
Anonymous said...

This is absolutely brilliant, Maggie. It could have been written for me personally, especially the paragraph about the new "keep calm" mug.

Thank you!

Jane (Pretoria)

11:40 am, October 30, 2012  
Blogger Silentium said...

Thank you for this post Maggie. I think there can be a strategy to introduce more silence into the liturgy developed from a conversation and with suitable explanation. I actually write in the order of service 'one minute' or however long since it gives congregants more of a sense of collaborating. Generally in our community we begin worship with ringing a mindfulness bell and then the congregation moves into a gathered silence quickly. We have trained ourselves. Much of the resistance I think is fear and love overcomes this. Clergy could also set an example in the vestry and in visibly kneeling at the side chapel before worship. As a young person thinking about a vocation, now a 53 year old Anglican priest, this had an impression on me. Peace, Nicholas Gregory

11:02 am, November 22, 2012  

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