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Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

The Archer of the Forest with some great thoughts on Lent:

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the time in the Christian year when we remember the brokenness in our lives and in our world. We walk through the proverbial desert time of fasting and penance, and prepared to be witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday.

The big question on the lips of many Christians at this time of the year is often, “So, what are you giving up for Lent?” Lent is often marked as a season by the somewhat curious habit of many Christians to “give something up.” People give up all sorts of various things ranging from eating chocolates to playing video games. I personally tried giving up coffee once, and I was grumpy for weeks. My point is that sometimes I wonder whether many people really understand the Lenten custom of “giving something up” or just use it for an occasion to brag.

What most people are really doing when they “give up something for Lent” is attempting to engage in a spiritual discipline and not a fast. Just giving something up is not really a fast in itself. Giving up something can be good for you; it can teach you the virtues of trusting that God will see you through your trials of missing whatever you are foregoing. Giving up something can even teach you that by God’s grace you can live without the material thing(s) with which you are addicted.

A fast is something a bit different, however. While a spiritual discipline is giving up something and seeing what you learn about yourself from that exercise, a fast is actively seeking God while you are giving up something. If I am fasting, then the time I would otherwise be using to eat that particular food or waste time on Facebook is actively devoted to searching for God in some tangible way like taking time to pray or read the bible or engage in some good work.

The Church over the centuries has built up the season of Lent (and originally Advent as well) to help us examine our selves, our souls, and bodies, to help re-center ourselves in Christ. Lent is a time when we intentionally look at where we are in our walk with God. Are there things done or left undone to which we need to attend, or are there things that have distanced us from God?

I urge you, therefore, to chose a spiritual discipline or a fast to do this Lenten season if you have not already chosen to do so. It is never too late to start. Even if you have already decided on a course of action, do not do it in vain. Allow God’s grace to lead you through that discipline or fast. Actively seek God while you are abstaining or taking up a new discipline in whatever form it might be. We do this not for the sake of performing a duty because we have to or to boast of our self-sacrifice, but so that we together might invite God into some small space in our lives so that Christ can invite us into the work of God’s dream.

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+Andy Doyle, the Bishop of Texas, with a lights out lecture he gave to the Christian Formation Conference at Camp Allen in September, 2010.  It is really good to see a bishop articulating not only the uniqueness of the Christian faith & Jesus, but also the uniqueness of the Episcopal/Anglican church (I use church here purposefully).  Too often I here Episcopalians speak of our church as if it is just one more denomination with certain products to offer on the religious marketplace rather than a unique expression of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church with claims to “catholicity” as strong and legitimate as the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches.  We are English Catholics, the historic catholic church of english speaking peoples… a reformed catholic church.  Anyway… I digress, back to +Andy.

A few excerpts:

“The Gospel testifies to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in God’s plan for the salvation of the world.”

“There can be no greater theme – no higher calling for the church to bear witness to salvation in and through Christ.” (Sharing the Gospel of Salvation, GS Misc 956, Report to General Synod Church of England, 2010, from forward, SGS)

“…The Christian story is, quite simply, the most attractive account of the world and the human condition.”

“Theology, [how we believe, how we communicate about God] is not an adjunct to the social sciences – on the contrary, Christian theology is the prism through which the social sciences make the most sense.”

“The task of Christians is not to persuade others of the truth of the gospel story through propositional argument (which, John Milbanks – Anglican theologian – claims, always carries undertones of violence) but to “out narrate” other, rival and less attractive narratives.”

“Christians must so live out their faith, in communities which embody the gospel (especially in practices of worship) that others are attracted by the sublime beauty of God reflected in the Church.” (SGS, 72)

“The Church…is called to be a “community of character”, embodying “the peaceable kingdom.”

“It is not called to prop up other social institutions, such as democracy or capitalism, however useful they may be, but to exhibit in its corporate life the radically alternative life of those who follow Christ.”

“Others will wish to join this community, not because they are convinced intellectually of its argument but because they are captivated by its example of virtuous living.”(SGS, 73)

And further:

Anyone can carry out reconciliation, love, forgiveness, healing, justice and peace. But we understand it is God’s work.

Anyone can confront the tensions in the world. But we do so faithfully trying to live out the life of God’s will and sacred narrative.

Anyone can engage in prophetic action, advocacy and collaboration in our contemporary global context. But only we can engage through the unique prophetic witness of the Good News of Salvation.

Anyone can lift every voice and reconcile oppressed and oppressor. But only we can do the work out of the particular understanding that it is the love expressed through God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

And that’s not all:

The Gospel testifies to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in God’s plan for the salvation of the world.

You and I as Christians are challenged to “out narrate” and to communicate our work of “virtuous” living to the world around us. Specifically, we are called to do this work in our given mission context.

We are to be working hand in hand with Jesus Christ to transform the world around us.

You and I, as uniquely created Episcopalians, must reclaim our mission and ministry and tell the story in such a way that when those who retell it and those who hear it reshape the world into the reign of God.

There is more here worth quoting, but you’ll have to read it for yourself.  Find it here.  Not a reader?  You can listen to his podcast here.

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I would like to bring to your attention something that just came to my attention… that is the blog of Bishop Anthony Burton, rector of Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, TX:

www.anthonyburton.org

Bishop Burton, according to COTI’s website (www.incarnation.org),

At the time of his election as Bishop of Saskatchewan in 1993, Bishop Anthony Burton was the youngest bishop in the world-wide Anglican Communion, and the youngest Canadian bishop that century. In his fifteen years as Bishop of that diocese, he served in a wide variety of offices, among them Chair of the Council of the North (representing a third of Canada’s dioceses and 85% of its geography), Co-Chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue and as the Episcopal Visitor to the South American Missionary Society. He was also patron or officer of a variety of institutions, societies and organizations.

In addition,

Bishop Burton studied at the University of Toronto, Dalhousie University, and Oxford University. He was ordained in the Diocese of Nova Scotia, where he served in two parishes on Cape Breton Island, at which time he married Anna Erickson, a native of California. They moved in 1991 to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, where he served as Dean and Rector of St. Alban’s Cathedral…

On September 1, 2008, he began a new ministry as Rector of the Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, which, with 3,500 members, is one of the largest Episcopal Churches in the United States.

I have a clergy and lay friend who work on his staff in Dallas and when I asked them to describe Bishop Burton they responded, “Saintly,” and “Holy” respectively.  Another friend of mine, while speaking of “Bishop Tony” almost began weeping as she told me that “he makes Christianity real for me.”  There are a number of anecdotes that I have heard in the past two years that attest to the learnedness and holiness of the good bishop, and I regularly listen to his sermons (here: www.incarnation.org/recordings/sermons) to quicken my own spiritual life.  That’s right!….an Episcopal priest with sermons worth listening to and relistening to.  And while I’m on the subject, he also has a number of good articles available here.

If you have never heard of Bishop Burton, do yourself, your friends, and your parish a favor by familiarizing yourself with his writings, sermons, and blogs.  He is, perhaps, a living Anglican saint.  Also, if you happen to pass through Dallas on a Sunday evening as I did a few months ago … do whatever you have to do and go to Church of the Incarnation’s Solemn Choral Evensong & Holy Communion service at 5:30 p.m.  I wept through nearly the entire thing.

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A fine article by the Rev. Dr. R.D. Crouse.

The Book of Common Prayer is not conceived (as are its current alternatives) as a kind of resource-book for worship, from which one may choose elements according to one’s tastes or inclinations, or have them chosen for one by the clergy or by some “worship and spifituality” committee, more or less ad hoc. The Prayer Book is, rather, a spiritual system, biblical, traditional, and logical, which includes, but at the same time transcends and corrects the subjecfive inclinations of the worshipper or the spirituality committee. It is the common prayer of priest and congregation, and corporate in a way in which the selfconscious “gathering of the community” can never be.

Liturgical resource books will not do. The prayer of the Church becomes the common prayer of the people only when its variants are few enough that they can become thoroughly familiar and habitual, and thus can be genuinely prayed. William Beveridge, several centuries ago, put the matter cogently:

… If I hear another pray, and know not beforehand what he will say, I must first listen to what he will say next; then I am to consider whether what he saith be agreeable to sound doctrine, and whether it be proper and lawful for me to join with him in the petitions he puts up to Almighty God; and if I think it is so, then I am to do it. But before I can well do that, he is got to another thing; by which means it is very difficult, if not morally impossible, to join with him in everything so regularly as I ought to do. But by a set form of prayer all this trouble is prevented; for having the form continually in my mind, being thoroughly acquainted with it, fully approving of everything in it, and always knowing beforehand what will come next, I have nothing else to do, whilst the words are sounding in my ears, but to move my heart and affections suitably to them, to raise up my desires to those good things which are prayed for, to fix my mind wholly upon God, whilst I am praising of him, and so to employ, quicken, and lift up my soul in performing my devotions to Him.

Anglican spirituality is basically a liturgical piety, nurtured by the Book of Common Prayer. It is a rich and glorious tradition, and I, for one, am unwilling to see it undermined or discarded. No doubt much dedicated labour and much expense have gone into the production of our alternatives; and certainly much energy, as well as much heartbreak, have gone into the promotion of them. No doubt, as with the famous “Curate’s Egg”, “parts of it are excellent”; but, as far as I can see, the general effect, from the standpoint of spirituality, has been disastrous, and is likely to be more so. At best, as an alternative, our new rite can produce a kind of spiritual schizophrenia; at worst, it can produce profound and lasting destruction of the Anglican tradition.

Let me conclude with a quotation from Jeremy Taylor, a holy and learned 17th century bishop, who was deprived of his benefice and three times imprisoned during the Commonwealth period, when the Book of Common Prayer was suppressed.

This excellent book hath had the fate to be cut in pieces with a pen-knife and thrown into the fire, but it is not consumed. At first, it was Sown in tears, and now is watered with tears; yet never was any holy thing drowned or extinguished with tears… Indeed, the greatest danger that ever the Common Prayer Book had, was the indifferency and indevotion of them that used it as but a common blessing – . But when excellent things go away, and then look back upon us, as our blessed Saviour did upon St. Peter, we are more moved then by the nearer embraces of a full and actual possession. I pray God that it may be so in our case, and that we may be not too willing to be discouraged: at least that we may not cease to love and to desire what is not publicly permitted to our practice and profession.

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From here, Rowan Williams +++ on prayer:

The difficult thing of course, given that our minds are usually like cartoon characters racing round in small space at top speed, is how do we slow down? how do we come to be where we are? to settle in our bodies, in this place, and be quiet and still enough for God to rise within us like water in a pool. Because our usual ways of operating are so hectic, so chaotic, then we do need disciplines; and that’s why, throughout the history of the Church, as in other religions, there are ways of making your self present, making yourself still. In the Eastern Christian tradition especially there’s been a great deal of thought about that: making sure that your breath is regular and steady, making sure you’re in a position – sitting or kneeling, or indeed standing some people find – where you can settle your weight properly, where you can feel your breath, rising and falling. It’s as simple as that really. So my basic method (personally) is to settle myself (sitting, with my back upright) to take five or six deep breaths very consciously, in and out, with the word ‘God’ in focus, and then just relax into that bit by bit…

That of course leads on to another thought about prayer – it’s never something you do on your own. Christians are always trying to pray in such a way that it is Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, who is doing something in them. So its not you. You’re putting yourself in the stream and letting your self be carried along. And therefore praying with others really does help; it really is part of the authentic thing that you’re doing not just an extra. So that if you have a group of people praying in silence you don’t have six people facing their own personal brick walls, you have a shared attempt to come into the life and action of Jesus Christ, and as you do it, as you try and settle down, whether you know it or not a common activity is being shaped – something that you’re all doing together – and actually sometimes that really does register. If you’re in a group of people who are focused in that way, you’re aware of it being not just you. You will feel it if you visit a monastery, and go and pray in the early morning with a group monks or the nuns and realize that praying is not necessarily easier than it might otherwise be but you are being held, swept along in something.

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Some thoughts about the daily office by Bishop Anthony Burton:

Prayer is a participation in the priestly ministry of Christ and is not a consequence of some external rule but springs from the very nature of our vocation as Christians. It is not the preserve of the clergy but is a vocation common to clergy and laity alike.  This is a Biblical teaching which the Reformers understood well: it underlies Cranmer’s insistence that the daily work of prayer be taken out of the monastery and placed in the parish church.

Its daily character also underscores this high view of the priesthood of all believers. Time itself is ordered, sanctified and offered through Christ to the Father.  Hooker had this to say:

“Now as nature bringeth forth time with motion, so we by motion have learned how to divide time, and by the smaller parts of time both to measure the greater and to know how long all things else endure.” (Laws, V, lxix.2)The whole Prayer Book is designed to enable the laity to fulfil their priestly vocation of prayer: the responses are to be returned by the people and not by the choir only; the prayers are generally short and contain one thought; they are in a language that all can understand; the laity are exhorted to receive their communion; the rubrics demand audibility and visible ceremonial…

and this:

The offices of the Prayer Book proceed from the belief that baptism issues in a vocation to pray in two ways. As a member of the Church, the body of Christ, we are to pray the prayers of the whole Church, publicly if possible, otherwise privately.

We are not members of the Body only at “The Gathering of the Community”. As an individual Christians, we should also have a domestic prayer life, which pertains to the particular needs and circumstances of our life as individuals and, if we have one, as part of a family. No amount of extemporary petition, barked from the back of the Church on Sundays can substitute for this. The distinction between public and private is a problem for the modern world generally. The Prayer Book tradition can help us recover the distinction.

The Prayer Book as a system of spiritual discipline is invaluable in helping us to grow to maturity in Christ. It continually reminds us that the good of the Kingdom of Heaven lies not in the devices and desires of our own hearts but in living in and by the Word of God. And it helps us to grow in community in the Body of Christ by enabling us to pray and adore in the Gospel in common.

Charles Simeon wrote that “The finest sight short of heaven would be a whole congregation using the prayers of the liturgy in the true spirit of them.” The recovery of that spirit has never been needed more than today, and yet if conferences like these are any indication, we have reason to hope that the golden age of Anglican spirituality lies not in the past but in, God willing, His the future.

Read it all here.

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In honor of today’s feast, I offer this from The Byzantine Anglo-Catholic:

For today’s Feast of the Transfiguration we turn to Norman Russell’s Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2009). What happened to Jesus on the mountain during the Transfiguration was a manifestation of the theosis of his human nature. However, theosis is not limited to Jesus; it is the destiny of us all. But it is not accomplished without suffering. The excerpt is found on pp 109-111.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Transfiguration…is a revelation of the true stature of our human nature, a stature which our first parents in the Garden of Eden failed to attain. They listened to the voice of temptation, which suggested to them that they had been forbidden to eat of the tree of knowledge because God jealously wanted to keep them in a state of immaturity…But knowledge in itself does not make us like God. Our twentieth-century history has taught us that only too painfully. “Adam”, as St John Damascene says, “longed for deification before the proper time”. Knowledge needs to be accompanied by humility, thanksgiving, purity of heart. The glory indicated by the Transfiguration is only to be attained through the self-emptying of the Passion. “It is only through this free kenosis [self-emptying]” says Metropolitan John Zizioulas, “that the ascetic is led to the light of the Resurrection. The light of Mount Tabor, the light of the Transfiguration, which the Hesychasts claimed to see, was given as a result of participation in the sufferings, the kenosis of Christ. ” We arrive at our true human stature through sharing in the glory of Christ, having first shared in his Passion.

The Church Father who brings out this aspect of the Transfiguration most clearly is St Cyril of Alexandria. In his homily on the Transfiguration…he sets the narrative as Luke tells it within the broader pattern of the divine economy. The immediately proceeding discussion is of the greatest significance: “If anyone wishes to come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Lk 9:23). “This teaching” St Cyril comments, “is our salvation”. It prepares us for heavenly glory through the acceptance of suffering for Christ’s sake. The converse is also true: the vision of heavenly glory granted to Peter, James and John prepares them to accept the suffering that is shortly to come upon them…To see the Transfiguration is to see the kingdom of God. The radiant humanity of the Lord shows the apostles the destiny that awaits them. The Lord can now go to his suffering and death and the apostles can follow him, confident in the glory that can only be attained through sharing in the Cross.

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The following is a wonderful look at liturgy, what it is, and how it functions.  Though written by an Orthodox priest, I think its approach is Catholic and Universal:

The Divine Liturgy (the Holy Eucharist) is not a ritual action of the Church which we attend, as though it were some sort of program. It is one of the greatest manifestations of the Divine Life that God has given us – dwelling in us, among us, with us, uniting us, and ascending from God to us and through us back to the Throne of Grace. Please forgive the exercise in prepositions in the last sentence – but the very nature of the Divine Liturgy demands such an exercise of language (cf. St. Basil).The habits gained from our cultural life always threaten to invade our life as the Church – when our life as the Church should constantly be invading our life in the culture. Culturally we tend to gather for assemblies in which the deformed philosophy of secularism (dominant among most modern Christians) has offered us shape, form and understanding. The Divine Liturgy has no commonality with this philosophy.

We do not gather as a collection of individuals who share a common interest. The actions of the priest are not a program presented for our intellectual, emotional, psychological or religious improvement. We do not stand apart from the actions of the Liturgy and approve or disapprove them as if we were an audience.

We assemble for the Liturgy as the Church, the Body of Christ, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, the Fullness of Him Who Filleth all in all (Scripture synonyms for the Church). We are never an audience. We assemble as a single Body, who share in a single Life. No one can distract me from the Liturgy for the Liturgy is everything that takes place in the assembly of the Body. A child crying is a liturgical action (in the Liturgy). Equally a parent caring for a child and exercising discipline or offering solace are also liturgical actions. Our pains, our boredom, our interests, the very cry of our hearts are all among the lives that have assembled into the One Life.

There is one prayer – the Prayer of the Holy Spirit Who prays to the Father through the Son. This one prayer is given voice by priest, deacon and people. Nothing falls outside the concern of this one prayer for we offer to God everything. The sins of our lives are not excluded (else we would be barred from the Liturgy). Rather, we are told in Scripture that “God made him [Christ] to be sin, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the great exchange of worship – that we offer to God all that we are and have – even those things that seem unworthy – that we might receive in exchange that which transcends all worth.

To gather together in the Liturgy is to enter a new life. The habits of the old life are brought in only to be transformed – not to dictate to God the nature and character of the new life. The Life of the Liturgy is “on behalf of all and for all.” We must yield to the fact that the salvation of each and all is now the proper concern of each and all.

All of these things are simply what it means to love one another.

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We are told in the book of Acts that on the Day of Pentecost, about 3,000 souls were added to the Church.  This simple fact has for many linked the Day of Pentecost to the process of evangelism.  But I think the coming of the Spirit to the Church was more than a membership drive, and so evangelism for us must be more & deeper than simply new members.

The miracle of Pentecost is a clear reversal of the tragedy of the Tower of Babel where humans became not only further estranged from God, but also from one another.  The Communion for which we were created is lost and the story of the progressive disaster of that lost communion marks much of the opening narratives of Scripture.  In contrast, the Gospels and Acts tell a story of the reversal of that lost communion.

One of the great challenges of the Church in the modern age is to return the proclamation of the Gospel (evangelism) to its proper foundations and rescue it from the increasing secularism of marketing growth and moralistic interpretations.  Christ did not come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live. The conversion of 3,000 at Pentecost was not a membership drive, but glorious reversal of both The Fall and the tragedy of Babel.  That is the Gospel we proclaim!  Not, “Join our church, be good, and God will take care of you,” but “Life, freedom, healing, forgiveness, redemption, and salvation are offered to you in the death & resurrection of Jesus.”  We, The Church, are simply the humble stewards of that message, that way of life, and the mysteries of the Sacraments through which Jesus still comes to us.

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Four marks for Anglican Spirituality according to Urban T. Holmes III:

1. Anglican Spirituality is Earthy — It has to do with the domestic, everyday life.  It is a spirituality for the dinner table as well as the church.

2. Anglican Spirituality grows out of liturgical prayer — This means that it is not as flashy or showy as some would wish, but it has a wisdom, a persistence, a rootedness, and a perspective which endures.  It is the difference between a storm on a shallow pond and a storm on a deep ocean.

3. Anglican Spirituality draws on Biblical imagergy — The Bible is the main source of Anglican imagination, dreaming, and thinking.

4. Anglican Spirituality is collaborative — There will always be a tension between collective truth and individual or local insight.

As I was reading through these today I was very moved.  Might it not be just this sort of Biblical, collective, earthy, rootedness that is so badly need in the transient, consumer, individualized, technologized, secular culture of the West today? 

Lord, have mercy.

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