About a month ago, a friend put up a posting The future of blogs…
I read the posting and sent in a comment. I tried to be constructively critical even though I was surprised to read his negative reactions to the western liturgy now that he has converted to Orthodoxy. I hope he has found his spiritual home rather than a new brand-name, a mask, a πρόσωπον, a term properly used in theological work De Verbo Incarnato, the study of Christology, but which also seems to correspond with the persona or super-ego of Jung. A convert usually arrives at is decision to embrace his church of adoption having expressed disdain, hatred or revulsion in relation to what he is leaving. That can lead to tragic consequences.
This fact of a big change in life involves emotional drama as well as a rational process of seeking truth and fulfilment of one’s sense of vocation. I am living through such a turning point in my own life, not one of going from one church to another, but closer to home. Some of my readers know what I’m talking about. Others can be content with confiding me to God in their prayers. Hatred is that cancer of the soul that will destroy us – unless we can uproot it and replace it with a quest for our own vocation and meaning in this world, coming to terms with our strengths and weaknesses in a journey through the night.
I have noticed my own postings becoming rarer. About the same number of people come each day to read recent posts or search for old articles. Fewer send comments. I have my old faithful friends who have known me in my younger days. What makes the difference for me is working in a spirit of service to others, a ministry of education and pastoral care through expressing some ideas that wouldn’t occur to other priests. This is something that has to pull us out of ἀκηδία (sloth and not caring) and resentment. It is all about bouncing back from the edge.
I too write less about the liturgy. I wrote my book A Twitch on the Sarum Thread in the same spirit that I have been writing blog postings. I become more philosophical in my interests, still in the Romantic and Idealist way of thinking, and see this as the only way to survive the death of institutional Christianity as a spiritual human being. I believe very strongly in the need to preserve and foster what we can in a hope for better days and fairer weather.
My thoughts about the future in the western world are mixed and sceptical. We can be tempted by conspiracy theorists according to whom we are heading towards a dystopia like Communist China or Orwell’s 1984. Covid-19 has brought us close to this as we are assailed by illogical, incoherent and unlikely claims by the press. It is like the Nazis jamming the radio communications of the Allies during the war, as Göbbels pumped out his garbage propaganda. The bullshit-o-meter hits the red! All these insults to our intelligence seem to put everything in the basket of the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers. We live in an extremely polarised and dialectical world, increasingly violent and fanatical. It is vital to take a step back, find ourselves and our homes, and build a new and peaceful world. Our religious practice and spiritual longing have to be pulled out of politics and rebuilt from within. I have no certain knowledge about the pandemic, with only basic notions of microbiology and disease. All I can do is to wear the damned mask and disinfect my hands when I go into town – as little as possible! Already, we have a decision in France that if we do have contact with an infected person, the quarantine time is no longer two weeks but one week. They say that people will be going to hospital in droves in two weeks’ time – we will soon find out. The pandemic does a lot of harm to our notion of time, so we need to note things, keep a diary or just note essential markers. Think of Robinson Crusoe marking the days and weeks so that he could calculate how long he had been shipwrecked.
As mentioned, liturgical rites and church culture are important, even if only as a subject of study, private prayer and the life of a priest alone at home. We can only do what our forebears in the nineteenth century did: research, writing and publishing. Sometimes, we can get the message through to bishops and synods in our various Churches and show a cultural dimension that can help with that church’s ministry to souls. I had a hard time accepting my marginalisation from the Institute of Christ the King in the 1990’s and the consequences of my decision to leave it. The emotions calmed many years ago and I hardly recognise the “old place” or some of the older priests who are still with them. Every day is one of dying and being reborn elsewhere.
I have established a private list of a number of clergy and laity of different institutional churches. Our project of a meeting in England has been frustrated, this autumn like last spring. Hopefully, the crisis will be over next year and we will be able to travel and organise in advance. I also hope by the same time that other things in my life will be clear and resolved, or at least on the way to resolution. I would hope we would create a sort of “mini-university” and publishing house. Some of this work is already being done, an example being Dr William Renwick in Canada. I believe that we should not be narrowly restricted to a particular rite or local tradition but rather a cultural expression that breaks from the tired old polemics between Roman Catholics and Protestants since the sixteenth century. Men like Fr Louis Bouyer fought for a ressourcement, an appeal to the Patristic era. He was not wrong, but it depended on nobility of spirit that was lacking in the Roman Catholic reforms of the 1960’s and 70’s. This is why I insist on the philosophical context and undertow. Otherwise our work too will become kitsch and shallow.
I have no personal experience of the Orthodox world. I spent many sleepless nights in discussion with Dr Ray Winch in Oxford, and learned much about the pitfalls. The use of the western rite (Roman, Gallican, Anglican or Sarum) in Orthodoxy has often been shallow in cultural terms and clashed with the endemic culture of the Byzantine and Slavonic diaspora. Orthodoxy is not a substitute institution to accommodate the ideologies of counter-reformation Roman Catholicism or Continuing Anglicanism. The best thing for Orthodoxy is to protect it from our own emotional and spiritual diseases! We do best to build from the best of our souls and aspirations for something much higher.
Probably the truest and purest way to find our vocation is to pray our Office, say Mass if we are priests (with or without assistance) and live our lives in peace and nobility. Live each day as if it were our last…
Probably the truest and purest way to find our vocation is to …..(etc.)…. and live our lives in peace and nobility. Live each day as if it were our last…
There is a lot packed in your post, Father Anthony, and particularly in these final words. I am not sure about the last sentence, or perhaps it is that I don’t think I am up to it: there are too many things, too much unfinished or neglected business that I could not hope to remedy or complete what I think would need to be done in a day, and I am doubtful that I would know where to begin. I think the only way I can approach life is to simply focus on each chore with deliberation and not think about anything else or beyond.
I have for some months been watching short 5 minute youtube videos of a Korean woman who calls herself “Cardsu”. She does not speak and we do not see her face but we see and hear her as she goes about a domestic task, like watering the plants on her balcony, or preparing a meal, or making the bed and folding clothes, or tidying her apartment. She puts brief comment captions at the bottom of the screen and the calm deliberation with which she goes about these things has struck a chord. It’s contemplative but at the same time practical and attentive, the right-concentration step in the eightfold path.
I have for some time found it increasingly hard to get too worked up about many things I used to and do not know how much of that is due to a creeping physical weariness and how much is due to the natural conclusion to gradually coming to think that what I think I know is far less than there is to know (and much more than I actually know), and what I think is of far less worth that I once might have thought it to be, and thirdly, how much is due to a sense that has come from reflections and reading that truth and fulfilment come apophatically, through a kind of un-thinking, un-speaking. Apologetical scholasticism, for example, metaphysics, is now tasteless to me. I find that if I simply listen to music, say, Anglican psalms , or occasional chants from across the various modal traditions, I can let my mind relax and my spirit flow. I usually have my cat Phryne, who shadows me everywhere, sit and fall asleep on my lap as I do so.
I am reading your book. …. Le mystère est compris comme une verité qui se situe au-delà de la raison humaine, non pas contre la raison mais au-dessus d’elle. I think that I can and must live with mystery, and, if not to understand it – if that is a contradiction in ideas – perhaps to keep learning at least where to recognise it. It might be in and while watching the sparrows flit and flutter in and out of the branches of the tree, or feeling the soil with your bare hands as you weed in the garden. Listening to people like Ted Nottingham, and Jean-Yves Leloup, just to mention a couple, also help this gradual process. Even so, it was only 10 years ago that I first immersed myself in the Gospel of Thomas, and only about 7 years that I began learning about Krishnamurti, and even later that I gradually learnt of others who sought the mystical life. I feel as though for much of my life I was asleep, and even now, at this later stage, am only drowsily awakening.
I also reflect that as the years go by, we return to alone-ness, because there are fewer people who have shared experiences and memories. There is a whole life of memories I have but anyone who was part of them – friends, family, cousins etc – are gone, or far away. Besides they have their own. I have come to see how lonely we are and we fill the spaces by co-experiencing, sharing of physical moments, like Christmases, or holidays or doing things together, and enjoying things together. But the spaces are not filled completely or permanently. That seems why it is probably not too good to think too much of this, and focus ever on the present instant and on who or what is right there before one at any given moment. I sense that the temptation to dwell in the past can be as destructive as forever thinking about what might come next in the future.
All that said, however, it is enjoyable and satisfying to share thoughts and converse with sympathetic people, even at long distance, and your own ministry of the spirit is appreciated, however frequently or otherwise, and for however long it continues, as a safe water haven. There is to be no compulsion about it; the enjoyment needs the liberty you write Jacob Boehme thought fundamental.
Thank you for your sharing.
Father I come here every second day . As you write words if honesty and encouragement . Here in Melbourne the Catholic archbishop had been very quiet over this time of pandemic whilst the Anglican cathedral has been telling all and sundry when their services are being held on line – we are in lockdown. I pray you stay safe
I have read that lockdown is very severe in Australia. We have just learned that the French Government will not enact a new lockdown, but will enforce quarantine for those who have caught the virus or have been in contact with an infected person. We are to be that much more vigilant with masks, handwashing and protecting vulnerable people. The bars in the big cities will close and gatherings of people will be severely limited. What about church services? Local Prefectures have to issue local dispositions from next Monday, which may include local partial lockdowns. I suspect that the French authorities are compromising between the virus and the prospect of insurrection! In any case, I follow the rules in the absence of proof to the contrary. There has been a setback with the Oxford vaccine. I wouldn’t be surprised that we’ll end up desperate enough to buy a vaccine from the Chinese – at the price they want!
I hope something will break with the political exploitation of the pandemic and the piles of bullshit we’re being fed by the press. I do believe the pandemic is real and that we have to take our precautions and accept a vaccine when one becomes available.