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…