Conduct Unbecoming

After seeing a tweet from Ruth Gledhill, I clicked through to this sobering article about Chichester bishop George Bell.

My first thought was, of course, “October 3rd, George Kennedy Allen Bell, Bishop of Chichester, and Ecumenist, 1958.

Bell was one of the figures added into Holy Women, Holy Men in 2009 and brought from there into A Great Cloud of Witnesses. If you do the math, you’ll note that he was included 51 years after his death. Historically there has been a “waiting period” on including people in our calendar of commemorations; usually the criteria mention 2 generations and/or 50 years. On of the reasons for such a waiting period was to give sufficient time for scandals to air out. HWHM was significant for the number of recent entries who hadn’t fulfilled this waiting period. There is a certain grim irony, then, that Bell technically met the criteria even though not all of the facts were yet out in the plain light of day.

I don’t know what we’re going to do about Bell yet. GCW is not an official church document since it was only “made available.” Since it hasn’t been printed yet, I’ve sent a note to the powers that be indicating that we need to think through what ought to be done here. My vote is for removing Bell.

But—this raises bigger issues that still need to be addressed. Are there more revelations like this still yet to come from some of our 20th century inclusions? Are there skeletons like this in the closets of some of our earlier choices? One of the central differences between GCW and HWHM was that we explicitly altered GCW to say that it wasn’t a sanctoral calendar and therefore the issue of sanctity was formally off the table. But, as many argued at General Convention, it will likely be viewed as a sanctoral calendar informally.

What do we do here to address this issue and to address wider and deeper issues about grace, merit, sanctification, and models of the sacramental life?

Posted in Anglican, Saints | 5 Comments

Theology and Liturgy and History (Oh my!)

In writing up my thoughts and recommendations around prayer book revision, I was poking around in the back catalogue. In the course of that exploration, I ran across a post which neatly and succintly addresses a large set of issues that I had intended to bring up. Rather than writing it all de novo, I think it makes much more sense to reproduce that text, with a few words of context for the current situation. (The original is here.)

I wrote the post in 2010 upon receiving word of the American Sarum conference that I subsequently attended and blogged. For me, the central issue was this: When we identify a historical point as particularly paradigmatic for renewal of our liturgical practice, we are making a huge theological statement whether we know it or not and whether we intend it or not.

Five years ago, the conference raised the issue of “Sarum”: what does it mean for 21st centruy Episcopalians to claim “Sarum Use” which was itself, truthfully, an appropriation of a Victorian nationalistic reconstruction of a medieval tradition?

Today, we know have this issue before us again because of the “fourth-century fundamentalism” that characterized the Liturgical Renewal Movement that gave such a strong shape to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. (Note that one of the current arguments against the retention of the Nicene Creed is that it wasn’t used during the Eucharist in the fourth century.) If we really are going to do a “comprehensive revision”, then we must look at what we have gained and what we have lost through conducting liturgy through an appropriation of the the 1960’s reconstruction of the fourth century tradition…

Liturgies change. Indeed, liturgical and ceremonial tinkering is inevitable across any significant group of folks whether there’s a set standard liturgy or not. Sometimes it’s because the liturgy needs a change, sometimes it’s because the tinkerers want a change.

No matter which way it goes, there’s no such thing as a liturgical change; rather there are theological changes that have liturgical implications. When a worshiping community of baptized Christians gather, they incarnate in a particular way the eschatological reality of the Body of Christ.  (This is most especially the case when they gather for a Eucharist where the whole intention is the making tangible and consumable the literal Body of Christ to be shared amongst them all.) You cannot separate the liturgy, the ceremonial, and the theology of such a gathering—they are inextricably bound up in one another. When the liturgy or the ceremonial gets changed, therefore, a theological change has necessarily occurred. When we say and do something different liturgically and ceremonially, we are just as surely saying and doing something different theologically as well. Sometimes these changes are minor—and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes these theological changes are intentional and conscious—and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes the tinkerers are aware of what they’re doing—and sometimes they’re not.

When liturgies change, my sense is that the motivation for the change and the direction in which the change occurs relate to two different axes: contemporary culture and historical practice. That is, when liturgies change it tends to be because the tinkerers are trying to make a statement to the contemporary culture; history can be leveraged in a number of different ways:

  • Sometimes historical practices are jettisoned entirely because of a perceived disconnect with contemporary culture (this would be your praise & worship/Willow Creek type response).

  • Sometimes historical practices are resurrected because they represent a perceived correction to the current deplorable state of the contemporary culture—if the historical practice is maintained, the culture will be restored. (I see this as one of the motivations behind some who call for the ’28BCP & ’40 hymnal/Traditional Latin Mass: if we return to a pre-’60s liturgy, maybe we’ll return to a pre-’60s culture as well.)

  • Sometimes historical practices are resurrected because they represent a perceived connection to the contemporary culture–if the historical practice is maintained, this culture will be better able to hear, receive,  and embody the Gospel.

I’d suggest that this last approach has been behind most of the major shifts in liturgy within the Christian Church as a whole. Most of the major liturgical changes in Western Christendom have been attempts to re-engage/re-enliven contemporary practice based on historical precedents. This isnot a new thing. Most of the monastic renewal movements in the eleventh and twelfth centuries were rooted in attempts to return to the True Practice whether that be the Desert Fathers, John Cassian, Benedict or a combination of the three. The Protestant Reformers attempted to return to Early Church practice. The first liturgical revival driven by the monks of Solesmes was an attempt to return to proper medieval practice. The Ritualists attempted to return to a High Medieval practice. Blessed Percy and the English Use tried to return to a Sarum standard. The most recent Liturgical Renewal encompassing Vatican II and the ’79 BCP tried to return to fourth century practice. Picking up a theme from the previous post, isolating one movement as “museum religion” is a bit disingenuous becauseutilizing historical precedence for contemporary practice has been a consistent habit in the West for a very long time.

Furthermore, we need to note that the exercise of identifying and utilizing historical materials is always a process thoroughly invested with contemporary meanings and limitations. The Protestant Reformersthought that they were returning to Early Church patterns of worship. Their historical reconstructions of Early Church worship didn’t have a whole lot to go on and look little like how we reconstruct Early Church worship today. We have better sources and better scholarship. (Would Luther or Calvin have used the Eucharist of the Didache had they known it?) Likewise, the work of the Ritualists and the Blessed Percy are properly understood as part of a broader English Gothic Revival rooted in English Nationalism and a political and social appropriation of the peculiarly English/British heritage over and against Continental expressions of nationalism. The work of Vatican II and attendant movements cannot be separated from the cultural and social movements of the ’60s. Historical work and even its excess—antiquarianism—are events that are contemporary in nature despite their focus on the past.

Now we tie these two threads together. The appropriation of historical practices always signals theological changes to the contemporary liturgy. Some of the theological changes are because of what the historical practice itself is or does. On the other hand, the very act of incorporating a certain practice from a certain time and place is a theological statement entirely apart from the content of the practice; the very selection of any time and place as an “ideal” is a major theological statement. The selections of the Early Church for the Reformers and the Fourth Century for Vatican II were attempts to achieve a purity that had been lost. The return to the High Medieval or Sarum reflected attempts to recapture a fullness that had been lost. None of these choices are theologically neutral—they all had and have an impact.

So what, what is a Renewal vs. a Revival vs. Musem Religion? Is it purely subjective or are there objective measures? When is a Renewal/Revival/Museum Moment an imposition into a contemporary practice and when does it represent a true enlivenment and enrichment?

For me the issue goes back to theology. As I’ve said before, we’re not the Christian Historical Society—we don’t do things because they’re old, we do them because they proclaim the Gospel. But some times the old ways proclaim the Gospel in new ways or media or avenues that our contemporary society needs to hear. Whenever we try to bring back an old practice, rite or time, my questions are these:

  • Why—to what end? Is it for the sake of nostalgia or fantasizing that the contemporary culture will go away and reformulate itself accord to the ideal pattern if we can sufficiently recall this past time? Or is it because we see a way here that the Gospel can be better communicated in this time and place?
  • Is there a coherence and an integrity between this historical practice and what the contemporary community is doing now? How radical or organic is this change?
  • Are the theological messages and intentions of this change in coherent relation with the theological trajectory of the community into which it is being introduced?

These are the kinds of questions that I see and here us asking about the Vatican II changes and the changes of the ’79 BCP. They’re also the questions that I will take with me to the American Sarum conference. Why a Sarum Revival? Why here—why now? Into what deep currents, culturally and theologically, is it tapping—or do we want to revive it because it seems “cool”? Why Sarum over some other time and place? As I’ve said before, I think there’s a case to be made for infusing as bit of the English early medieval monastic spirit into contemporary American Episcopalianism. Why is Sarum a better choice?

I don’t want to focus narrowly on Sarum here, though. Instead let me just say that this movement is raising for me—for us—a number of questions that I think are important now and may become even more important in the near future. Society is shifting. Technology and the evolving world situation are bring us into new opportunities and conflicts. Where, amongst the contemporary world and the faithful works of the past, is the Gospel best found and proclaimed?

That, indeed, remains the central question that we must consider in prayer book revision. How do we best proclaim the Gospel in our own day and age?

Posted in Anglican, Liturgy, Theology | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Work of Prayer Book Liturgies

Sometime around the end of this year or the beginning of next year, Forward Movement will be publishing my next book, this one a work on the spirituality of the Book of Common Prayer. Regular readers already know about it—and have read most of it—because when I was writing it back in 2013 or so I posted much of it here for thoughts and critiques.

One of the key decisions I made in writing that book was that it wasn’t enough to just talk about the Book of Common Prayer. These days, you can’t start there. I decided, instead, to back up a bit: conceptually, not even historically as some people might expect me to do (and as many other prayer book intros tend to do). Rather, I begin by talking about what constitutes a liturguical spirituality.

Why have a liturgy?

What does it matter that we have a liturgy?

What are the principles that govern or at least direct liturgy and churches that follow them?

What is the spiritual work that a liturgy is trying to accomplish?

If we’re going to be thinking about prayer book revision, then I think we need to engage some of these questions head-on to make sure that what we are doing is in conformity with our basic principles. This is too important of a piece of the puzzle to just assume.

When I sat down and hashed this out for the book, I chose to focus on six basic principles for liturgical worship:

  •  Adoration
  • Formation
  • Repetition
  • Variation
  • Continuity
  • Stability

The rough draft of that section section appears here.

I want to pick out a few things in particular here.

First is the transition from “Adoration” into “Formation”:

Having said that the primary point of worship is the praise and adoration of God, I’m going to turn that around on us. The praise and adoration of God is and must be our primary purpose in worship—but God doesn’t need it. God is not made greater for our praise of him; God is God perfectly well without us. We are the ones who need to be reminded—we’re the ones who have to have the Gospel held before our eyes lest we forget and forsake it. So, despite God being the fundamental aim of our worship, if we are to speak of “benefit” at all, we do it for our benefit.

As a result, the way that we do worship has to accomplish its aim, but also be formational to those of us who participate in it. It needs to draw our minds and hearts to God. It needs to facilitate a lively encounter with the Holy One whom we praise. It needs to give us the tools for understanding what it means to be in the midst of holy things, holy people, and the holy presences within holy places. It needs to feed our sense of the sacred so that, once we have returned to more ostensibly secular living, we may spy out the presence of the Holy woven in the warp and weft of the world around us and within us. In worship we are given the signatures, the characteristics, the tastes of God in a deliberate sense so that we are more able to recognize them when and where we least expect them.

The danger of realizing that worship is for us is if—when—formation usurps the purpose and becomes the primary focus. The point when the nave is turned into a lecture hall or when worship becomes an exercise in consciousness-raising is the point where we have lost sight of God. Edification, formation, is an important secondary purpose of worship but, whenever it moves into primacy we move into an idolatrous self-worship where we take the center rather than the Living God.

No less idolatrous, of course, is when the formation is of an aesthetic sort and worship becomes its own end where its aesthetic qualities and effortless performance edge out adoration. Worship too consumed by its own beauty and elegance is no less a worship of ourselves and the works of our own hands than more overt celebrations of the self and our own enlightened opinions. I say this not because I don’t like beautiful and elegant worship—indeed, I say it precisely because I do! Beauty and holiness are essential aspects of worship done well; care, precision, and planning make it what it can be. And yet whenever our focus is turned from God, we have substantially missed the mark because the purpose of the formation has gone awry.

The true formation found in worship consists of orienting the soul towards God and aligning us within God’s vision of reality. In worship, we are turned to God in praise and adoration, and are given to see the rest of creation as fellow worshippers hymning God with their very being. This is the edification that we need. Whenever worship moves towards ostensible edification, it loses its primary focus—God—and, in doing so, loses its power to orient us beyond ourselves in him! Thus, edification is an important secondary aspect of worship, but if ever it threatens to take primary place then its very value is undermined.

In my last post, a number of folks started jumping to conclusions about what I was trying to say and where I was going based on what they found there. Don’t do that yet… Trust me—I’ll get there!  That having been said, I think that this principle here, edification, is going to be one of the places where the success of the revision process stands or falls. We must have fundamental agreement that our worship is first and foremost speech to God and judge anything proposed on that level first before considering how a proposed item shapes, stretches, or molds the mind of the gathered assembly.  If we produce liturgies where the elements of consciousness-raising and self-congratulations at our own enlightment overtake the worship of God, our efforts will (and should) fail.

Another piece that I want to draw attention to among these principles is the necessary balance between repetition and variation. We repeat stuff in our liturgies. There are some things that stay the same all the time. This isn’t because it hasn’t occured to us that we could use something else instead—we decided to do it that way.

Recall, the Anglican churches survived just fine for hundreds of years with only one Eucharistic prayer text per book. With the 1979 BCP, the Episcopal Church got a whole bunch of options: Rite I with two different prayers, Rite II with four different prayers, the Communion under Special Circumstances, and the Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist for irregular situations (informally referred to by some as “Rite III”) with two different forms to be included in improvisational prayers. Enriching Our Worship introduced another three prayers.

If both repetition and variation are important—and I do believe they both are—I think we want to be attentive to the amount of variation provided or recommended lest we lose sight of the purposes of having a set and established liturgy.

I am thinking through a third post where I intend to ask some pointed questions and make some recommendations about how I would like to see the revision planning process move in. The point here was, again, to draw attention to context. If we intend to do a “comprehensive” revision, then we need to recall our first principles and make sure that the work of revision operates in continuity with those principles.

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Theological Context of a Revised Prayer Book

It’s in my nature, I suppose, that when I address a topic, I want to back up and see the context. In order to address the issues that I see coming and to respond properly to the issues raised by Ruth Meyers in her presentation at CDSP, we have to have a sense of the culture in which, for which, and to which a revised prayer book and a church shaped by it will serve.

This is the first American prayer book that will be revised for a self-conciously post-Constantinian Church. That is, I think most Episcopalians are clear on the fact that we cannot and should not rely on general “cultural forces” to compell people into our churches and to align themselves with our vision of the faith. American society doesn’t work that way any more.

What I don’t think many Episcopalians are clear on is the spiritual shape of the culture that we are working with.  It is my belief that orthdox/Nicene Christianity is in the minority even among those Americans who identify as Christians. Of course, this is not the first time this has been the case, and likely not the last. Let’s recall—in the early days there were multiple versions of Christianity being proclaimed, only some of which had the intention of being apostolic Christianity. That is, teaching the faith as it was taught by the apostles and as presented in the writings that would become the books of the New Testament. Looking back, we can see Irenaeus and others like him as key figures who helped define the contours of apostolic Christianity over and against other forms that held Jesus as important but were not in organic continuity with his teaching and that of his apostles.

With the rise of Marcion, I have read that at various places and times in the 2nd/3rd century there were more Marcionites than orthodox Christians.

Certainly in the fourth and fifth centuries orthodox Christians were a global minority versus Arian Christians. Not only did the empire go back and forth between orthodoxy and Arianism, but many of the European tribal groups were Arian. (And, recall, this was an important political choice as much as it was a theological one. Claiming Arianism enabled the tribal groups to remain outside the control of the orthodox bishops who were aligned with the empire’s ideology and interests.)

There are some these days (I think of Elaine Pagels and others) who underscore the diversity of early Christianity to remind us that the stream of apostolic Christianity that became orthodox Christianity and that grounded the Undivided Church was one among many in order to suggest that some of the others are perfectly valid ways of being Christian and that orthodoxy became orthodox because the mean patriarchal Fathers constructed it that way so they could oppress everybody else.  I don’t agree with that perspective, and that’s not why I’m bringing up the diversities of Christianities in the past. My point is simply that claiming Christianity does not automatically ensure orthodoxy.

In fact, I’d argue that orthodox Christianity is once again a minority among Americans generally and even among Americans who claim Christianity. The majority faith is Moral Therapeutic Deism (MTD).  Again, the major tenets of MTD are:

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Furthermore, I think that some of the classic Christian heresies are currently functioning in such a way to blur the edges from Christian orthodoxy into MTD.

Again, we need to recall why heresy is an issue. I think sometimes there’s a sense that there’s a “patriarchal dogmtic thought police” who wants to make sure that you’re under their thumb and you’re only thinking what they want you to think. Throw that notion out—it’s ridiculous. Heresy is a problem not because you’re thinking illict thoughts, but because of its impact on how the faith is actively lived out. When we misconstrue the nature of the Godhead and how that Godhead relates to creation (and, obviously, us as beings within the creation), that misconstrual leads us to live out how we love God and love our neighbors in ways that do not match the intentions revealed by Jesus to his Church and therefore the apostolic faith. As a quick for-instance, if you don’t believe that God-the-Father-of-Jesus was the creator of the material world, then you will act and react to the material world as if you either 1) need to shun it as a spiritual contaminant or else 2) you can do anything you please with it or to it with no spiritual consequnces. In point of fact, this is what gnostics believed, and how they acted. Both paths are distortions of the Gospel. This is why heresy is bad: it leads us into lived distortions of our call to love God and love our neighbors.

The resurgent heresies that I’ve seen in and around our churches are these:

  • Neo-Arianism: Recently popularized by some factions within the “Historical Jesus” movement, neo-Ariansim revives the notion that Jesus was a truly awesome human and a wise spiritual teacher and someone who participated in “God-consciousness” but wasn’t actually God. There’s also an anti-ecclesial/anti-Pauline form of this belief that suggests that Jesus wasn’t God and never thought that he was, and either the apostles or Paul got him wrong (intentionally or not) and claimed divinity for him that he would not have claimed for himself. (or, naturally, that no one thought he was divine until Constantine told them to think that…) This heresy helps bring Christianity into conformity with MTD in a couple of way. First, it helps recover Jesus as a nice guy and a teacher of niceness (pt 2); anything mean or that challenges the way we live that he said can therefore be ascribed to the Paul/the Early Church and their attempts at thought-control (pt 3). Second, it helps keep God out of contact with our everyday world and keeps him sealed off in his heavenly sphere so that we don’t have to worry about God interacting in and with us (pt 4). Third, it reduces the uniqueness of Jesus; he was a wise prophet and an enlightened guy. We don’t need faith in Jesus, just the faith of Jesus. He simply teaches us how to be good so we can go to heaven too (pt 5).
  • Neo-Pelagianism: These days this is usually connected with an elevated view of creation. Basically, the modern presentation is that God created humanity good, and generally we are pretty good, and we certainly seem to ourselves to be just fine, therefore a lot of the Church’s historic language about sin can be classified as a major over-reaction which is unnecessary. The notion of Original Sin is frequently dispensed with and the concept of personal sin is downplayed; if sin appears it is usually identified as social sin. A common example is the way that corporations destroy the environment.  Note that this presentation soft-pedals the really hard edge of classical Pelagianism that remains its natural consequence if you play the logic out. Remember—the Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin is the much more pastoral of the two! Since Pelagianism insists that human will is not fallen, then we can and must make our own moral choices and correctly follow through on them. If we do evil, it is because we had the capacity to both choose and enact the good but deliberately failed to do so. Under the concept of Origianl Sin, if we screw up it’s because that’s normal, not because (as in the Pelagian scheme) we could have done otherwise but didn’t. This heresy helps bring Christianity into conformity with MTD by obscuring the nature and prevelance of sin (pt 3). Furthermore, if the role and influence of sin is diminished, the need for a Redeemer is concomitantly diminished; we need a Creator, yes, but a Redeemer—not so much (pt 1)…
  • Neo-Marcionism: Marcion was a gnostic who taught that the Creator spoken of in the Old Testament as the God of Israel was a lesser being who imprisoned souls and soul-stuff within material reality. Jesus came to save us from creation and material reality, and taught us of his Father who was all love who was different from the lesser, evil, Creator active in the OT. The modern form is the general rather nebulous notion that the God of the Old Testament is the mean god who does mean things; the God of Jesus is the good god who loves you and thinks you’re great. Whereas the first two heresies are presently taught by thinkers who write books that are discussed in Adult Forums and such, this one tends to be more cultural than presented as an actual argument. This heresy helps bring Christianity into conformity with MTD by denying the continuity between God the Creator and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who was intimately related with human life in its particularity (pt 1, 4), and downplaying the notion that God has some very clear and specific commandments on the ordering of human life an relationships (pt 2).
  • Quasi-Modalistic Tritheism: Modalism is the error where there is one God who operates in three different more-or-less distinct modes; tritheism gives us three different gods. Tritheism has always been an issue with Christians; while there have been a few outbreaks of full-on Modalism in Christian history (I’m thinking of the Fransican Spiritualists here), our greater tendency is to lapse into a functional belief in three different Gods who hang out together a lot. Trinitarianism lapses into the currently fashionable form of tritheism when three specific spheres of the Godhead’s activity become rigidly circumscribed. That is, when we take three legitimate functions performed by the Godhead as a whole and by all three Persons of the Trinity in various ways, and we make them absolute roles, implying an exclusivity: Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier (or Sustainer if there’s no sin to be sanctified from…). I don’t think that this heresy ties in as neatly with MTD as the others; this tends to be an issue of linguistics. People who are uncomfortable with the traditional language or who find the classic Trinitarian formula too patriarchal/male-dominated make this move as an acceptable substitute. But—unless very careful catechism is employed to reinforce that all three Persons have, do, and will continue to employ all three functions and that these functions are only part of the Godhead’s full portfolio—tritheism is almost inevitable. I do think this makes us conceive of God and the Godhead only within the context of these three specific activities which does result in making God and the action of God more removed from daily life (pt 4).

So—this is my perception of the early 21st century context of American Christianity. This is the context in which a revised prayer book will be received. The next step, then, is to consider how this context will affect how revisions are carried out.


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Prayer Book Revision Discussion

For those Episcopalians who don’t pay close attention to General Convention and its doings, I’ll repeat again two key items that were passed there and that the church will be wrestling with in the coming years.

  • 2015-A169: “Requires the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of the current Book of Common Prayer and present that plan to the 79th General Convention.”
  • 2015-D060: “Establish a Process for the Revision of the Hymnal 1982”

Both prayer book and hymnal revision are in the cards and, given the reception of A Great Cloud of Witnesses (“made available” rather than being authorized), I think it’s safe to say that further Calendar revision will also be part of the package.

Prayer book revision was not one of the resolutions that the SCLM sent to Convention. That resolution (as you can see from its high number) was drafted there in committee. The past chair of the SCLM, Dr. Ruth Meyers, dean at CDSP and professor of liturgy before that, is very much in favor of prayer book revision and, I believe, was one of those who spoke in favor of it in committee at General Convention. I think it is fair to say that hers has been one of the stronger voices in favor of revision sooner rather than later. Therefore, it is very significant that she is hosting a forum today at CDSP entitled “Imagining a New Prayer Book: A Forum with the Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers.” For those who can’t make it to California today, the event will be streamed on the web.

I don’t know what Ruth will talk about today, but my expectation is that she, as one of the key players who will be influencing the formation of the new prayer book, will lay out a vision for what items need to be changed and what items she believes must be addressed. I imagine that she will be offering an agenda for what we on the newly reformed SCLM will be considering this triennium as we seek to put together the plan to present to General Convention.

I have worked with Dr. Meyers on the SCLM for the past three years; I have a great deal of respect for her. There are many areas in which we agree, but there are also a significant number of areas in the fields of liturgy and theology where we disagree.

As a result, this forum is very much worth paying attention to.

I won’t be able to tune in; I’ll be driving the girls to ballet and back during the appointed time. If it is archived, I certainly hope to provide some commentary on it at a later point.

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On Formation

As someone who cares deeply about spiritual formation, it’s always interesting to me when I get little glimpses of the process especially when I see it in my children…

My 7th grader is required to do a Bible journal for her Bible class wherein they write reflections on the chapter of the Bible they have read that night for homework. In the car on the way home yesterday, she was leafing through her journal, looking at the comments her teacher had left. They’re working through 1 Samuel right now, and she said her teacher (a former RC priest) was very pleased with her entry on chapter 2; she had gone through the Song of Hannah and had called out all the way through it the parallels with the Magnificat.

Here’s the thing, though—she was writing the Magnificat from memory and I have no idea when she’s heard it last… Now, generally M and I pray the Offices separately rather than together and as a family because if we tried to coordinate them, we’d rarely ever pray them. Sometimes in Lent we try to do Evening Prayer together as a family, but we’re not as regular about that as we’d like to be. So, it’s not even from frequent recent repetition that she was able to pull it up. There was a time for a year or two when we tried to get daily Evening Prayer going in our former parish and G would often be there and would sometimes lead the service. That was probably three or four years ago. Was this passive formation from then expressing itself now? I have no idea.

The other thing that struck me as she was reading what she wrote is that the text cited was recognizably BCP Rite I as she quoted verbatim the phase “sent empty away.” I wonder if she chose this because it’s simply the way she remembers hearing it, or because she and her best friend are self-consciously antiquarian Anglophiles (no idea where she gets that from…), or if the now non-standard word order makes it stick more firmly in the memory. I suspect the last, although all three are likely in play.

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Obligatory St. Francis Post


When M was competing in the Triathlon Age-Group Nationals in Milwaukee this summer, the girls and I popped into the museum of art there on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Because they were remodelling most of the collection was inaccessible, but there were a collection of photos from items that are housed there.

This one in particular caught my attention.

This is “Saint Francis in his Tomb” by the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán, sometimes referred to as the Spanish Caravaggio (no surprise that I like him, then!).  Most of his work is on religious subjects; he has several paintings of Francis, one in the St. Louis Museum of Art very similar to this one, but I like this one best. Francis’s face is almost wholly in shadow, his attention squarely fixed on the skull he holds, and the stance of the right foot (no…left foot; thanks, Fr. J-J!) depicts him advancing directly toward us.

The power of the work, for me, rests in the tension between the depth of contemplation and the solemn inevitability. It welcomes us to a side of Francis which feels deeply true but rarely acknowledged.

(ETA: There’s an arresting simplicity in the overall composition. There’s a central brown scalene triangle imposed on a background divided vertically in half into light and dark with the darkness occupying central positions in the central triangle as well. The visual simplicity and structure adds a great deal to it.)

Posted in Saints, Spirituality | 4 Comments

Interruptions & Observations

I have a post up at a new venue. I will be doing some occasional writing at Godspace, a site that connects the dots on practical spirituality, sustainability, and justice.  This piece is on interruptions and the positive side of the challenges of maintaining spiritual disciplines in a busy household.

I have a tendency to get very diffuse and given all of the commitments of a busy house, multiple jobs, and church duties, I’m looking to tailor my focus. Specifically, I’m identifying a center around liturgical spirituality and particularly those practices that are deeply bound up with the Scriptures and the psalms. This is not new, of course, but I will be working on being more intentional about it. Hence, expect to see a clear focus on things like:

  • The Daily Office in their pre- and post-Reformation forms
  • The Books of Hours and their spiritual traditions
  • The Psalms themselves
  • The practical doing and experience of Psalm-grounded spirituality
Posted in Holistic/Regular Life, Spirituality | Comments Off on Interruptions & Observations

The Carrow Psalter: At the Beginning

It started out a grey and rather yucky day in Baltimore. I decided we needed some pretty pictures. So—here are some pretty pictures. They’re from the Carrow Psalter. It’s a psalter written in East Anglia, the Norfolk/Suffolk/Cambridgeshire area part of England that used to be the heartland of the old Danelaw. Written in the mid-thirteenth century, it appears at Carrow Abbey (near Norwich—still within East Anglia) at some point in its fairly early history. And, yes, this is abbey where Julian of Norwich was said to have received her training. (Indeed, if a certain expert on Julian wants to weigh in further, that would be much appreciated!) Could she have seen or even used this psalter? Who knows. I’d like to think so!

In addition to the Julian connection, I like this book because of one of the saints who figures prominently in it is St. Olaf. Here we’re likely seeing some of the old cultural connections from the Anglo-Scandinavian character of the Anglian area. It’s significant to me as I’m an alum of St. Olaf College.

Finally, I picked it because this book’s shelfmark is W. 34. The “W” signifies that it is one of the holdings of the Walters Art Museum, meaning that this book currently sits 1.7 miles away from my house…

Here’s the url linking to the full manuscript from the Digital Walters: W.34, Carrow Psalter.


The psalter opens with this full page spread of Peter and Paul with facing collects. Following traditional iconography, Peter has the keys, Paul has a sword and is bald on top. The collects are relatively straightforward. The Early Church knew of the dust-up between the two described in Galatians 2, but the tradition describes them patching up their difficulties and the story is told of their joint martyrdom in Rome. Liturgically, the two are connected because whenever a feast of one was celebrated, the collect of the other was included as a commemoration immediately thereafter. That’s basically what we have here—the collect from the Chair of St Peter followed immediately by the commemoration of Paul.


Here’s the next full page spread. If you can see up at the top above the figures, they are labelled St. Barnabas and John the Evangelist. However, if you look very carefully at the second collect, you may notice something odd. It mentions “gemini” (twins) and names both John and Paul (beatorum iohannis et pauli). Yeah—it’s the wrong John and Paul… Somehow the scribe has inserted the collect for the 4th century martyr brothers John and Paul who have an ancient titular church in Rome built over their tomb (which was also one of the “stations” where papal masses were held), and who are celebrated on June 26th. Not John the Evangelist.

After these two there are four more full-page spreads each having two saints—mostly apostles—and a collect. The sense you get is that the psalter begins with the 12 apostles (2 saints, 6 pages, sure, why not?). Except that Barnabas was a companion of Paul, not an apostle, and the last pair includes a very generic and surprisingly well-groomed John the Baptist. Luke’s list of disciples is being followed but we’re missing Philip and the second  James (and, of course, Judas Iscariot would round out the Twelve count but Paul is in his place. No Matthias either.)

So—there are some pretty pictures from interesting manuscript that raise a variety of questions! Hopefully we’ll dip back more into this psalter in the future.


Posted in Liturgy, Medieval Stuff, Saints | 3 Comments

Thinking about the SCLM

I received a fairly annoyed note today from a regular reader and correspondent; in a nutshell, the message expressed a deep concern about whether the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music (SCLM) was actually listening to what the church wants or needs. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked something like this.

Indeed, M sometimes tells me that much of the work of the SCLM that I do seems like a waste of time as most people within the church ignore what it produces.

In a certain sense, this is generally not an issue. That is, in most triennia, it appears that we on the SCLM offer resolutions that create work for us to do, then we go and do that work that we have decided ought to be done and—as M points out—most of the church yawns and goes on with their usual business.

But things are changing.

Thanks to two resolutions, (A169-2015 and D060-2015) we are now considering both hymnal revision and prayer book revision at the same time.

As a result, the way that we listen to the church, hear the church, and seek to implement the will of the church becomes much more important with regard to these two areas than, say, when we decide that liturgies for creation need tweaking.

What are your thoughts? What is the best way for “the church” writ large to interact with the SCLM? What’s the best way for us to communicate with you? What would help you have an authentic voice in the process and to help us hear what the body of the church is asking for? The SCLM does have a blog—is that useful? Is it sufficient? Let me know. I can’t promise anything, of course, but I would like to hear your thoughts…

Posted in Anglican | Tagged | 10 Comments