Back to the Beginning

It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,

This is, perhaps, our Little Gidding. we have returned to the place where we started, with a goal of staying, of resting, of praying and learning. We have come to serve.

I quoted from t.s. eliot’s poem, above; an excellent piece about the journey of faith. I did not think that the journey would bring us back here, and that my ministry would be what it is now. I started out as a young woman, before I left home, to be a writer, and writing seems to be what God has put back in my hands.

I also asked for a ministry of witness. Certainly, we have the public ministry of witness, of being Plain dressed and Plain living people in a world that changes overnight. We represent, in our way, tradition and continuity. This is a central tenet of the Anglican way, even for those who are not Plain. We look to the past, and we embrace our history. It isn’t always a happy history, but we have deep roots. Parts of our liturgies transcend time and denominational differences; we can look to the early church, and draw a line to our present time, with no interruptions.

In our way, there is a great respect for those who went before. We don’t rely on our own perhaps feeble understanding, the mixed messages our minds and desires impose on the clear voice of the Holy Spirit. We look to the great voices of the past who were closer to God and clearer in hearing Him. We are people with history. We communicate with the teachers who went before us – Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory, Margery, Julian – down to those who lived into our lifetimes, and some who are living still. C.S. Lewis. N.T. Wright. We have a body of literature to inform us. We respect education, we honor prayerful and holy lives. These are as rabbis to us.

To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgement, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels; to understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

I was always a girl with curiosity. I read at a very early age, and read well above grade level. I had my first poetry published when I was fifteen. I wrote professionally for several years. My writing skills and that natural curiosity, along with an intellect in the gifted range, gave me the ability to write papers and essays for university and seminary classes that were more than mere exercises. I learned and listened not just in class, but in hourss pent in the library, poring over journals and books.

Although our path has taken us to the homestead, I am not throwing away that education, nor God’s gift of intelligence and understanding. I am not at all concerned anymore for paid ministry. If it comes, well, it will be by God’s will. I had asked for a challenge in ministry, to face those who may hate me, who may turn on me, who may judge and condemn me for my witness of faith, tradition and reason. God didn’t put us here to be safe. God sends us out (or back) to be witnesses to the lost and wandering, to call sinners to repentence, to heal the sick, to feed the hungry.

That’s what I’m doing. It brings out the worst in some, especially those who are complacent in their understanding. God wants to challenge us all, to grow as Christians (little Christs) and to follow more nearly – not by rules, but by love.

Gentle as Doves, Wise as Serpents

I’ve been involved or connected in some way to different church groups, from very low Protestant (Baptist) to very high Catholic (in Latin.) I’ve known church leaders who wore tie-dyed t-shirts and others who wore gold vestments. I fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes, I hope. It’s not that I’ve seen it all, but I make it my business as an educated Christian to learn something about different groups. I’ve learned my lesson about getting too close or too involved. I intend to stay right where I am, for good or for ill, whether the church I am in (Anglican) is right or wrong about some doctrine or practice. I find nothing harmful in this church, and Anglicans have, over the centuries, grown for themselves a tolerance for private opinion and belief. We are required to  follow certain public practices of faith, and to avoid teaching anything contrary to the church, but privately, we may hold our own beliefs, without signing a confession of faith. This acknowledges that people may be on different stages of a long spiritual journey, and that any of us, from baby to bishop, may hold an erroneous belief privately that will be corrected in time by scripture and the Spirit. It is why we are told to attend divine worship, to fellowship with other Christians, and to accompany our scripture reading with daily prayer. The Book of Common Prayer and holy scripture are our Confession; the BCP is to keep us from straying from Christian thought and prayer, and the scripture is the living word of God, containing all that is necessary for salvation. It is living because it speaks truth to us, despite its venerable age; it addresses human nature, and the relationship between humanity and our Creator. We hear His voice in it.

Enthusiasm is discouraged in the Anglican way. Temperance, in its oldest meaning, is preferred. Enthusiasm leads to error, to emphasizing one aspect of faith to the detriment of others. Too much emphasis on liturgy may cause some to neglect charity; too much emphasis on our fellow man may lead to neglect of our relationship with the Lord. We are here to serve God, not ourselves, not our particular preferences even for the work of the church. Too much concern for our own sinfulness may make us introspective and distant from our Christian companions. Too much concern for evangelizing may alienate others who see us as judmental and arrogant.

While every moment is meant to be spent prayerfully, it doesn’t mean we neglect our duties for prayer.  The mature Christian weaves the prayer of the heart and the hands into everything. Serving in one’s business and home with humility and efficiency is working prayer, the prayer of the hands. Thoughtful contemplation of a passage of scripture, in context, day by day, will produce more spiritual benefit than rushing through the Bible just to say one has read the whole book. And skipping from chapter to chapter, verse to verse, encourages nothing but scripture-mania, a desire to prove all of one’s thoughts with snippets of the Bible. Read carefully and slowly, a chapter or so at a time; stop, pray, think. Hold onto those thoughts and ponder all of it in the heart. I would prefer that the concordance be used judiciously, if at all, by laypeople. It is tempting to turn to it for proof-texting, which is pulling verses out of the Bible with no regard to their meaning in the context of the larger work. Nothing is gained by hammering others (or oneself) with verse after verse of the Bible.

I think one of the biggest temptations for Christians is to look for stricter groups to join, churches that emphasize keeping the rules. All Christians are called to follow Christ, and obey Him; He points us to right conduct in this world. He also frees us from legalism and fear, from attempting to save ourselves by keeping rules. We are given, in His death and glorious resurrection, the new life, if we embrace Him. We are then free – free of the old covenant, which emphasized the law and guilt, and free to follow His Way of radical love. Jesus did not worry much about keeping the rules of the temple priests, and He allowed His disciples to follow His example. They didn’t wash as instructed, harvested on the sabbath, participated in His healings, and sat to meals with those who were outside the law. After He had returned to His Father, the Holy Spirit guided them, even into rule-breaking and actual law-breaking (for it is better to obey God than the ways of men). Gentile converts were not held to the Jewish law; even Jewish converts could set aside kosher. The Christians gathered on the Day of Resurrection, the first day of the week, to remember His moment of glory and our moment of salvation.

The Anglican church is far from perfect. We are just beginning to examine our past complicity with the powers of this world – kings and governments. We have much work to do, and we should avoid our past mistakes, principal among those sins allowing the persecution of those who differ with us, and actual bullying of those who would reform the church when it is spiritually dormant. Within our unwritten doctrine is a spirit of tolerance, and a spirit for growth.

Winter Doldrums

The doldrums are the latitudes where the wind doesn’t blow much. Sailing ships couldn’t make much headway. Sometimes the ships’ boats had to be set out and the sailors rowed their vessel into better sailing weather. It could take days. Vessels truly becalmed were sometimes abandoned as water and food ran out. There are stories of sailors just stepping off the deck, mad from the blazing sun and the unremitting boredom.

I started with great plans this month – knitting, sewing, quilting. None of it is done, or even started. I am becalmed by recovery from illness which has taken the winds out of my sails. Since debilitating illness tends to trigger some symptoms of fibromyalgia, I am doubly becalmed. My hands are clumsy and I have trouble concentrating. I manage to do some writing, but it is slow. At least prayer and some scripture study don’t seem to tax my poor brain too much.

The house is fairly clean, we have fresh laundry, I keep the meals coming and the dishes washed. But that is about it. The closest I come to real work is online shopping for the garden seeds. It’s a good thing eBay doesn’t charge me by the minute.

How have your winter plans gone? It would cheer me to hear that others are getting things accomplished!

Chrysostom’s fiery preaching on the poor (for those who don’t know Jack about John) | Grateful to the dead

Chris Armstrong (no relation) is author of “Patron Saints for Postmoderns.” This is a lengthy post from his blog, and well worth reading to the end.

Chrysostom’s fiery preaching on the poor (for those who don’t know Jack about John) | Grateful to the dead

via Chrysostom’s fiery preaching on the poor (for those who don’t know Jack about John) | Grateful to the dead.