"Send out Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling." Psalm 43:3

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Williams: The Breath of Jesus and the Sheer Thereness of the Christian Community

From Rowan Williams' Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief :
"According to John's Gospel, (Jesus) 'breathes into' his disciples his 'spirit', the breath of his life, so that they become equipped to do what he does and to speak with his voice to God and to the world.  By breathing into the disciples, he sets up a chain of human contact coming down to our own day, a chain of voices and faces in which Jesus is active.  The personal and direct contact with Jesus that is there before the crucifixion is renewed in the resurrection; and it is then taken to a new level as Jesus equips his friends to take responsibility for him and his Father, to be his body in the world.  It is the great new metaphor of the New Testament.  Contact with human beings who have received the breath of Jesus' life is contact with Jesus, as specific human beings pass on the mystery of God to each other across the ages.  To meet a Christian in whom this spirit is working is to be contemporary with Jesus.
Remember, Christianity is a contact before it is a message.  God is at work, God is communicating himself in flesh and blood, from the first moment Mary embraces her child.  God is at work in this presence even when Jesus is saying nothing in particular and doing nothing in particular.  And now God is at work in the continuing fellowship of flesh and blood human beings who have received Jesus' breath in themselves -- even at the (frequent) moments when they are not doing anything specifically Christlike, there is something to be touched and sensed in the sheer thereness of the Christian community.  If the risen Jesus is not an idea or an image but a living person, we meet him in the persons we have touched, the persons who, whatever their individual failings and fears, have been equipped to take responsibility for his tangible presence in the world."

Quite a daunting task, to "take responsibility for" God in the world; but I do believe that is an accurate description of the work of the Church, and of each individual Christian.  All we do has the potential to draw others closer to God or to push them further away.  This life in Christ is not a thing to be embarked upon lightly; thank God we have the "breath of Jesus" to equip and sustain us, and even to work within us and through us when we "are not doing anything specifically Christlike."

I love Rowan Williams.  I would love his writing in any event, but it's an added bonus that I can't help but read him without hearing his gently eloquent, sonorous voice, like he's sitting in my living room speaking with me.

Peace of Christ.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Devotion and Ritual in an Episcopal Home

Hear, O Israel!  The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!  And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.                                                             ~ Deuteronomy 6:4-7

Does the Episcopal Church actively foster a culture of Christian devotion?  Are Episcopalians expected and encouraged to have meaningful devotional lives?  Do we have recognizable daily rituals that enhance our faith and help us to grow in Christ?  I've been wondering over this for some time.  It was a blog post over at Episcopal Journey of Hope which finally impelled me to get some thoughts written down.  In that post, the author talked about hearing a radio spot sponsored by the Jewish Federation that was encouraging its people to "come back, learn the rituals, and participate in our programs."  This prompted the author of the post to ask "What are our rituals (as Episcopalians)?  How do they identify us?"  These are great questions, and to my mind, important ones.  I think there are faith communities that do effectively model and encourage this idea of "religion in the home", that is to say, faith as integrally woven into the daily life of the believer.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure my Episcopal Church is one of them.    

I begin with a look at the Jewish tradition. There are two broad aspects of the rituals of the Jewish shabbat that stand out to me.  First, as I understand it, it is traditionally a ritual largely presided over by the wife/mother, and so provides a sort of balance to the male leadership/prominence of the traditional synagogue.  The other is that the ritual is in the home.  So, there is this lived reality that the whole family, men, women, and children, have important roles to play, and that these beliefs are not something simply acted on occasionally in public, but rather form the fabric and rhythm of private and family life.

I think the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics do a pretty good job at this.  Every Orthodox home has (or is expected to have) an icon corner, a carefully prescribed sacred space within the home.  Among Roman Catholics, I have read about and experienced personally the concept of "the Domestic Church" -- the home as a smaller reflection of the community of the Church (e.g. husband/father as 'priest' of his home), and I think one would be hard-pressed to find a Roman Catholic home that didn't have, to a lesser or greater degree, prominent images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, crucifixes, rosaries, etc.  You know when you're in a Roman Catholic home.

Christians of a more evangelical stripe are certainly expected to live out their faith in daily life, and recognize that it's difficult (if not impossible) to do so without a conscious effort to develop their relationship with Jesus.  A defining characteristic of the evangelical culture is the assumption that Christians will be actively seeking to develop their faith outside of Sunday morning, both in small groups (Bible studies, cell groups, etc.) as well as individually.  In order to maintain "a personal relationship with Jesus", you need to "get into the Word" in your "daily devotions" or "quiet times", and so be "equipped to grow spiritually in your Christian walk."  These stock phrases of evangelical pastors may sound cliche to some, but they represent an exhortation to a way of life, not just a Sundays only affair.

I think this is all critically important.  No matter how vibrant one's church, I think it is very difficult to grow spiritually or to raise children in the faith without deliberately and sincerely implementing some level of devotion or ritual into one's daily life.  My concern is that perhaps we Episcopalians (as a whole) don't do this very well.  If this is true, it's the more pitiable in that this concern to provide the laity with a simple yet rich pattern for a Christian devotional life was one of the guiding principles in the creation of the Book of Common Prayer.  And, as a resource, our Prayer Book does this beautifully.  In my home, we have an icon prayer corner, where we keep our Bibles, prayer books, and other devotionals.  It's here that I pray the Daily Office (or attempt to with some consistency, at any rate), and where we have thrice-weekly family devotions, using a form of Compline modified for the use of little ones with short attention spans.  These devotions include the ritual of candle lighting and incense burning ('let my prayer be set forth in your sight as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice').  Again, I think such a living into our faith and traditions in a way that daily shapes us and models for our children the integral nature of that faith is vital.  However, it was not primarily from my church family that I received such encouragement and instruction, but rather from my being raised by evangelical Episcopal parents, and from the influence of Orthodox and Roman Catholic friends.

I hope I'm wrong in thinking that we don't do a good job at this; maybe it's just my own limited experience.  As Episcopalians, do we expect our people to have lives of daily devotion and meaningful ritual?  Do we instruct and provide direction to that end?  If you were in the home of a parishioner, would you know, without having to ask, that this is an Anglican (or even merely Christian) home?

May God the Father, who by Baptism adopts us as his children, give us grace. Amen.
May God the Son, who sanctified a home at Nazareth, fill us with love. Amen.
May God the Holy Spirit, who has made the Church one family, keep us in peace. Amen.
                                                                                                                                                                                                ~BCP pg. 445