Wednesday, 4 May 2016

"Lively sight and sense": Traherne on Rogationtide

From Thomas Traherne's instructions regarding Rogation Days, in which he presents Rogationtide as a time when with "lively Sight and Sense" we are led to rejoice in the created order as gift of God's "Wisdom and Love to us":

And certainly in this the Wisdom of the Church in Infinite. For she leadeth us in the circuit of all his Mercies; And having upon other H[oly] Days brought us by Degrees to things Past, our Saviour's Nativity, Circumcision, Epiphany, or Manifestation & to other Divine Spiritual and Celestial Blessings in the Saints and Apostles, to the Commemoration of his Cross and Passion, to the Joyful Prospect of his Resurrection, & in all those to Spiritual Joys, Sublime Feasts, & Heavenly Treasures: She now leads us by the Hand to the Sight & Possession of Temporal Delight & Earthly Blessings even to present Affairs in the Dispensation of His Providence, & the Visible Beauties of His Works beneath, which in their proper Season come also to be Remembered.  For it is not only our Gold & silver & the things in our Houses, that will make us Happy; without a lively Sight and Sense of the Benefits which He hath prepared abroad, & by giving which He hath Magnified the Greatness of His Wisdom and Love to us.

That "lively Sight and Sense" is ours through the Church "hav[ing] Ordained also Procession at this time", which is "an Act of Thanksgiving by Joining His Praises to so convenient a Season".

There is something delightful here about Traherne's emphasis on joy in the physical coming through the physical act of procession, seeing, gathering around, standing in and amidst that which is the gift of "Wisdom and Love to us"

(From Denise Inge's Happiness and Holines: Thomas Traherne and his Writings.)

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Herbert on Rogation, blessing and re-enchantment

It is noteworthy that Herbert's defence of the Rogation processsion in The Country Parson is immediately followed (xxxvi) by his defence of the priestly act of blessing, "effectually applying God's favour to the blessed".  He presented Rogation as primarly an act of blessing - "First, a blessing of God for the fruits of the field".  He then interestingly goes on to relate the absence of the practice of blessing to "coldness, and Atheism". It is suggestive of how a culture of blessing is a means of re-enchantment, of blessing as an act which leads away from (in Taylor's terms) the buffered to the porous self:

The Country Parson wonders, that Blessing the people is in so little use with his brethren: whereas he thinks it not onely a grave, and reverend thing, but a beneficial also ... Now blessing differs from prayer, in assurance, because it is not performed by way of request, but of confidence, and power, effectually applying Gods favour to the blessed, by the interesting of that dignity wherewith God hath invested the Priest, and engaging of Gods own power and institution for a blessing. The neglect of this duty in Ministers themselves, hath made the people also neglect it; so that they are so far from craving this benefit from their ghostly Father, that they oftentimes go out of church, before he hath blessed them. In the time of Popery, the Priests Benedicite, and his holy water were over highly valued; and now we are fallen to the clean contrary, even from superstition to coldness, and Atheism. But the Parson first values the gift in himself, and then teacheth his parish to value it.

Monday, 2 May 2016

"In our bread and drink is he": the homily and Rogationtide

God hath not so created the world, that he is careless of it; but he still preserveth it by his goodness, he still stayeth it in his creation. For else without his special goodness it could not stand long in his condition ... If his especial goodness were not everywhere present, every creature should be out of order, and no creature should have his property, wherein he as first created.  He is therefore invisible every where, and in every creature, and fulfilleth both heaven and earth with his presence: in the fire, to give heart; in the water, to give moisture; in the earth, to give fruit; in the heart, to give his strength; yea, in our bread and drink is he, to give us nourishment. where without him the bread and drink cannot give sustenance, nor the herb health.

From 'An Homily for the Days of Rogation Week, the First Part', in the Book of Homilies.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Once there was no secular: Rogationtide and May Day

Beginning with Hooker, a radical insistence on the mingling of Christ's human and divine natures that later gave rise to an "incarnationalism" and "kenoticism" refusing - often in contrast to the intellectual and spiritual betrayals perpetrated by Catholic baroque scholasticism - any facile separations between the sacred and the secular or between faith and reason, grace and nature. 

Thus does John Milbank identify one of the characteristics of Anglicanism.   This weekend is evidence of Anglican resistance to the 'facile separation between the sacred and the secular'.  Tomorrow is Rogation Sunday and - by happy coincidence this year - Monday is the May Day holiday.  Both Rogationtide and the May celebrations were defended by the Anglican settlement against 'godly' critics.

The 1559 Injunctions restored Rogation ceremonies, "common perambulations, used heretofore in the days of rogations":

... for retaining of the perambulation of the circuits of parishes, they shall once in the year at the time accustomed, with the curate and substantial men of the parish, walk about their parishes, as they were accustomed, and at their return to the church, make their common prayers.

The 1618 Book of Sports defended the traditional May Day customs:

And as for Our good peoples lawfull Recreation, Our Pleasure like is, That after the end of Diuine Seruice, Our good people be not disturbed, letted, or discouraged from any lawfull recreation, Such as dauncing, either men or women, archery for men, leaping, vaulting, or any other such harmlesse Recreation, nor from hauing of May-Games, Whitson Ales, and Morris-dances, and the setting vp of May-poles & other sports therewith vsed, so as the same be had in due & conuenient time, without impediment or neglect of Diuine Seruice: And that women shall haue leaue to carry rushes to the Churches for the decoring of it, according to their old custome.

Both practices affirmed a rejection of the separation of sacred and secular.  The Injunctions restored Rogationtide, the old ceremonies to seek blessing on the land and labour of the parish.  The Book of Sports judged May Day joy in the coming of spring - "honest mirth or recreation" as the Book of Sports describes it - to be "lawfull or tolerable in Our Religion", with no impediments to be placed in its way by the 'godly'. 

What is more, the means of restoring Rogationtide and of affirming the old May Day customs was itself witness to a rejection of a facile separation of sacred and secular.  To state the obvious, the Injunctions were a proclamation of Elizabeth I, the Book of Sports the work of James I (and reissued by Charles I).  In many ways exemplifying Hooker's vision of the Royal Supremacy, the Injunctions and the Book of Sports embodied - both in means and content - that vision of the baptised polity that the Lawes suggested to be a defining characteristic of the reformed ecclesia anglicana

In his critique of the accusation of the 'godly' that the Book of Common Prayer included too many petitions "for earthly things", Hooker refers to the liturgy "respecting what men are" (V.35.2) - embodied creatures in the midst of the material order.  Our prayers for earthly things "taketh therewith the souls of men as with certain baits": the material, then, becomes the means of encountering the Divine. 

Rogationtide and May Day witness to nothing less than the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in the Incarnation.  When the land of the parish was blessed, when the Maypole was set up and the parish church decorated with those rushes, it was an affirmation of the material participating in the light, grace and goodness of the Triune God. 

The Rogationtide provisions of the 1559 Injunctions and the Book of Sports tell us that once there was no secular.  Reflecting on how the Church might imaginatively keep Rogationtide in the early 21st century, and sanctify and make space for celebrations of the warmth and longer days of spring, might perhaps aid in piercing the dullness of the secular age with the vision of "all things" manifesting "beneficence and grace in them" (Lawes I.2.4).

Friday, 29 April 2016

"I find only mercy": Catherine of Siena and Jesus of the Passion

At the Holy Eucharist on the commemoration of St Catherine of Siena, 29th April 2016.

Today we celebrate the witness of Catherine of Siena, Teacher of the Faith.

In many ways, she seems an odd choice.

The century in which she was born and in which she died, the 14th century ...

Is filled with the names of great theologians, engaging with the flowering of Christian theology that had occurred in the previous century.

But today we turn to a young Dominican nun, who only learned to read and write, with great difficulty, in adulthood.

Catherine died at the age of 33.

So there was no long career of writing theological treatises.

And, to state the obvious, she was a woman ...

In an age when Church and culture were inherently sexist, when there was profound suspicion of women exercising any kind of authority.

This at least partly explains why ecclesiastical authorities interrogated her for suspected heresy.

In her short life time, however, Catherine was already recognised as a spiritual guide and counsellor.

Bishops and priests, kings and queens, sought her out as a spiritual director.

The heart of Catherine's appeal is hinted at in today's collect:

God of compassion, who gave to your servant Catherine of Siena a wondrous love of the passion of Christ [1].

Catherine's life of prayer was profoundly centred on the Cross and Passion of Jesus.

Here we can see something of a new direction in Christian spirituality.

Classic Christian spirituality of the previous millennium, regarded the Cross as the place of victory.

Depictions of the crucifixion showed Christ reigning from the Cross ... not in agony, but in majesty.

Catherine exemplifies the change.

"Remember Christ Crucified", she wrote, "Make your aim the Crucified Christ; hide in the wounds of the Crucified Christ and drown in the blood of the Crucified Christ" [2].

It's not the restrained, sober language we associate with Anglicanism, is it?

Such an emotive devotion to the wounds and passion of Jesus seems to be not really 'us'.

But then we might think of the words of the Prayer of Humble Access, used in the traditional Communion liturgy:

that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood [3].

It's a spirituality, in other words, not as alien to us as we might think.

It also challenges those presentations of the Christian faith which can lead to a perception of a distant, disengaged God, aloof from the world's pains.

Catherine's world needed a different God to this, a flesh-and-blood God who knew the world's travails.

She lived in the century of the Black Death, which killed one-third of Europe's population. 

Amidst this sorrow and fear, Catherine pointed not to a cold, aloof deity, but to the Crucified One ...

God in the flesh, immersed in the world's pain, bringing redemption to our darkest experiences.

It was also the century of the Hundred Years War between England and France, a time of conflict ...

And a century of profound division in the Church, with three rival popes.

Not so very different then to the world we know - power, division, conflict, religious tensions.

Catherine points to the Crucified One and tells us that meaning is found not in power, institutions and empires - but in the One who is Love.

She points to the Jesus of the Passion - the One who in the midst of sorrow and darkness utters no curse, but forgives.

In our own time, rather than being shaped by the forces of power, selfishness, fear and division, we too need the Jesus of the Passion - the One who is abundant mercy.

For then, in Catherine's words, "No matter where I turn to think, I find only mercy".

[1] From the Common Worship collect.

[2] This and the concluding quote from St Catherine are taken from Benedict XVI Great Christian Thinkers: From the Early Church through the Middle Ages.

[3] From the Prayer of Humble Access in Eucharist Order One, BCP 2004, p.187.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The parish and Benedictine hospitality

Timothy O'Malley has given a superb reflection on how a parish can embody Benedictine hospitality.  His reflection follows time with the Benedictine community of St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, Illinois.

Benedictine hospitality is not some broad pedagogical idea. It’s not a principle that defines what it means to be a Benedictine institution. Rather, it is a series of embodied practices that forms the monk over the course of a lifetime to make space for the guest. They pray the Office together, with no voice standing out above the others. They eat dinner in specific places. They set the table in a specific way. And in these practices that make a monk, they always ensure that there is space for the guest among them. They learn, through an embodied spiritual formation, that not all space is theirs. Not all time is theirs. Everything is gift from God.

Our parishes often seek to be spaces of hospitality. From my time at St. Procopius, I wonder if the way to “form” a hospitable parish is not through slogans (like All Are Welcome). Rather, it is to practice a form of life together in the parish that makes space for the guest. It is to learn to pray together in a way in which my voice does not overpower my neighbor. It is to create a form of life in which I cease thinking about myself as an individual monad, an individual family. And instead take up a series of practices in which my entire life is about making space for the other. In which every part of my life becomes an offering of praise to the God who is the source of all gift.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

"Nay, by no shade of a shade": Christina Rossetti's Marian devotion

Today in many Anglican calendars is the commemoration of poet Christina Rossetti.  It is an opportunity to reflect both on the general significance of the arts to Anglicanism's 19th century catholic renewal, and on the particular contribution of Rossetti.

One aspect of Rossetti's work that does not appear to have received much commentary, is her approach to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Perhaps nothing was more likely to shock the masculine Whig Protestantism of 19th century Britain - with its God of Empire, free trade and liberty - than Marian devotion.  This was the stuff of backward Spanish superstition, not of proud freeborn Britons.

In Rossetti, however, we see the realisation that it is precisely Marian devotion which leads us to a deeper encounter with God Incarnate, so unlike the deity who presided over the Whig Empire of commerce.  In her Christmastide poems, we see Rossetti's Marian devotion flower - a Marian devotion rejoicing in the flesh and blood reality of the Incarnation.

In 'Christmas Carols', we perhaps get a sense of a desire to scandalise both Whig Protestantism and fashionable Anglo-Saxon atheism with how the breasts of the Theotokos witness to Incarnation: 

A holy heavenly chime
Rings fulness in of time,
And on His Mother's breast
Our Lord God ever-Blest
Is laid a Babe at rest ...

Lord God of Mary,
Whom His Lips caress
While He rocks to rest
On her milky breast
In helplessness.

What does it mean that the Word became flesh? Lips kissed him, milky breast supported him.  Here is God in flesh and blood, not the aloof deity of Empire, the same aloof deity which fashionable atheism denied.

In 'Epiphany', Rossetti's Marian devotion intensifies.  Here she converses with the one who is "holy Mother mine", the Mother who leads us deeper into Love:

They have brought gold and spices to my King,
Incense and precious stuffs and ivory;
O holy Mother mine, what can I bring
That so my Lord may deign to look on me?
They sing a sweeter song than I can sing,
All crowned and glorified exceedingly:
I, bound on earth, weep for my trespassing,–
They sing the song of love in heaven, set free.
Then answered me my Mother, and her voice
Spake to my heart, yea answered in my heart:
'Sing, saith He to the heavens, to earth, Rejoice:
Thou also lift thy heart to Him above:
He seeks not thine, but thee such as thou art,
For lo His banner over thee is Love.'

In 'The Purification of St Mary the Virgin', some traditional Anglican sensitivities are present - the desire to ensure that Marian devotion serves, not obscures, the Church's Christocentric centre.  Of course, this is classical Marian teaching - Mary receives the Redeemer's grace, in this the Church rejoices.  That she is not "defiled" - "by no shade of a shade" - brings us to give thanks to the One who is "Her God and Redeemer and Child":

Purity born of a Maid:
Was such a Virgin defiled?
Nay, by no shade of a shade.
She offered her gift of pure love,
A dove with a fair fellow-dove,
A dove with a fair fellow-dove.
She offered her Innocent Child
The Essence and Author of Love;
The Lamb that indwelt by the Dove
Was spotless and holy and mild;
More pure than all other,
More pure than His Mother,
Her God and Redeemer and Child.

It is in 'Feast of the Annunciation' that Rossetti's Marian devotion perhaps finds its most compelling expression. It seems to conclude with a possible reference to the Assumption - or, at least to the affirmation which the teaching of the Assumption seeks to articulate.  "Her steps" lead to "death", followed by the reference to "Transfigured to His Likeness":

Herself a rose, who bore the Rose,
She bore the Rose and felt its thorn.
All Loveliness new-born
Took on her bosom its repose,
And slept and woke there night and morn.
Lily herself, she bore the one
Fair Lily; sweeter, whiter, far
Than she or others are:
The Sun of Righteousness her Son,
She was His morning star.
She gracious, He essential Grace,
He was the Fountain, she the rill:
Her goodness to fulfil
And gladness, with proportioned pace
He led her steps thro' good and ill.
Christ's mirror she of grace and love,
Of beauty and of life and death:
By hope and love and faith
Transfigured to His Likeness, 'Dove,
Spouse, Sister, Mother,' Jesus saith.

Here is an Anglican Marian devotion both beautiful and profound.  It is cognisant of traditional Anglican sensitivities, while also plunging deeper because moved by love for and joy in the Incarnate Word borne by the Maiden.  It is a resource that should be more readily available to catholic Anglicans (and certainly should appear in any retrieval of catholic Anglican books of devotion).  Also, however, it should move us to ask how and where we might see something similar emerge in 21st catholic Anglicanism - artistic forms which celebrate devotion to the Blessed Virgin in a manner capable of seizing the cultural imagination as did Christina Rossetti in the 19th century.