Things I’ve Been Chewing On Since Pentecost

Mentoring as Cure of Souls

 Down deep, men and women began/begin to feel a yearning to be connected with others in a way that didn’t rely on a cable, keyboard, or cell tower.

MentoringThe September 2005 special edition of Newsweek’s “Spirituality in America” sums up our spiritual hunger very well: “Today, then, the real spiritual quest is not to put another conservative on the Supreme Court, or to get creation science into the schools. If you experience God directly, your faith is not going to hinge on whether natural selection could have produced the flagellum of a bacterium. If you feel God within you, then the important question is settled; the rest is details.” Again…  David Stoddard.

A Christianity which is not basically mystical must become either a political ideology or a mindless fundamentalism. Watts, Alan W.. Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion.

This is exactly the situation in the second decade of the 21th Century. On the left the Church is political ideology and the right is brain dead fundamentalism. Betwixt and between these camps of true believers lies the company of the beleaguered.

Many do not know that before he was a Buddhist  Master,  Alan was Father Watts, Episcopal chaplain at Northwestern University,  Evanston, Ill.  The following long quote is from Behold the Spirit, a work that I consider a classic.  His critique of the present condition of the Christian Church in America was made in 1947.  The man was a prophet. Perhaps if anyone had listened he might well remained a Christian.

AlanWattsFr. Watts continues,  “Naturally, institutional Christianity will, in its present form, continue to supply the demand which remains for a monarchical religion. But a considerable number of ministers and even congregations—not to mention millions of reasonably intelligent young people—realize that churches must “put up or shut up,” and that the chief business of religious facilities and assemblies is to provide a social milieu for religious experience. This is no mere matter of changing the externals—of having rock bands instead of organs and Kyrie eleison set to jazz, nor even of turning churches into social service centers with the idea that t*his would be practicing Christianity seven days a week instead of just talking it on Sundays. Continue reading

PENTECOST

May 24, 2015
Saint John’s
Memphis, Tennessee
John W. Sewell

 

Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit fifty days after the Resurrection. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes the day of Pentecost and the indwelling of God’s Spirit in a new way, more continuous and more manifest than had been experienced before. The ancient Aramaic translation of the Pentecost story puts it this way, “And as the days of Pentecost were fulfilled, they gathered together as one. And there was from the stillness of heaven a sound like the stirring of Spirit, and the whole house was filled with it, where they were staying.” The spirit then fell upon them as tongues of fire. After Pentecost the word, God, as they had defined it, was no longer adequate to describe what the Christians were experiencing.

As John Polkinghorne puts it, [The Faith of a Physicist, pg. 146] “The early Church felt that it experienced divine power present within it with a peculiar intensity and personality.”

HOLY SPIRIT – BREATH, SPIRIT OR WIND
They looked into the Hebrew Scriptures for ways to explain what had happened. The language of spirit (ruah) was used in the Old Testament in relation to creation (Genesis 1: 2f.) The Spirit brooded over the waters of chaos in creation.

jesus_breathes_on_the_disciplesIn both Greek and Hebrew the word for spirit means also ‘breath’ or ‘wind.’ This is the sense of today’s Gospel reading. On Easter afternoon, the disciples were huddled behind closed doors for fear of the authorities. Jesus came and stood among them and showed his wounds. And as the disciples rejoiced he said twice “Peace be with you!” Then he said, “As the Father has sent Me, so I also send you.” Then, when He had said this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This verse can be translated, “Receive the holy breath.” He then says, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven him, but if you do not forgive someone, his sins are retained.”

Jesus breathed on them giving the Holy Spirit to the disciples. They had been behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. He tells them that they may forgive sins and retain them. I have been wondering? Is Jesus telling the church to be the moral police as has so often been the interpretation of this passage? Or is he saying in another way what he said in so many other places, namely, that we are to forgive everyone. If we retain sins is it because we can choose whether or not to forgive OR because we are unwilling or unable to forgive? Did our Lord not tell Peter to forgive infinitely? If we do not forgive is it because we unable to inhale the holy breath?

I am learning that deep breathing and fear are not compatible. Years ago and far far away I studied Yoga. The word comes from the Sanskrit and means union, from the words “to join”. Yoga is a technique for promoting “mindfulness.” — to become still and in that stillness to awaken and become conscious. To breathe and stretch promotes consciousness of one’s body one is present in one’s body. The yoga tradition says that each human being has a certain number of breaths to breathe in their lifetime. To breathe rapidly and shallowly is to wasting our very life. Although I doubt there are a set number of breaths per life, shallow rapid breathing does not promote health. Is the same true in the life of faith?

It is difficult to panic when breathing from the diaphragm. When people panic they breathe faster and more often, which in turn promotes more fear and less thinking. When we are afraid we have more trouble forgiving than when we are centered. The gospel tells us that perfect or mature love casts out fear. When we are centered we can choose to love rather than become our fear. After Jesus breathed on the apostles they were no longer afraid. They went into the streets proclaiming the good news of God in Christ to the very people from whom they had earlier hidden.

pentecostLike deep breathing, the presence of the Holy Spirit is incompatible with paralyzing fear. So it stands to reason to me that where we are afraid is the very place the Spirit is likely to be manifested. To be alive is to risk. Yet we are so afraid of risking. We run the numbers, buy insurance, take polls as if by some incantation or marshaling of force we shall at last be secure. But it is an illusion.

As Helen Keller, a woman who knew a good bit about challenge once wrote, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

The promise of our Lord is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the heavenly dove, the bird of open spaces, of the unpredictable, the risky and uncontrollable. Our part is to become quiet and be still, facing our fear that the love of God will be manifest in us. Fear prevents the breathing THAT PRODUCES SONG.

THE HOLY SPIRIT CREATIVE, SPONTANEOUS & PLAYFUL.
For example check out the Psalm for today –
PSALM 104
26 Yonder is the great and wide sea
With its living things too many
to number, creatures both
small and great.

whale3
27 There move the ships, and there
is that Leviathan, which you
have made for the sport of it.

God made the whale just for fun. As an old friend of mine, Fr. Craig Bustrin, used to say, “The Whale is God’s Rubber Ducky.”

THE HOLY SPIRIT AS ADVOCATUS

Advocatus: is a Lawyer, defender, in John 15, a defense attorney. Interestingly, the word, Satan is not a proper name, but a title, literally meaning, “The other side” or prosecuting attorney. The “Court of Heaven” is clearly displayed in the opening chapter of Job. Here the title, Satan, is used; in others accuser.

JOB 1:6-12 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From going to and fro

on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”

Satan_Before_the_Lord_Giaquinto_17501

The scene, as the curtain rises is a court room. Each one, you and I, are seated in the chair reserved for the defendant. We are in a world of trouble, facing the death penalty; if the truth be told, we, every last one of us is guilty It’s an open and shut case without wiggle room. Not only are we addicted to sin, we are pushing it as well.

Now, the good news, beloved. Jesus served as our advocate so long as he lived in his incarnation (Christmas t0 Ascension). He is gone. Panic not. Jesus promised another Advocatus, one like him. Who is this defense attorney? It’s a senior partner in the old-line law firm in Heaven! Actually, it’s better than that. One of the masthead names of the firm, Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Attorneys & Counselors, founded before the foundation of the world is on his way.

The Holy Spirit is opening an office here just so we have immediate and continual defense! He is on retainer paid for by the cross and passion of the second person of the Trinity. Do you see what amazing news this is? What have we done to deserve this? Nothing, absolutely nothing. This, sisters and brothers for God is pro bono work! We call it GRACE!. .

In the Name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit!

FROM MINSTER TO MINISTRY.

four dimensions of Christian Spirituality
An outline of the concept of “monasterium”

By Douglas Brown (Reader)

 “Stand at the cross-roads and look :  ask for the ancient paths;  ask where the good way is; and walk in it.”    Jeremiah 6 :16

 “Renewal is often in the simple recovery of the eternally true”

  [This is not a definitive study.  It is only an outline, warts ’n’ all!  It will not say the last word!]

“Monasterium” emerges from a study of the Celtic Church. It does so largely unaffected by the shadow of the current “nostalgia” for Celtic times. It is arguably a “distinctive” of that Church, but may not be wholly unique to that era [the writer believes the idea reverberates down history in various ways – if only as echoes – while it is not exclusive to any one tradition].  However, because Celtic times are presently  “in favour” and able to avoid the “noise” of disputes concerning other periods of history, it does allow the concept of monasterium to stand clear.

Colonies of Heaven is not a Biblical phrase, though it sounds like it. Yet it is probably the best phrase to convey the idea of monasterium.

 Firstly, our “citizenship is in Heaven”, and there is no doubt that the Celtic view of life was rooted in the awareness of the heavenly as pervading the whole of life. We know this to be a “sacramental” view of reality. The Celts would say that heaven began about “one foot six inches above our heads”, but this did not necessarily mean a dual view as such, earth here, heaven there. There was as well a heaven/earth unity – especially as earth was increasingly affected by redemption and its transforming power: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Heaven wove its way into all earthly things and activity : yet as the sky is above our heads in a day to day sense, so heaven was “one foot six inches” above us. Our deistic temptations perhaps place heaven at a greater distance!

celtic_map

 Secondly, to lose sight of the awareness that the Celts had of heaven, is to lose sight of the dynamic context of their faith as it translated into works.  Our day and age places a kind of “taboo” on things heavenly, and hence there is a danger of decoupling what we see of the Celtic Church’s works from their faith. Equally, Heaven is best experienced in Worship, and worship was central to the life of the monasterium within and without. Even now one hears of guides at monastic sites dismissing ancient worship as though it were something peripheral at the best and something wholly cloistered, remote, isolated and irrelevant at the worst. But for the Celtic Church, worship that did not engage with the world outside was not worship. Earth was His footstool and that was the Altar – so they took their instructions from the Throne of God before whom they stood in worship.

 If worship was key, then so was Prayer. That also follows from prioritizing Heaven. Prayer, it can be said was nearly “without ceasing” – in the good times of the whole monastic movement.  Some argue that it was this constant prayer that first created Europe and then preserved it more intact than not from tendencies to destruction from within as from without. Hence Prayer was fundamental and critical and put beyond any possibility of mere lip-service.

celtic icon 2 Thirdly, “it is a model of the Church that looks outwards”.  It is true that the Celtic Church did not need to articulate mission statements :mission was simply assumed and implemented as part and parcel of their strategy. It was expected. [Many were not allowed to serve in the place where they were trained. Others had what seemed to be a kind of “wanderlust”]. It was the Celts who, by taking the Gospel to Russia, were one of the foundational influences in that territory. And their tactic was the same whether near or far. Send people, use “presence” and engage the surrounding districts by the “ripple” effect.

 Finally, to be aware of heaven, and God revealed in all things, was not to deny the position of Christ. The Celts would have resonated with Benedict : “our goal is Christ”.

The idea of Colonies of Heaven works out if we think, not so much of monasterium, but of “Minster”. The latter translates the former, in any case. But Minster Churches were Mother Churches, spawning offspring Churches. They were the core resource. One centre, one strategy, many tactics and many localities. [cf the Trinitarian resolution of the “One and the Many”]. Various kinds [as we would say] of outreach, by multi-talented, multi-task Teams [as we would call them], effectively assured the development of daughter churches as gifts were discerned amongst those new Christians at the new localities. [There is some overlap between Monastic cores and the later Parish cores – but we can leave that discussion on one side for now].

cross 3

Teams [usually at least three to begin with] were ordained and lay folk.

 The focus was LIFE, and the Celtic Church for all its austerity was renowned for its cheerful people. Also as Gregory wrote of Benedict, “for that holy man could not have taught anything but what he had first LIVED”.

After that the tools used to grow were : a ministry of presence and welcome, pastoral work, generous and constant hospitality [whereby some have entertained angels unawares], and generous works of relief, including healing. These were the “cutting edge” tools [though we might not think so, sometimes believing them to be more like blunt instruments] – at the “coal face”.

 The later phrase also points up that People came first. There was much interest in the discernment of gifts, because that decided the fit with the tasks to be done – and the fit with the Team. And because time constraints may be less critical, we can say that for today, the retired and aged have a distinct place and contribution!

cuthbert It was “collegiate”, a Family-like effort [cf, “muintir” the Irish word for Minster and meaning “family”, too], a Team in Community, a “collaborative” [chaplain-like] ministry. It was not individualistic. In fact, monasticism from the outset of the cenobitic movement was much like dealing with an extended family.

 The concept of monasterium  helps deal with both the fragmentation of society and the increasing differences and dispersion  that fragmentation creates. Some argue that we – as a society – are today moving into a post-modern tribal phase. Monasterium deals with that by a “sector” approach [handling the intense localisation inherent in tribalism]. It is wheel-like. From the hub activity radiates out by means of Teams and by the creation of cells [in homes at the outset] developing at their own speed and level. The spokes of the wheel need not be uniformly alike; variety and diversity are expressed but contained within an ultimate integrative and unifying ecclesiology [the Church of all Ages]. An over-riding collegiality and common commitment maintains flexibility. It is open door in approach – people to people.  It is all something like [the best in] Group Medical Practice!

Saint Hild

Saint Hild

Taking the Celtic “sacramental” view of reality, and linking that with their insistence that the Word of God is of greater “immediacy” [cf “lectio divina”] than we accord to it, then we can see what they meant by a “ministry of presence”. God present to us and presented to others!  And where we have a sense of being “driven” – and kept close to burn-out, the Celtic way was “stability, rhythm and balance”.

  Some questions arising:

  • How do we prioritize “collegiate” Prayer
  • What is our analysis of the situation confronting  the Church in our locality?
  • What is “our” locality?
  • Where boundaries on a denominational/sectarian models are likely to clash, can we network/work alongside other Christian Churches/institutions, without requiring months and years of negotiation?
  • Are we a “hinge” people, standing at the cross-roads and responsible for handing on to the next generation?
  • Can we do so – or at least start – on the monasterium model, and as a collegiate of largely U3A folk?
  • What might Team/s mean – for us?
  • Can we put together a strategy with tactics?
  • Can we proceed step by step, walking before we run?
  • What are the practicalities, and what might the timetable be?

Monasterium as Minster lasted until the Parish system took over. Yet the “idea” of monasterium arguably did not disappear entirely. After all, monasteries co-existed with parishes and the influence of monasterium as a modus operandi, while it maybe was not thought of in quite the original terms, continued to inform outlooks.

The concept of Parish tends to lay claim to “people-in-a-place”, and then it is claimed that Parish negated the effects of monasterium because the latter was less static and a more “central-core-and-outlying-cluster-of-cells idea”. Yet this aspect of the whole idea may be simply be expressed as “parish is monasterium geographically re-ordered”.  This is because the value of “place” is not in the sole purview of either monasterium or parish.

crossAlexander Pope asked us to consult the “genius of place”.  It is quite a universal subject. Humans particularly need“ place” whether religious or secular – let alone whether monasterium or parish. “We are inveterate place-makers, and the way we are placed shapes the people we become. “…Life is inherently local, plotted in space and time”. We are all within the GPS orbit…for Christians the “God Positioning System”! It’s an “inescapable concept” !

The way the Church handles “place” conveys a silent message. If community and locality are ignored, then the Church can unconsciously promote that sense of displacement that, in a secular context, she criticises. Common Prayer has always meant the Community of the People of God – in a locality [before being universal]. It’s a question of feeling “at Home” and “of having a Home to go to”. Identity is spatial and local. “Global village” is still subject to the need for local erstwhile village-type village!

Saint Gregory's MinsterNeither monasterium nor parish permit an “eclectic congregational ecclesiology”. The latter works against “being at home in a locality, and even, because of commuting to Church, being at home in a community of believers”.

Although the monasterium expansion is by what we can term cells, it’s not simply a Policy of “the more the merrier” – or “the greater the number of check-outs, the greater number of people processed” Lesley Newbigin has the last word – “ the multiplication of cells UNRELATED TO THE PURPOSE OF THE BODY, is what we call “cancer” – Monasterium relates cell development precisely to the purpose of the body.

Douglas Brown/28.09.02

 

 

SAINT HELEN’S SQUARE

Saint Helen’s Square

I sit in Saint Helen’s Square on a York Saturday morning. A long haired man in a boggan cap is singing rock in his own key weaving seamless “thank yous” – inserted  as needed, irregular, intermittent lyrics, for coins thrown into the open case at his feet.

In front of mBetty's Yorke is the Famous Betty’s Tea Room dispensing tea & English nurture, cozy since 1919, to a crowd wrapped half-way round the square.

A self-propelled street artist grinds out trinkets for tourists seeking Marco Polo (reversing) the Silk Road, unraveling the ancient trade imbalance caused by silk-mad Roman matrons.

Hanging out with love, I attend Celtic Eucharist at noon. Helen’s nave built in the Middle Ages today seats the middle-aged, the youngest near 50. Outside  thousands of young adults wander, circling, loitering near the door, while bewildered Christians wonder how to fill empty pews, young adults wonder how to stop the slow leak in their souls.

English: Saints Constantin and Saint Helen

English: Saints Constantin and Saint Helen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cross Saint Helen discovered is re-hidden in plain view round the necks of manikins in Monsoons. The only Virgin displayed in the Centre City today is Virgin Money, a contradiction, false advertising as her easy virtue is known by all. 

Having feasted on the bread of heaven, I retrace my steps, taking my seat on a bench in the middle. A white dove lights amidst the pigeons pecking at bits of bread in the crack…while people eating lunch, munch on manna w/holy ordinary and not…

Nothing is so white – in plain sight. I glance around at souls oblivious. Does none but me see the Holy Bird of God stalking round the square, and inquire “Oh Holy Ghost inspire and lighten with celestial fire.”

That symbolic fowl paces, un-noticed by multitudes of shoes in pairs, and launches into the air a solitary witness to incarnation inspiring me in the synchronicity of my soul.

John W. Sewell
October 6, 2013
York, United Kingdom

Image

Saint Cedd

FAITHFUL God, you led the People of Israel through a barren wilderness to a land of promise, and your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ from death to life: in Lastingham, hallowed by the prayer and labour of St Cedd, renew us day by day in our earthly pilgrimage; so that we may be strengthened to persevere in the Faith, and bound together within the love and fellowship of Jesus Christ: who with you, O Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns one God for ever and ever. Amen.

The Holy Island

It isn’t much of an island. The sea is busy, tirelessly cutting off island from mainland, in an ancient lulling rhythm of the cry of sea birds and the smell of salt air. The wind blows perpetually smoothing abbey stone and erasing the data from tombstones. It would not seem auspicious as a home let alone a base, a minster, for the conversion of the soul of a people.

Saint Aiden

Saint Aiden

Yet Aidan recognized the essence of the place coming from the Holy Island of Iona in the Irish Sea. That other island was not much of an island either and yet it was the engine of evangelism to Scotland and beyond. So Aidan saw more than he saw for he was a man of imagination coupled with a profound spirituality.

The Anglican tradition contends that things are not intrinsically holy rather they are made holy by being used for holy purposes. As a chalice is not made holy on account of precious medal or stones but rather by becoming the cup of salvation, so this island became holy as the habitation of holy men.

Lindisfarne is the Holy Island and pilgrims and tourists come by the thousands in the summer but there were few folk indeed in March. I rather enjoyed being here in the cold season when only the most determined come to visit and pray. We arrived an hour after low tide careful not to tarry until the tide inexorably turns cutting off land travel for many hours.  It has a bit of the Brigadoon effect, I think, the tides preventing and then allowing pilgrims the way to the Priory.

I did not have a profound spiritual awakening on Lindisfarne. I wasn’t looking for such, was open though, but again there is a peace that even the most tourist minded seem to sense. What comes home to me again and again is that whatever challenges we face in the Church and in the Economy or in our Soul, such and greater have faced our Spiritual forefathers, Aidan and Cuthbert. I am comforted.

Saint Chad

Saint Chad of Litchfield

Saint Chad of Litchfield

Last Monday was the feast day of Saint Chad, Bishop of Litchfield. He was born in Northumbria (where Whitby is located) and he plus three brothers became priests. He was educated by the great Saint Aiden of Lindesfarne.His brother Cedd founded a monastery at a remote spot at Lastingham as described by the Venerable Bede (see below). After Cedd’s death Chad was Abbot here before becoming Bishop.

For a long time I have found the Celtic saints of the North of Britain very attractive. The more I learn the more I like them. Today Sister Pam, no small authority on these men and women, drove me out to Lastingham across the high moors. What an amazing place, austere and mysterious and covered with free range sheep.