The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Monday, July 28, 2008

Whereof One Cannot Speak Redux

You may (assuming my series of posts on mysticism haven't reduced my readership to my cat, myself and Padre Pio) have noticed that I have remained silent on the subject of Lambeth. It's not that I'm uninterested; it's that I perceive two narratives about the course of the conference, and can't tell which one is true:

1. The Narrative of the Press and Anglican Blogosphere (helpfully rounded up by Canon Kendall Harmon (who is a "reasserter", but one who I think tries to be fair to those with whom he disagrees)). This narrative is one of brinkmanship, tactics, episcopal skullduggery, and will end in a triumph of realpolitik (though whose triumph is anybody's guess); and

2. The Narrative of Indaba--one in which prayer, unstructured conversation and both sides meeting in prayer will lead to a result from the Spirit that we cannot identify. A very dear friend--one who I have long respected as being truly wise as a serpent, yet innocent as a dove--and who is there, tells me that schism wil not likely worsen, and scoffs at my fear that the Arcbishop of Canterbury is not engaged in creating a curial structure at the expense of our GLBT brothers and sisters.

I simply have no idea which narrative will be proven right in time, and what is happening at Canterbury--the skies seem to lower with a Code of Canon Law and a Holy Office of our very own in the offing (aye, this leads nowhere good--I swam the Tiber away from Rome, in part to escape these delights), to say nothing of the pastoral forum perplex. I'd say the auguries are not good--and yet--we don't know and won't know for a lttle while longer.

And so, I remind myself to not occupy myself with great matters, or with things that are too hard for me, but to still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother's breast. Perhaps we all need a time for reflection and prayer--and to act when the cover is removed from the dish set before us, and we can then decide how to react to what has been cooked up at the Conference--strengthened by not giving way to anxiety as we wait for the table to be laid.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

An Encounter With Matthew Fox

Last Thursday, I attended a lecture by Matthew Fox on Meister Eckhart. Fox has done his own translation of Eckhart, titled Breakthrough: Meister Eckhart's Creation Spirituality, in New Translation (1980), and his devotion to Eckhart's thought was clear in the presentation. He had us break into groups and discuss the first page of Eckhart's first sermon, and my partner and I surprised each other with our slightly differing reactions--he was particularly moved by Eckhart's image of creation flowing in and out of God, like breath in respiration; I was struck by Eckhart's statement that if our image of God is comprehensible by us, then it is wrong--we will have shrunk God to our size.

Fox offered us a different perspective on the "divine dark" which Eckhart and pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite extol; he viewed it as the experience of desolation, of abandonment. I'm not so sure about this. Pseudo-Dionysius describes the dark as:
the ultimate summit of your mystical knowledge, most incomprehensible, most luminous and most exalted, where the pure, absolute and immutable mysteries of theology are veiled in the dazzling obscurity of the secret Silence, outshining all brilliance with the intensity of their Darkness, and surcharging our blinded intellects with the utterly impalpable and invisible fairness of glories surpassing all beauty.
This is not a transient stage of despair, or finding God in the experience of desolation, as well as in consolation, but the ultimate stage, for Dionysius (and I think for Eckhart) of mystical union. (This very aspect of their thought is one reason for Inge's discomfort with both Dionysius and Eckhart).

To be fair, Fox used Eckhart's distinction between God (the Mover) and the Godhead (the Wisdom of God--which he informed was a mistranslation of the Gottheit, more properly translated as the "Godness"). In Eckhart, the Godhead is at points equated with the Divine Dark; for Fox, he stressed Wisdom as traditionally feminine, as restoring the gender balance our patriarchal society denies the Divine. (Actually, Eckhart's disciple Henry Suso, the "Servitor of the Divine Wisdom," whom he saw as a Lady whose knight he was, also drew this concept from Eckhart).

Finally, in place of the traditional three-step mystical progression, Fox postulates a four step path, described by him as "The Via Positiva (joy, delight and awe); the Via Negativa (darkness, silence, suffering, letting go and letting be); the Via Creativa (creativity); and the Via Transformativa (justice, compassion, interdependence). One interesting distinction: Fox's four-fold path emphasizes modes of being leading to action, the traditional path--pugation, illumination, and union--describes a furthering of the soul's union with God. As summarized by Inge, the first step--purgation--includes what Fox describes as his fourth step, duty to our fellow human beings and creation at large. What for Fox is the culmination is for Inge the beginning--the sine qua non.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Attempted Takeover?

From GAFCON's response to the Archbishop of Canterbury's statement concerning its "Jerusalem Statement and Declaration":
On the uniqueness of Christ. We are equally concerned to hear that 'the conviction of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Lord and God' is 'not in dispute' in the Anglican Communion. Leading bishops in The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, and even the Church of England have denied the need to evangelise among people of other faiths, promoted and attended syncretistic events and, in some cases, refused to call Jesus Lord and Saviour.

On authority. [I]n the Anglican tradition, authority is not concentrated in a single centre, but rather across a number of persons and bodies. This Council is a first step towards bringing greater order to the Communion, both for the sake of bringing long overdue discipline and as a reforming initiative for our institutions.

In situations of false teaching, moreover, it has sometimes been necessary for other bishops to intervene to uphold apostolic faith and order.
On discipline. Finally, with regard to the Archbishop's concern about people who have been disciplined in one jurisdiction and have been accepted in another, we are clear that any such cases have been investigated thoroughly and openly with the fullest possible transparency. Bishops and parishes have been given oversight only after the overseeing bishops have been fully satisfied of no moral impediments to their action.

We assure the Archbishop of Canterbury of our respect as the occupier of an historic see which has been used by God to the benefit of his church and continue to pray for him to be given wisdom and discernment.
My, my. I note three interesting aspects to this:

1. The statement makes clear--not that anyone thought otherwise--that the purpose of GAFCON is power--power to claim the Anglican brand, reducing Canterbury to "an historic see," and stripping the Archbishop of Canterbury of any particular role, while claiming for itself the right to reshape the Communion, to bring forth Order and Discipline.

2. Note the casual conflation of stark accusations of allegeations of heresy behavior with much more modest substantiation; Akinola et al take exception with the Archbishop's statement that the uniqueness of Christ is not in doubt, but offer a very different specification in response; they claim that conveniently unnamed "leading bishops" have (1) denied the need to evangelize among people of other faiths--a disagreement with GAFCON as to tactics, not theology; (2) promoted and attended syncretistic events--which I doubt the GAFCON-ers mean literally, but rather in its more modern sense of "the mixture of dissimilar or incompatible things or ideas." (Id.), which could be nothing more than a tactic not unlike that of Paul in Acts 17; and finally, alleges that "in some cases" have refused to call Jesus Lord and Savior. As to this last, questions need to be asked: How many "leading bishops" do they refer to, and in what context? Do they really mean refusal, or simply the preference of different appellations they apply to Christ? But frankly, the placement of first two prongs of this purported rebuttal suggest that this last prong is one they themselves find weak.

3. Finally, they claim--consistent with point 1--that their members and they alone can judge the juridicial processes of other provinces--free and equal churches within the Communion--and that they are free to disregard discipline imposed by such other churches at their own discretion, with no comity or deferences to such other churches, as must in fact submit to their discipline.

In short, Anglicanism is to give up the via media in favor of a confessional, conciliar model--one in which a self-selected orthodox have the right to judge the rest of us, deciding who are sheep and who goats. And the Archbishop of Canterbury? He's a quaint relic, to be honored for historical significance and little more.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Where I've Been

So, I've been leading a book study of William Inge's Christian Mysticism, and it's been a real learning experience.

First, the members of the group have been very keen to grapple with the sometimes dense philosophical content and have stayed with it even after two weeks of Neoplatonism(!) They've also raised some concerns about Inge's dislike of the via negativa, the "negative road" of mysticism that he feared could lead to quietism, to solipsism, and to divorcing the spiritual quest from prayerful engagement with the world. Also, Inge sought to keep reason at the forefront of his vision of mysticism, quoting Benjamin Whichcote's aphorism that "I oppose not rational to spiritual, for spiritual is most rational."
But, as the members of the group have pointed out to me, Inge's emphasis in thought can seem to be an idolatry of thought--a "cogitolatry," as a member coined. And, while I think it is the Divine Reason, and not human reason alone, I have to admit that Inge did show uneasiness with enthusiasm. It could be the fact that he was, after all, a Victorian Englishman, writing in 1899; it could also be that the Bampton Lectures (which the text of the book consists of) were very prestigious and led to Inge wanting to show his command of the material--but I think, in fact, that Inge was reacting to the Nineteenth Century revival of occultism. The embrace by many of the revivalists of neo-platonism, and the excesses of some of them, would concern Inge, who, in his desire to bring Christian mysticism away from the hermetic tradition of the Order of the Golden Dawn (to which A.E. Waite, Evelyn Underhill, and--gulp!--Aleister Crowley--all belonged, though not all at the same time. He overtly tried to rescue mysticism from the psychological curiosity approach, and, frankly, the horse laugh, of R.A. Vaughn's Hours With the Mystics (1893).

It's been fascinating to engage with a well-informed, passionate group about a book I've long loved, but whose limitations and flaws, stemming in part from the time in which it was written, I can see afresh in going through it with a passionate, intelligent group to whom it is new.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Farewell--For Now--to a Friend

I'm sorry to note that Father Jake is, after five years, calling it quits, and closing his place. The World will go on, without Jake to stop it from time to time, but we in the Anglican blogosphere who have been enriched by his forthright advocacy, and his passionate commitment to the Church, will be the poorer without our daily dose(s).

I understand his reasons for calling it a day, and look forward to his next appearance on the Web--focusing more on the spiritual and less on Church politics. And, as he says, it may indeed be time.

Jake sounded a clarion warning about the schismatics' desire to harvest properties and parishes from the Episcopal Church; we are all alive to that warning, now, and have seen the machinations described by Jake in, among other posts, here come to pass. The wolf has descended on the fold--and some were ready. The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, in particular, has cause to appreciate Jake's ministry. The wider Church does owes him thanks, not just for the wake up call, but also for his providing a place to vent, to express fears and hopes, and to find each other. And, the community of Jacobites will go on--plans are already being formed...

As to the larger Church, and GAFCON, perhaps today, July 4, is a good day to acknowledge that nothing in the Communion will ever be the same--that the differences are out there, now, in the open. And that, if schism is here, the American Church can declare its independence, rather than devolve into the Calvinist, confessional model our "Worthy Adversaries" seek to force us. Whether peaceful coexistence or the parting of the ways is at hand, the time of secrecy is over.

Father Jake's work is, as he believes, done. Father Terry Martin will be back, and in new, exciting ventures, I have no doubt. Vogue a la galere, my friend--we await the next stage with faith.