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Contemporary Anglican Episcopal Perspectives

Notes of a Tradition’s Trumpet (Or perhaps from Tagore’s Lute)

An essay donated by Clyde Glandon, DMin, AOJN

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Sponsored link.

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Quotations:

bullet"The purpose of a church or religious community is to look deeply together." Thich Nhat Hanh
bullet"Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action---
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake." Rabindranath Tagore 1

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Contemporary Anglican Episcopal Perspectives

In recent months I have been distributing a variety of classic Anglican Christian texts, mostly without commentary, most recently as part of weekly readings in preparation for contemplative prayer in various groups.

I think most people who receive these writings understand the rationale for my distributions. Some have said such things, in all friendship, as "I think you are really more conservative than you are saying." Second guessing my selection of texts may be a symptom of the current endemic predisposition toward polarization. Polarization itself must be dissolved, transformed, into the Spirit of Anglicanism—which is but a manifestation of the Spirit in whom we all live-- and its theological, ecclesiastical, and missionary manifestations. See for example Rowan Williams sermon "Against Anxiety, Beyond Triumphalism," in A Ray of Darkness, Cowley, 1995.

Here are some of my thoughts.

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Church history:

I agree with Rowan Williams when he articulates George Florovsky’s view of church history as the "charismatic memory" of the Church. (Why Study the Past) For me personally the delving into past documents and texts of our Anglican history will usually yield gifts from the Spirit for us in the present. This is archeological, and is matched by being eschatological. This is not to say that "looking deeply" into the present does not also yield gifts from the Spirit for us. For me both the Church and the Holy Scriptures are charisms, and their "life" –past and present—is a manifestation of the Spirit. Church history is itself tradition, and tradition is all charism, then and now, in this sense.

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Deeply conservative liberalism.

I keep telling people in conversation that I am so supportive of the contemporary Episcopal church’s social commitments—e.g. Bishop Schori’s leadership for inclusion—because I am such a traditional, conservative Anglican Christian.

Sometimes people are apparently mis-hearing this. Here is what I mean.

The Anglican Network, and perhaps Anglican Christians in Nigeria and elsewhere in the communion, seem to be making the appeal to their positions on the basis of traditional and conservative Anglicanism, traditional and conservative Christianity. It is my perspective, and conviction, that the traditional, conservative classic writings of our Anglican tradition are in fact what makes the Episcopal Church have the social commitments and vocation we presently have. I believe people in our pews, fellow clergy, the community at large, and eventually our Anglican Network fellow Christians should at least hear this and think about it. The Episcopal church in America has not been co-opted, hijacked, seduced, and hypnotized by post-Enlightenment liberal culture that has gone off the rails. It is instead following the directions and implications of the conservative, traditional lines of Anglican Christianity. It is conservative and traditional Anglicanism to be inclusive, and socially liberationist.

I add that a careful listening to Richard Rohr (Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM), will hear his conviction that much cultural liberalism, if it is not grounded in transformative spiritual practice, will be rootless.

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Liturgy of the Word.

I have written several pieces in which I cite Hooker and others in regard to the stool of authority which is actually multi-legged, not just three-legged. 2 I do this in particularly strong contrast to Anglican Network leaders, as well as friends of mine at the (Anglican Network) Church of the Holy Spirit in Tulsa, who keep sounding the sola scriptura (Bible alone) position. I keep teaching that it is not surprising that the Evangelical stream of Anglican Christianity—as well as pervasive Christian Evangelicalism-- has had this effect on contemporary Episcopalians. In my experience there is an embedded, largely unthinking assumption in much American religious culture which comes out as sola scriptura in many ways. Classic, traditional, conservative Anglican Christianity has a different tradition where reason and scripture—and Orandi, worship and prayer-- are mixed and engaged in many places, and the interaction is itself central, definitive as Christian praxis, the heart of the tradition, not some sophistical aberration. Benedictine lectio divina. The entire tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy and the desert tradition. Powerfully and notably in Anselm of Canterbury. If you want to watch the development of an English Christian from a non-conformist, Evangelical background into a Anglican Christian leader and teacher who is a liberal Anglo Catholic and who studied the Scriptures and Eastern Orthodoxy for the rest of his life, study the writings of—and writings about — Michael Ramsey (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1962-1974).

To say it baldly: Jesus is not sola scriptura in his preaching and teaching. Nor is Paul. You simply don’t have to look deeply into the New Testament to see this. Do we really think Paul was to be seen striding around the Mediterranean world with a copy of the King James Version of the Bible tucked under his arm, or holding it above his head when he preached? The idea would be, is, patently ridiculous, if it weren’t for generations of the misrepresentation of scripture which the sola scriptura mentality has created. When Christians hold our hands in the orans position, they are empty. Or perhaps we are imagining that when sola scriptura corrects the benighted Episcopal Church, celebrants of Eucharist will hold the Bible up when they hold their hands in the orans position, hold the Bible up at the same time they elevate the host and the cup, having people come to the altar rail carrying their Bibles in their hands for communion, and being given portions of Scripture instead of the Body and the Blood.

In this light, I cannot recommend highly enough the book Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church, by D.H. Williams (Baker Academic, 2005), an Evangelical Christian, professor at Baylor University, who roundly and thoroughly discredits the sola scriptura posture (as did Hooker), because he believes it is bad tradition and poorly taught Christianity.

It is perhaps difficult to "sound the certain trumpet" of traditional Anglican spirituality of the liturgy of the Word in a milieu of Joel Osteen’s practice of having throngs hold up their bibles and repeat variations of the sola scriptura formula. Yet, I think that social ministry is not the only trumpet we must clearly sound. The Anglican Christian mission does indeed include being clearly and strongly and persuasively heard in regard to our liturgy of the Word. Yes, lectio divina is (heaven forbid) a Latin word, yes, it is a more demanding spiritual discipline than Evangelical scripturalist methods. But this is our tradition, our inspiration, our liturgy of the Word, a way we have been given from deep in our Anglican and pre-Anglican Christian traditions. Who is the traditor here, when these traditions are unknown, untaught, propagandized against, tossed away?

At this point it becomes something beyond "catching" this understanding by attending the services of the Episcopal Church over time. It is something of a public relations project which deserves thought, creativity, resources, and missionary zeal. This may well be an internal effort in our local congregations as well. I have yet to write the case study of what took place at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Tulsa. Short version: few people ever were shepherded or "discipled" into anything other than the sola scriptura view. Nor could I find among my friends anything remotely resembling the conservative, traditional Anglicanism which I keep pointing to. Ironically (and tragically from someone with my perspective in regard to charismatic renewal) when push came to shove, a gently charismatic Episcopal congregation became yet another American "Bible church" who now thinks it is deepening its relations with the Anglican tradition.

Word as Defense for the Anxious Ego: 1. Church and Word as Charism: 0

This failure, in my view, is not what charismatic Christians do to the Episcopal Church. This failure is what evangelical Christians seem to do to the charismatic renewal.

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"And Mystic Sweet Communion."

I often say that the Church’s experience makes mystics of us all.

By this I mean that one definition of mysticism is believing in what is not seen. When Christian unity is not seen, when schism is what is seen, we experience an involuntary mysticism, one we would not have chosen. Mark the Ascetic in the Philokalia describes this as involuntary adversity, which turns us deeply to God. Meister Eckardt taught that we fall and fall in the darkness until we are born up, we know not how.

When we no longer see what we believe mirrored back to us, but instead what we see is unrecognizable, beyond semblance, when our beliefs are not "realized" or discernable in our social environment, including the Church, there is an involuntary ascesis, a prying from our hands and minds that which we thought we were holding to, so that we may not confuse the charisms with the Bestower. Our kataphatic "objects" – especially our "church homes" or cultural homes – when apparently taken from us, leave us in the "cloud of unknowing," the apophatic, mystical place of wilderness.

Humbly I adore Thee, Verity unseen, who thy glory hidest ‘neath these shadows mean;

Lo, to thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed, tranced as it beholds thee,

Shrined within the cloud.

God, the Church, friends, adversaries: all hidden.

When koinonia fellowship with friends and clergy who have been experienced as sisters and brothers appears to disappear, clouded in a passionate barrage of blogs and vituperation, our communion is understood to be what it always really has been: mystical.

Don Lawrence, Chris Waters (clergy friends who have left the Episcopal Church recently), the LCMS Lutheran church, Baptists, Roman Catholics-- some breaks acutely painful in the immediacy of separation, some accepted with a generations-long resignation—all recede into a deeper, less visible realm of God’s communion, so we see in a glass even more darkly, our gaze toward one another being, as T.S. Eliot says, submarine, looking up through unquiet water.

And as Michael Ramsey taught in many places of his writing, our contemplation moves toward intercession, a heart-expanding struggle to hold the opposites, like Jesus holding the divine and human, and Anglicanism seeking to "hold" all the diverse threads, returning again into contemplation, in humility which is voluntary or involuntary, because we cannot hold it all ourselves or our hearts are not yet ready.

"Prayer is by nature a dialogue and a union of man with God. Its effect is to hold the world together." John of Climacus

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The Qur’an in Islam and the Bible in Christianity.

In many contexts of the Anglican communion, as well as other Christian communities, the sharp contrast between historic Christianity’s liturgy with its Bible and Islam’s views of the Qur’an makes for difficulties in Christian apologetics. I believe this is a contemporary context for some Christians’ preoccupation with the issue of Biblical authority.

This issue is not something to be attended to in short thoughts I’m offering here.

The Muslim world, for the most part, genuinely believes that it has been, in multiple and decisive ways, more true to and conserving of the revelation of the Qur’an, than either Jews or Christians have been stewards of either the text or the contents of God’s revelations to them.. It is, if not a scandal, certainly a point of definitive "supersession" – not an Islamic word—for them that Christians have many versions of the Bible, that the writers of the Gospels seem to be providing their own human, imperfect memories and renderings of the Word brought through the prophet Jesus, and a variety of other perceived limitations and inadequacies of Christianity’s Bible.

The only point I want to make here is that Christianity cannot use Islamic standards for Christian scriptures. The two religions—with the exception of Christian versions of Biblical fundamentalism—simply have significantly different traditions for understanding the integrity and reliability—and of course contents-- of their sacred scriptures.

It is not a question of Christians "outdoing" Muslims from within a framework of how Muslims believe "people of the Book" should practice a spirituality of preserving sacred revelation.

In my view this question ultimately has less to do with the authority of sacred scriptures and more to do with becoming co-pilgrims in a shared world.

These are huge historical issues. It is my present conviction that Christian contemplative prayer and the Islamic tradition of dhikr, or remembrance of God—convergent with the Orthodox tradition of the Jesus prayer and the "one word" prayer of the Cloud of Unknowing—is at least as promising a path to venture upon together than a path of apologetical contests about the authority of scripture.

In this light, I also recommend that people find and study the works of the Jesuit Sebastian Painadoth, most recently We are Co-Pilgrims: Toward a Culture of Inter-religious Harmony, Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2006. (Not available yet through Amazon).

Painadath, a Christian leader in the ashram movement, and drawing from the Hindu tradition, articulates an "Inter-Religious Hermeneutics in Theology." It is no doubt easier to explore this in the context of India, with its long tradition of "many pathways up the mountain," than among Christians and Muslims. However, to speak personally, when I place my head upon the earth at the Sunni mosque I sometimes visit, in prayer among my "brothers to be" (i.e. we must become what we already are), I know that such a pilgrimage is a path to dare. Pentecost is not only the Pentecost of the nations, it is the Pentecost of all the world’s religions and their "languages." As the communitiy sings in the Gayatri mantra at the Christian ashram, Osage Monastery Forest of Peace, in Sand Springs Oklahoma: "Universal Lord I bow to you."

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About the author:

Dr. Glandon is an Episcopal clergyman, the executive director of the Center for Counseling and Education in Tulsa, a diplomate in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, and an Associate of the Order of Julian of Norwich. He is a graduate of the Pecos Benedictine Monastery’s School for Spiritual Directors and is member of Spiritual Directors International. He leads five weekly "contemplative practice" groups.

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For further study:

  1. Rabindranath Tagore, "The Gitanjali" (Song Offerings), 1913, at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/
  2. "Scripture, tradition and reason -- Hooker’s supposed 3-legged stool,"  http://www.episcopalian.org/

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Original posting: 2007-MAY-29
Latest update: 2007-MAY-29
Author: Clyde Glandon

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