Monday, June 14, 2010


Every year in June, the Sisters of the Community of St. Mary’s offer their Associates and Oblates  a silent retreat at St. Mary’s here on the Mountain. Sister Julian has been a coordinator for the past three years, and this year she organized a program that was a bit different from the meditations offered in previous years. She focused on the positive aspects of Anglicanism, embracing the entire “Anglican Tapestry,” as she called it, with worship services taken from Canada, New Zealand, Kenya, Nigeria, and Scotland, and litanies from Ireland and Kenya. This impressive tapestry emphasized “Diversity in Unity in the Anglican Communion.” If anyone came away feeling that we Anglicans should follow a rigid religion within the constructs of a tidy, antiquated system comprised of people who say we’re the one true church, they didn’t get Sister Julian's message.

Being Anglican or Episcopalian, in my opinion, means that we live with a variety of approaches and experiences under the umbrella of Christianity. Actually, at Lambeth in 1968, the Anglican Church was affirmed as a comprehensive church. Hopefully, we have learned from the controversies in our history that we can tolerate disagreement about the apprehension of truth, and this comprehensiveness will prevent us from feeling that it’s necessary to break communion. In ’68, Lambeth’s bishops said that in leading us into truth the Holy Spirit might surprise us. And I won’t belabor that thought.

I’ve been an Episcopalian for 75 years, and as far as I can understand, the Church is to imbue people with a common sense of worship through the Book of Common Prayer and work within the common culture that follows Richard Hooker’s three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. As David Holmes tells us in his history of the Episcopal Church, being an Anglican or Episcopalian means that we exercise a certain reluctance to push too hard to make boundaries that exclude, and we recognize that much learning comes from comparing experiences and exploring differences positively. One of these differences is in regard to Scripture. We believe that Scripture is the living word, which does not close down possibilities. As a living word, it affirms and invites the challenge of interpretation. We don’t have any neat formulas within which Christians can be safe and static. So, our approach values intuition as well as logic, faith as well as formulas and process as well as context. Holmes goes on to say that the price of being an Episcopalian or Anglican is the acceptance of some untidiness. Urban T. Holmes defined the consciousness of Anglicanism as "dominantly feminine: the sense of a community of thought as opposed to a well-defined definitive position…” We’re definitely not a pietistic religion and believe that Scripture is about “good news” and wholeness, not about proof texting and judgment. Or so I was taught!

Sister Julian’s lectures wove a tapestry of diversity, unity through word and sacrament, unity in mission, seeing God’s goodness in all things bound together in God’s love, and concluded with a beautiful Taize’ service in the chapel, a row of candles flickering in the evening light. Sister Madeline Mary, the songbird of St. Mary’s community, led us in singing Taize’ chants. Taize’ is an expression of reconciliation and is an ecumenical tradition begun by Frere Roger, leader of a monastic community in France, which incorporates chants or singing prayer. Many of the songs, sung in Latin, are derived from Gregorian chants. The idea is that through singing chants, sometimes a phrase repeated over and over, people’s minds are quieted, and the heart is opened. Taize’ is sung by denominations all over the world and was conceived as a way of assisting the discouraged and deprived. Its community in France attracts pilgrims from around the world to study, to share and pray, and to do communal work. Within the Taize’ community, Christians receive affirmation to live in the spirit of reconciliation.

This morning at breakfast I thought about Madeleine L`Engle, a devout Episcopalian and Christian writer, who believed in universal salvation and who wrote that “All will be redeemed in God’s fullness of time…all, not just the small portion of the population who have been given the grace to know and accept Christ…all the little lost ones.” For a time, because of her views on universal salvation, many Christian bookstores refused to stock her books, and some of them were banned from libraries and schools. I think she’d have liked Sister Julian’s approach to a unified church and the lesson of love. It occurred to me that more retreats emphasizing the positive aspects of Anglicanism and its mission, accompanied by diverse worship services and Taize’ singing would keep us from being smug Anglicans. Such retreats would foster good will and inspire inclusiveness within and outside our Anglican Tradition, which has always been a comprehensive tradition, despite Pietism movements, the Oxford Movement, Fundamentalist movements, dissension, schisms, etc. Perhaps in the next century, long after my demise, Christians—Anglican and other denominations—will be singing Taize’ with one voice, and when they look into each other’s eyes, they’ll see the eyes of “The One Whom None Can Hinder,” as my Baptist great-grandmother once said.

1 comment:

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