A thought worth pondering, I think.
A thought worth pondering, I think.
Just one more, and then I promise I will recede back into my self-imposed Lenten sabbatical, at least for a while…!
This came across my news-feed just this morning:
Nowadays, this is all too sadly true.
Too many young women today are destroying their natural beauty with tattoos and piercings, scrawling all over the masterpiece God made them to be, and dressing to be provocative or shocking rather than in ways that exemplify an objective standard of beauty, such as that expressed by St. Thomas Aquinas:
“Beauty, as St. Thomas says, is objective and has four attributes: truth, goodness, oneness and symmetry. Beauty, when comprised of these qualities, directs us to God…
“Truth can be seen in clothing [and, I would add, other forms of adornment] that identifies the wearer as a man or woman, his status and occupation, even his character and family. Goodness is in the quality of materials and fine workmanship, and in the modesty that respects the natural virtues. Oneness is in the completeness of the ensemble and the way it matches in an ordered way. Symmetry is the proportion, consistency and uniformity that comprise it.
See the images above and to the right, and below, for classic examples! Examples of the alternative are all too easy to find, and need not be dwelt upon.
“This can be applied to everything: music and architecture, furnishings in the home, work and crafts, words and manners, meals and dinner tables, beautiful prayers and good reading. Local traditions sustain cultural beauty in holidays, ceremonies and ways of being that began long ago when people turned to God and received a flow of grace to generations. This realization makes us love and keep alive tradition. Beauty is expressed in many cultures and is diverse since God’s creation is immense. However, beauty cannot go against the natural order.”
Traditionalism, the revolt against the excesses of the modern (and postmodern) age, is indeed the new counterculture. Be counter-cultural! Be a rebel! Vive la révolution nuvelle et ancienne! Ce qui est vieux est nouveau.
Note: the young woman pictured above may be the lovely and talented Marilena – looks a lot like her, but I’m not sure it actually is. At any rate, be sure to click through to the linked video to see an example of how a young woman can be flirty and irresistible, without being degenerate in the process!
“It is sometimes more progressive to look back a thousand years than to look forward three weeks.”
— Martin Thornton, English Spirituality
Who is Martin Thornton? Here is a brief introduction (click here for the more substantive one from which this is excerpted) that might be helpful:
“A farmer, Anglican priest and spiritual director who lived primarily in the UK yet also taught in the US (and almost became a professor at Nashotah House), Thornton’s voice in his 13 books remains remarkably sober, pastoral, and witty—yet rigorously theological and erudite.
His purpose was simple: he wanted to equip priests and lay catechists with the appropriate tools to teach prayer—liturgically, biblically, doctrinally, devotionally—that cultivates Anglican parish health within the Catholic Church toward our eventual union with the Holy Trinity at the Second Coming of Christ. His value to us today is that he wrote in prophetic anticipation of the then-nascent reconfiguration of Christian life to post-Christendom. That is, he wrote not to ‘keep the boat afloat’ but rather to ‘pick up after the party.’
“Anglicans have got themselves into quite a predicament, to put it mildly. For Thornton, the recovery of Anglican strength and genius lies not in recreating past glory but rather ressourcement: creative re-application through prayer of what formed us in the first place. It should then come as no surprise that his theological outlook is anchored in the Book of Common Prayer seen as Regula, that is, as a corporate system or Rule of ‘ascetic’ in the tradition of the Rule of Saint Benedict.”
“A plant severed from its roots is more likely to attract parasites than to bear fruit. There is no substitute for direct connections with the past.”
— David Kucharsky
Or as I tend to phrase it, a tree severed from its roots is more likely to wither and die than to bring forth fruit. Two ways of expressing the same idea…
I’m busy planning out my personalized Lent. I need to decide what to give up. I need to decide what to give away. I need to pick books to read and do things that are tailored to my own personal, spiritual needs. Lent arrives soon. Am I ready? There are so many choices to make. Or are there?
It is Ash Wednesday, and Lent is upon us! For some, it may come as a relief: an opportunity to sort out the clutter in our spiritual lives, and focus on what is really important: the love of God, shown for us in the life, death, and Resurrection of His Son our Lord, Jesus Christ. But for others, it may be a source of angst, as we may know that we’re “supposed” to do something, but may not be quite sure what.
And so we dither and agonize until, suddenly, here it is Lent, and we still don’t know what to do. If you’re in that situation, why not consider simply doing what the Church has always done, joining yourself to that stream of tradition, and letting yourself be bouyed up by it? Here’s how.
Note: the title makes it seem like an argument in favor of a “self-tailored” Lent, but in fact it’s quite the contrary: an invitation to live into the classical Lenten tradition:
If I weren’t tailoring my own personal Lenten experience, and were just following the tradition, I would:
• fast on Ash Wednesday,
• read the Bible with special attention,
• read the Church Fathers (and Mothers),
• give up sweets and alcohol (except on Sundays),
• abstain from meats on Friday (or perhaps give up one meal),
• give away extra money to help the poor,
• volunteer my time to visit and assist the sick, the prisoner, or the outcast.
The tradition is not totally uniform. But this a basic outline of Lenten disciplines for many generations back.
Why should I craft my own personal Lent when this old, shared, practical tradition exists?
In our era of DIY spirituality, that’s a question that is well worth pondering!
There are things I might add or “tweak,” slightly, if I were crafting my own observance, but that’s precisely the point: it can be salutary, and spiritually rewarding, not to craft one’s own observance, but simply to enter, sympathetically and whole-heartedly, into the tradition, and allow oneself to be shaped and formed by it.
If you have not already decided on a Lenten discipline – or even if you have, but would like a slightly different perspective, or perhaps even ideas for next year – read this essay. Our secular society tends to view tradition as stultifying, confining, limiting. But in fact, it can often be quite liberating!
Whatever you choose to do, or whatever observances you choose, I wish you God’s blessing for a holy and nourishing Lent.
What I would describe as an absolute tour de force by The Right Reverend Mark David Haverland, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Anglican Catholic Church (a Continuing Anglican jurisdiction with which the UECNA is in communion). He writes, inter alia,
“Anglicanism is not a distinctive and finished system, but an approach, a method, and a temper. Anglicanism is not doctrines that distinguish it from those of other Churches, because Anglicans assert that what they believe is plainly founded in the Scriptures believed by those other Churches and in the first millennium of those Churches. That same faith of the first millennium is or should be decisive in all Churches for interpreting the Scriptural deposit.
“That which distinguishes Anglicans in doctrinal terms, then, is a kind of restraint concerning doctrinal commitment flowing from an unwillingness to innovate or even to receive older teachings that go far beyond Scripture and the consensus of the Churches. It is precisely this self-limitation which makes possible an openness to the great Churches of the East and the West. We assert and press nothing as essential, so far as we can see, that they do not themselves affirm, only questioning their differences from each other which seem to have no strong foundation in the Fathers or in the consensus of the first millennium.”
If that doesn’t hit the nail on the head, I don’t know what does. He also seems to take a bow to what I describe – approvingly, I might add! – as cultural Anglicanism, an approach which is characterized by defining “Anglican”
“rather non-theologically by emphasizing its cultural or civilizational characteristics, products, and influences. I have myself used this approach on occasions. On this view… Anglicanism is Anglican chant, Vaughan Williams hymns, the King’s College service of Lessons and Carols, and the English musical and choral tradition; the sermons of John Donne and Lancelot Andrewes; the poems of George Herbert, John Keble, W.H. Auden, and T.S. Eliot; the Barsetshire novels and Swift’s satires and Robertson Davies’s Salterton trilogy and the writings of C.S. Lewis; the sons and daughters of Anglican rectories; the prose of Hooker’s Laws and the Authorized Version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer; a deeply felt but undemonstrative and unsentimental piety; Wren churches and English country parishes; the moral seriousness that outlawed the slave trade and stopped suttee and beat the Nazis; Evensong of a summer’s afternoon; the Queen’s Christmas address with its consistent, gentle emphasis on our Saviour’s birth.
“This approach might look at first like the ‘kitchen sink’, as it accumulates the stuff of centuries in an apparent gatherum omnium. In fact, however, there is a good deal of definition and coherence to the list. There’s no modernism or neo-Pentecostalism in it, for one thing. For another thing, while a Roman Catholic or an Eastern Orthodox Christian might think some important things are missing from it, there’s little or nothing positively in it that he would find objectionable.”
Let me be clear: I love this tradition, deeply and passionately. It is a good bit of what brought me into Anglicanism in the first place, and I would hate to lose it. But – and this is the point I think Archbishop Haverland was getting at – this approach is, by itself, merely (or mainly) cultural, and, I must reluctantly admit, a bit hazy and nostalgic: unless stiffened and given spiritual and theological substance by the first and more rigorous set of criteria Archbishop Haverland delineates above.
There is, in my view, nothing wrong with cultural Anglicanism, if it flows out of and serves as a very fitting and proper cultural expression of theological Anglicanism. If it does not, if it’s expected to stand on its own without the theological and doctrinal substance of the Holy Scriptures, the Patristic Creeds and Councils, and the overall witness of the ancient and undivided Church of the first millennium of the Christian era, it can be a bit of a house built upon sand.
There are plenty of people out there, in the Episcopal Church, the Church of England, and elsewhere in the Anglican Communion, who love these things, too; but who also embrace all manner of theological and moral innovation and relativism. Glorious choral music, fine poetry and literature, and pastoral country scenes (as per the picture with which I opened this post), while highly admirable in themselves, are not sufficient.
At any rate: click through the link to Archbishop Haverland’s essay, and “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” it. Spiritual nourishment to start your Lenten observance! And may God indeed bless you with a holy Lent.
While we’re eating our pancakes or doughnuts, let’s not forget that the real reason for Shrove Tuesday is to prepare for a holy celebration of Lent: it’s not only about pancakes, but about penitence for one’s sins! The doughnuts or pancakes were made in order to use up the fat and eggs from which folks would be abstaining during the Lenten Fast (this is also the origin of “Fat Tuesday,” or “Mardi Gras”).
As the images above point out, “shrove” is the past tense of the archaic English verb “to shrive,” meaning to be absolved of and receive pardon from one’s sins through confession and penitence, again in preparation for a holy Lent – the time of penitence and self-examination leading up to Good Friday and Easter, the commemoration of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Or, as the Prayer Book exhortation puts it,
“… if there be any of you, who by this means [prayerful self-examination, and repentance before God on one’s own] cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or to some other Minister of God’s Word” – another Anglican source refers to “a discrete and understanding priest” – “and open his grief; that he may receive such godly counsel and advice, as may tend to the quieting of his conscience, and the removing of all scruple and doubtfulness.”
The traditional Anglican standard for this sort of private confession to / with a priest is that “all may, some should, none must.” That seems, to me, a good approach.
Wishing everyone a holy, as well as a happy, Shrove Tuesday!