St. Benedict's counsel to "Prefer Christ Above All Things" centered in Spirituality in Search for Unity was the topic. The first speaker was Fr. Luke Dysinger from St. Andrew's Benedictine Abbey in Valyermo, CA; Fr. Luke, a professed monk, ordained priest and board-certified physician teaches at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, California. You easily can find information about Fr. Luke's splendid achievements so I won't detail them here.
Though I heard this during the Q&A at the end, for starters there is no Benedictine order per se, no one truly serves as abbot primate, but worldwide there are many communities following the Rule of Benedict. Also after the formal conclusion of our time together, Pastor John George Huber, who chairs our Faith, Order & Witness Committee, took this photo of Canon David and Fr. Luke standing in front of a beautiful illumination.
From Father Luke I was surprised to hear that his Rule, the Regula Sancti Benedicti from the 6th century, predating all divisions within Christianity, is the only thing extant about Benedict; its antiquity makes it common to Roman Catholics, Anglicans and every other expression of the Church, as well. Because I live baptized, the Rule of Benedict is mine already—it is a "primordial articulation of the way we live together in community" and all about the "spirituality of the baptized, about the way Christians lived when they knew they had to give witness to their faith in a hostile world," Fr. Luke explained. The harsh, grandiose abbot speaking in The Rule of a Master forms approximately 1/3 of Benedict's Rule. However, chapter 72 is exclusively Benedict's with nothing from the earlier Rule of a Master. As Fr. Luke observed, we find the two paths of life and death in many spiritual traditions. Check out this link to Benedict's Rule and choose your preferred language.
I savored hearing others explain what I've been trying to tell people about how God speaks through the voices of those with whom we live (work, play and pray), and through our guests, too. Not that I don't trust my own insights and perceptions, but the ongoing lack of peer conversation (still) and the way my comments and observations seem barely tolerated for a while and almost every time I know I'm making a cogent and critical contribution to the topic on tap it gets changed or my perspective dismissed. "The light that deifies" (sanctifies, uncovers and reveals our Divine nature, engenders theosis) changes and transforms us; living words bring nuances you can't "get" from a mere printed, written text. Sounds exactly like Jesus and even about Jesus' life still lived through us! For Benedict the "Schola" is not only about a typical, formal arrangement of speaker - listener - hearer, but evokes a school of fish, a group of creatures, of created ones moving together in the same direction, an assembly, a gathering of community united in spirit and purpose. The Schola Cantorum in the monastery, the cathedral or the local parish is more than the usual choir, but a unity that sings with a single voice.
Fr. David cited claims by Paul and Benedict that living in community there's a good, legitimate competitiveness, as Paul writes in Romans 12:10-11,
love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.I love the idea that when we look past whatever irritating thing our neighbor, friend or relative is doing and act in love anyway, there's no need whatsoever to pretend they're not driving us nuts! Dionysius the Areopagite says there is no unmediated grace, so we live as channels of divine grace to one another. That sounds Jesus-y, too! Needless to say, "only in dialogue with 'others' do we make any spiritual progress." Reprising one of our intercessions during worship: "Through your cross and resurrection, fill us with the consolation of the Spirit," Fr. Luke cited Martin Luther's insisting the "consolation of the brethren is a means of grace."
Moving from spectacles, signs and wonders to simple presence...in the past I've written, taught and tried to remind myself that even the gods of the Egyptians could do the signs and wonders, but one of the revolutionary things about Yahweh was YHWH's constant, unmediated, presence with creation. Although he responded later to several questions from the audience, Fr. Luke closed his formal talk by telling us our self-identification with a particular denomination, tradition, community, liturgical style or theological perspective is "wonderful and beautiful, but insufficient." We need the great(er) whole.
Canon David Caffrey, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Redlands, in the San Bernardino mountains presented the second and concluding talk.
As Father Luke already had told us, in Thomas Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer we find "Anglican spirituality is profoundly Benedictine." Canon Caffrey explained a trio of main points: 1) the Benedictine nature of Anglicanism; 2) points of convergence between Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism; and 3) practical grounds and common witness between the two traditions. There are varying cultural expression but no substantive differences; in other words, we all have the same DNA. As he pointed out, literally hundreds of monastery ruins are scattered throughout the British Isles!
Briefly for this blog, triune pairs: work, study and prayer plus obedience [ob + audire - "leaning toward listening"], stability [doing life with others, being a Christian with others and yes, you do need to go to church to be a Christian, you need to be stable to stay put and sink deep roots, since nothing can thrive or even survive with multiple random uprootings and replantings] and conversion - the dynamic process of growth and metanoia, conversion.
A shorthand description of Anglicanism and, of course, its primary expression in this country as The Episcopal Church would say it's neither experiential nor confessional, but pragmatic and liturgical: it's about showing up, gathering in assembly, eating together and drinking together—a life centered in the Eucharist. In all 3 lectionary years we find the pericope about the apostle Thomas on Easter 2. Canon Caffrey told us Thomas was no doubter; Thomas showed up, and that is faith! The opposite of faith is disobedience, not doubt.
Like Father Luke, Canon Caffrey reminded us God best speaks to us within community, when others are present. These days I'm still wondering about things the mirror I've found in others has been showing me about myself for all too long. The monastery abbot is commissioned by rule to listen to others! In describing some differences in style, Canon Caffrey more than suggested the strong suit of both Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism is the post-conversion resources the traditions provide a person "for the long haul, for the day to day, daily grind." Both toolshed and sacristy are equally sacred...
Before lunch of sandwiches, chips (pickles, cookies, soft drinks and healthy beverages) from a local Togo's, both speakers fielded a handful of questions. Regarding iconography of the Divine, Fr. Luke reminded us the only face of God is the face of Jesus Christ—the gray-haired bearded guy behind a cloud is false and there never was an avian incarnation, either... This reminds me of the small Yahweh fan group (ummm..."Product Page") I belong to on Facebook! Nonetheless, ever since the Bethlehem manger held the mystery of Spirit in Flesh, God never has a dis-carnate existence. An audience member asked about the emphasis on Christ rather than on Jesus—especially interesting given the Nazarene's own preference as recorded in the synoptics for calling himself son of man, the human one. An excerpt from one of Brian Wren's hymns has been making web rounds, from the Christmas cantata Welcome All Wonders:
Good is the flesh that the Word has becomeThe half-day with ARC San Diego again has gotten me thinking. How did I feel in that environment? Very much the way I feel on the University of San Diego Campus, actually: peacefully calm, often wondering what it would be like to attend school and learn in such a space. The scriptural grounding and thoughtful structure of the very well performed liturgy and the excellent congregational participation made me realize (again) why people remain in the Roman Catholic tradition and reminded me of my need for the Church's historic sacramental liturgies and the way they connect the extreme brokenness of my history of the past dozen plus years to the church and to the people of God in every place and time. My near-constant cry and overwhelming grief has been about the loss of history shared with people I'd fully expected to grow old(er) with, though I truly appreciate people I've met who do seem to take me for what they see and seem willing to gradually hear more of my story. In my own words, "people willing to hear my story and to trust me with theirs." In the wake of the ARC dialogue again I'm seeking God's current calling to me, again I'm agonizing about stewardship of my gifts, education and experience—of my life. I've never lived inside its gates, but the social scientist and the human within me has a sense that churches that are organized more vertically and heirarchically somehow have more freedom within the ranks, as if the lines are clearer.
good is the birthing, the milk in the breast,
good is the feeding, caressing and rest,
good is the body for knowing the world,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.
Good is the body for knowing the world,
sensing the sunlight, the tug of the ground,
feeling, perceiving, within and around,
good is the body, from cradle to grave,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.
Good is the body from cradle to grave,
growing and aging, arousing, impaired,
happy in clothing, or lovingly bared,
good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.
Amidst my continued praying, thinking and hoping, I'll conclude with a picture of this ceramic that's exactly like the one I received as a gift at one of the many parties and farewell receptions held for me before I left City of History for the Intermountain West. And yes, not only the sacraments but memories and physical symbols of my own achievements and accomplishments are a huge part of what gives me hope for a meaningful life of service in what I need to trust will be the very proximate future. Saint Andrew's Abbey features many of the uniquely characteristic ceramics designed by Father Maur van Doorslaer, O.S.B.. I wish to my (probably very occasional, given the rate I haven't been posting) blog readers, to the world and these days particularly to myself fulfillment of this Celtic prayer of many versions and variants I first heard in the Moody Blues' Celtic Sonant:
Deep peace of the running wave to youMay the endless peace of the Crucified and Risen One heal us all and abide with us...Amen!
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining star to you
Deep peace of the son of peace to you