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I wrote the following last night for some friends. They urged me to post it to the COVENANT web site and for good measure I’m posting it on my own blog. I hope it helps those who feel that there must be an answer to our present woes out side the “structure” of the Anglican Communion and of our own branch of that part of the Church Catholic:

“I have just got up after trying to sleep. The wounds in my side where tubes were inserted to drain the area around my lung are nearly healed but more uncomfortable than usual, I had to go to the dentist today and a parishioner is grumbling that I haven’t picked up on the signs of her stress: I have been in hospital or at home for the last 8 weeks! “Who needs this,” I grumble, as I see my former jurisdiction, the Anglican Province of America flirting with Common Cause, those of us who are loyal to our church criticized for our lack of political strategy and I worry if I will be well enough when I am interviewed for a new parish on Jan 3rd.

So I am reading “Where God Happens” by +Rowan Williams and tonight he bursts into clarity. He’s talking about the desert fathers and mothers and their temptation to wander even further into the desert in search of peace and being advised to press against the walls of their cells, literally press against the stone and make shift with what they have.

Some of you have heard of St. Anthony of Egypt. After Christianity became respectable some who yearned for the stricter discipline of the persecution years went out into the wilderness, the Egyptian desert. They lived largely solitary lives, coming together for prayer and Eucharist. They owned perhaps a plate and a cup, the food they grew or that was given to them and nothing else. They tended to be pretty hard on themselves but not so hard on others.

After quoting advice given to those who still were not satisfied, Archbishop Rowan remarks that our great danger is that we thirst for magic, for an existence now where it is all better. Perhaps this was the temptation given by the devil to Jesus. In reality all the devil could offer was illusion. Even though Jesus did miracles they reinforced the real. They didn’t create something that isn’t.

I was thinking that what the liberals offer and what Common Cause and the Global South offer us is magic, something unreal. If we are seduced by it it will not be “far away” enough and we will press for something more pure, more magical. We must find the solution to what ails the church by pressing harder against its walls, which means for us rediscovering its authenticity. The solution is in what the Anglican Communion is, in its odd ways of decision making, in its strange discipline and NOT in seeking the magic of another world, the pure world of Calvinism or some form of Roman Catholicism that even Pope Benedict wouldn’t recognize. For us we must press against the cell wall of the mundane reality of what it means to be in Communion with Canterbury and with each other worked out for many of us in the parish, the regular round of prayer, the celebration of the Eucharist, in community, however exasperating parishioner may be, in deeper study of the Scriptures and in learning to speak the Gospel clearly and winsomely.

Our own church, and that means us, is guilty of looking for magic, something not real, where sin and poverty are abolished by program and legislation, a world all but the most romantic reject as phoney and so they stay away, and in reaction many of us have sought to create another kind of pure church, doctrinally pure, pure and tidy in discipline and again only attractive to the romantic and the virtuous but phoney to every one else. We may not like the “desert” of Communion Anglicanism but God has placed us in this “cell” and if we remember well, others have lived in it before us, others who we now celebrate and venerate for their holiness. So the cell must be all right, it must be a holy place. We’ve just been seduced by magic?

3 Responses

  1. Thank you for this, Fr Tony. Rowan is most illuminating when he turns to the Desert Fathers. I recall a day of reflection he led here about 5 years ago, when he was still in Wales which was a real spiritual highlight.

    I have spent a good deal of the last 40-odd years telling people that the principal reason I remain in the Anglican church is precisely that fuzzy-edged nature of it. It is I think the only church in Christendom which doesn’t claim some special line on the truth. For that reason I think it just might get nearer to it than most. That is certainly what keeps me from swimming the Tiber. I feel no pull in the Genevan direction!

    What is more, I suspect that it is more likely that you will hear in an Anglican church that primarily we trust in God, rather than believing the Westminster Confession of the Penny Cathechism. This is not unconnected with the fuzzy edges of course, but readiness to trust God finally to take care of the problem of whom he loves and whom he saves actually releases us from a whole lot of hassle. I’m beginning to get VERY tired of some of the wilder posters on Blogs – especially those who criticise Rowan when they clearly don’t begin to understand what he says or even where he’s coming from.

    Fr John Marshall

  2. Dear Father John:

    I do appreciate your encouragement in what can be a lonely role. I do so agree with you in your assessment that many who attack +Rowan have read little he has written and understood even less. I am sure there’s some plain old fashioned if subliminal anti Anglo-Catholicism in this. And again everything is reduced to personality and rival personalities.

    Happy and Blessed Christmas.


  3. What I hope most (want for Christmas?) is not that anything will be resolved one way or the other, but that the Anglican Communion will be comprehensive enough to determine that one’s stance regarding ordination of GLBT folks and blessing of same-sex unions falls into the “non-essential” category about which faithful Anglicans, much less faithful Christians may disagree.

    I don’t expect that to happen in this polarized environment, but a guy can dream!

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