Seek the Lord

In my previous blog post, Presidential Fallout, I reflected on the effects of the last presidential campaign and election on the church and particularly on the evangelical and Pentecostal/ neo-Pentecostal parts of the church. I want to reflect further on the latter, asking what it was that could turn what was often a renewal from God (at least in some people’s lives) into something that often drives people from the church. Basically, my answer is twofold: (1) forgetting the tried and true ways of spiritual renewal and ministry found in church history and (2) seeking the power of God and the gifts of the Spirit rather than seeking God himself and letting him grant whatever gifts whenever he wishes.

I want to express how I developed these conclusions by presenting my own narrative:

We got involved with a German charismatic movement in 1975. There were no “power people,” no special initiation event (e.g. “baptism in the Holy Spirit”) – it was contemplative and in the context of a quiet seeking the Lord some of the named (and unnamed) gifts of the Spirit manifested. We were thankful for the results, of course, both for personal spiritual refreshment and for our joy in a work of God when my boss was healed of what doctors expected to be a deadly cancer. Yet we did not pay a lot of attention to phenomena, for our eyes were fixed on Jesus.

Over the years after our return to the USA we were involved in a variety of healing and ministry movements, including neo-Pentecostal versions, which often mixed with older movements. We were involved in Camps Farthest Out and The Order of St Luke the Physician. My first Eucharist as an Episcopal priest was a tiny healing Eucharist in a large church (and, yes, someone was healed); my one ordination gift was an oil stock that had been used in Episcopal healing ministry for something like 40 years plus before being passed on to me in 1979. We knew Baptists like Roland Brown and Catholics-in-Exile like Francis MacNutt. I doubt we had “experienced it all,” but we had experienced a lot. 

But what were we looking for? We were seeking closeness to God but, other than those times that God directed us to this or that, we were seeking it affirmation of that closeness in concrete experiences, in seeing healing, in experiencing this or that gift. And that is also what the early Pentecostals sought – the gifts and the power to assure them of the presence of the Spirit – and the later neo-Pentecostal movement in mainline and Catholic churches.

In 1985, I believe, an interdenominational pastor’s renewal fellowship to which I belonged invited John Wimber and a team to come to Vancouver, BC. What struck me was (1) that Wimber was not the show, so to speak, when it came to healing but that he got prayer teams praying for people and walked off the platform, while the prayer teams drew in others around them, so that at the end of the conference it was mostly the conferees who were praying rather than the team, and (2) that Wimber saw events like that conference and healing prayer in churches as “clinic” with the real “stuff” happening in the street as people prayed for or ministered to people in the course of their daily lives. That sounded a lot like Acts and the purpose behind the manifestations of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12. It also struck me that the music was intimate and contemplative, especially if Wimber himself shifted to the keyboard. 

A team from Anaheim came to my church the Sunday after the conference, and I had forgotten that it was Pentecost. Well, it was Pentecost that day in more ways than one. However, what I remember is the words of one humble member of the Vineyard team in a Q&A time: “Seek the Lord, seek the Lord, seek the Lord; and when are finished then seek him some more.” The various signs and wonders were simply tools the Lord hands one as one seeks him and his will and goes about sharing his love in the world at his direction. 

The wisdom of that focus would come out in the next months. On the one hand, “powerful” charismatic “ministers” showed up in our church, “called by the Lord,” to “help.” They drifted in, and, wisely, the elders did not give them a platform (had they stayed long enough and humbly proved themselves it would have been another matter) and happily they were “called elsewhere.” We also realized that some of them were inspired by a dark spirit, not the Holy Spirit. Others were emotionally or spiritually wounded. That was a lesson learned. When there is a public move of the Spirit of God it attracts all sorts of counterfeits, including, as St John of the Cross notes in Ascent of Mt Carmel, the devil’s counterfeits. 

Then there were some in the church who experienced the initial “wave” of the Spirit who sought ever new power experiences, what I now recognize as the instability that St Benedict, Jean-Claude Nolt, and Joseph Ratzinger talked of (the latter two under the term “acedia”). Various communities, sometimes parts of churches that had been part of inviting Wimber, sometimes home communities, started inviting “power ministers” and members of my church got involved. I often went to these events, for, while I was not drawn to the loud music (often poorly played in the smaller venues), anti-intellectual comments (not being educated was held up as a qualification for ministry), and poor exegesis of scripture, I also realized that one must go with an open mind and experience such events from within if one is to really understand them. After all, the Spirit sometimes comes in strange guises. Furthermore, it was where my friends and congregants were going, so I needed to know what they were experiencing. I always went forward if pastors and leaders were called forward for prayer and at times I was prayed over in small groups. I did have quiet experiences with God, but basically independent of what the “power minister” was trying to do – they were spontaneous, not directed. After one meeting in which a lot of people were falling (i.e. “slain in the Spirit” as the lingo goes) a week later I talked to four I knew well asked about the experience and its effects. One was indeed significantly changed for the positive with lasting effects, two felt it had affected them positively that evening but with little long-term change, and for one it “was just an experience.” Apparently, the ministry was less than infallible. But, I was where I needed to be, inside, participating, and reflecting later. However, this raised my level of concern about seeking power, or powerful experiences, or gifts versus seeking God in all humility and only asking for gifts as needed for particular acts of charity that one felt God was leading one to perform. I did not see much humility in those meetings.

The other issue that arose was “the prophetic.” While in my understanding of Scripture so-called “words of knowledge” are actually a form of prophetic speech, in seeking “the prophetic” people were looking at full-time “prophets” as models and seeking much more intense forms of prophecy, either prophecy given to groups directing what they should do or prophecy given to individuals directing what they should do. Later there would develop “strategic spiritual warfare” that was over cities and nations, often without the knowledge of said cities or nations, and which sought through performative prophetic speech to influence the course of history. But that would start in the 1990’s. We saw that leading up to and in the Jericho Marches of November – December 2020.

There was some quite responsible prophetic ministry that seemed to build up and impel people to a deeper relationship with Jesus and some quite abusive ministry that seem to build up the “prophet” or the leader the prophet was associated with or that seemed to try to control a person, church, or leader. I certainly heard of “prophets” who crossed sexual boundaries themselves. The end result in my church was that, after I had moved away to another city, the church blew apart, so to speak, with a number of wounded individuals. The cause was “prophetic” leadership. Eventually, the remnant of the church merged with a quite traditional evangelical community that needed a building. While this happened before my eyes, even if at a distance, it is also generally true that the rise and fall of charismatic covenant communities and churches because of controlling leaders or leaders who transgressed financial, sexual, or personal boundaries does litter the church landscape. I choose not to name the groups or the leaders. What I will say is that some of them had quite a positive effect upon me and my family, sometimes before they “went off the rails,” sometimes because they were at a distance and sometimes after the original leader “crashed and burned” (often without that being public knowledge) but before the church or community or organization started its decline. 

The problem was, and continues to be, that of seeking the Lord versus seeking power or experiences or influence in society (the in case of those who want decree the results of elections or the rise and fall of cities or countries or the end of pandemics or any number of other things). My friend at that conference in Vancouver was right: it is about seeking the Lord. John Wimber was right, It is about drawing near to God and “doing the stuff” (proclaiming the good news, feeding the poor, and praying for the sick) with eyes and ears open to “see what God is doing” and then joining in as he invites one with the manifestation of particular acts of the Spirit being more of an “of course, God gives the needed gift when a person is doing his work in his way at his direction.” Gifts, power, experiences are not sought in themselves.

Of course, that is also the teaching of the Christian spiritual tradition. Paul rarely talks about his spiritual experiences, and when he does, he mentions that he felt forced to do so and did so unwillingly (see 2 Cor 11 – 12, but that is also going on in 1 Cor 12 – 14). What he talks about readily is suffering, humiliation, and the like. He sought Jesus, and he found him crucified, knowing that being joined to the crucified Christ meant that after Paul’s own death he would be joined to the resurrected Christ. 

When one follows the story into church history one finds that the most honored (today) spiritual leaders did not talk about their own spiritual exploits, but about the miracles and the like done by others. (Although others sometimes talked about them.) They did not seek honored positions, but often had to be virtually forced to be bishops and the like (e.g. Augustine of Hippo). Sometimes they left a place of honor and authority, when they could, and retreated to a monastery for their remaining days. They wanted to seek God alone. 

The neo-Pentecostal movement is, as was the Pentecostal movement in its roots, Adventist – they were the revival of the last days. But that means that they fail to see that the Spirit has been working through people over the generations, people who were humble. I think of St André Bessette (1845 – 1937) in Montreal (a porter in the Congregation of the Holy Cross), whose healing prayers were sought and who was sometimes found scrubbing floors (one of his duties) and who would not even look up at the one requesting he pray for someone, but simply say (from his recollected inner self) “He or she is well” and go on with his work. And it was just as he said. 

I think of “Blessed Solanus Casey (d. 1957), a priest who served in Detroit, Michigan. He was known for helping to heal the sick and burdened through the intercession of Jesus Christ. As a member of the Franciscan Capuchin Friars, he did small, humble tasks in his monastery but would often spend his afternoons performing the Anointing of the Sick for ill parishioners. Fr. Solanus had great compassion for the sick, and through his compassion and personal holiness services, healed many people.”

These examples could be multiplied down the ages, but they have a common theme. They all were humble. They all served quietly. They all developed their closeness to God over years of classical spiritual disciplines, normally in a community setting. They all simply obeyed God and prayed or spoke as God told them (in the case of Blessed Solamus Casey using the approved form of liturgical prayer). They did not have an impartation from some other power minister nor necessarily a peak experience, let alone a peak experience that they talked about. They usually functioned outside of rallies or conferences or even church gatherings. And most would have been unknown had someone else not felt it necessary to write about them.

They (and while I have named two Catholics, there were others in Protestant traditions that I could name, such as the Rev Roland Brown, whom I met, but in Germany, not his actual residence of Chicago, and who would be unknown to me had not his translator in Germany (where he taught on prayer) published his talks. But they were charismatic men (and women) – although they would have rejected that term as setting themselves off from others too much – before, during, and I am sure after the neo-Pentecostal movement that were every bit as filled with the Spirit – without the hype.

The fact is that when the church or a church leader became involved with power, whether it be political (as Dante saw clearly in the end of the Purgatorio in the Divine Comedy) or miraculous/ spiritual power, they were (and are) at risk. Some handled it well, being as humble as bishops or abbots as they were before they were chosen for high position. Others were corrupted by money, honor, power (political or charismatic), or the pleasures that the former could give them access to. 

Basically, St John of the Cross put it well especially in his Ascent of Mt Carmel and in his Dark Night of the Soul: if one is seeking God with a mind fixed upon him and in obedience to his guidance, one will have “sensual experiences” stemming from the Spirit. These could be an ecstatic experience during worship or in private prayer, a miracle as one prayed for others, or a great number of conversions when one preached. One experienced God’s presence in an outward way. St John of the Cross’s instruction is to acknowledge God’s grace and then put such experiences into the “dark night of forgetfulness.” Do not pay much attention to them. Do not seek them. If you seek them, realize that the devil can counterfeit them and deceive you. Rather, putting them behind you in forgetfulness, continue to seek God in worship, prayer, fasting, and all humility. Indeed, as one goes on in the spiritual life, to assist one to progress, God will lead one into the “dark night of the senses” in which he withdraws such experiences so one will not become attached to them (this precedes the “dark night of the soul,” which only those God chooses enter).  

I chose St John of the Cross because he happens to be my most recent reading and one of my favorites. Any number of others could have been chosen. The fact is, that those who are truly spiritually great are only accidentally famous – they did not seek fame, they did not want to start a ministry, they simply wanted to humbly serve and obey God. Instead of seeking prominence, they, like St. Thomas Aquinas, when asked by God about what he wanted as a reward for his devoted service, answer, “Nothing but you, Lord, nothing but you.”

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Presidential Fallout Part 2

While the more I worked on this the more I realized that it would take a book or two to say all I want as carefully as I want, I present this second part of my last blog for what it is, my reflections to date.

In a previous post I discussed one aspect of the fallout from the recent Presidential election, namely the damage it had done to the so-called Pro-Life movement due to the latter’s tending to become (at least in its vocal extremer versions) one more political force and due to its overlooking life issues in the politicians it was supporting. Of course, there was more to it than that, but I tried to at least outline them in the previous post. In this post I want to focus on the issues the election raised for the evangelical and neo-Pentecostal movements.

First, some definitions. By the evangelical movement I mean those Christian ecclesial groups, individuals, and institutions that find their roots in the evangelical and fundamentalist movements of the mid-twentieth century. The roots of many of the parts of the movement go back far further, especially to the awakenings and advent fervor in the last decades of the nineteenth century. By the neo-Pentecostal movement I mean those Christian ecclesial groups, individuals, institutions, and ministries that are characterized not only by a practice of the “gifts of the Spirit” found in 1 Cor 12, but also by a significant stress on the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” that includes “speaking in tongues.” This definition is important, for there were charismatic practices and experiences going far back in the Christian spiritual tradition (e.g. see St John of the Cross’ Ascent of Mt Carmel) including healing-holiness movements of the end of the nineteenth century, the prayer and healing movements of the 1930’s (in mainline churches in the USA), and so forth. There were also different forms of post-neo-Pentecostal charismatic teaching and experience, such as that in the Vineyard movement (starting in the 1980’s), at least at its beginnings, in the Rufer Bewegung in Germany, in the healing ministry of Francis and Judith MacNutt and so forth. Charismatic and neo-Pentecostal are not identical, although many of the charismatics in mainline and Catholic communities can be more clearly defined as neo-Pentecostals within their various denominations.

What evangelicals and neo-Pentecostals have in common is an emphasis on crisis experience. Crisis experience can be found in John Wesley’s experience of his “heart being strangely warmed” and also in his later stress on crisis sanctification, a second work of grace. But Wesley did not use means other than preaching and prayer to induce the crisis. Neither did Jonathan Edwards in the United States in a very different theological context. Indeed, he argued that the more ecstatic experiences, while to be expected, were not sure mark of God’s revival. The first one known for his use of means, by which I mean the deliberate use of practices to induce the crisis experience, was Charles Finney in the late 1800’s. This was developed later though such mean as Billy Sunday and Billy Graham, on the one side, and in the Pentecostal movement on the other. (The Christian and Missionary Alliance was certainly concerned with conversion, spirit-filling, and sanctification, but so far as I know did not have the same emphasis on “means,” at least until cross-fertilized from later developments. Likewise the early Plymouth Brethren taught in the late 1820’s that “it is the duty of Christian men to seek the restoration of the gifts of the Spirit,” which at least suggests the possibility of a crisis experience, but did not suggest the use of means.). Thus, for many evangelicals, unless one has had the born-again experience, one is not “saved,” and for most neo-Pentecostals unless one has experienced the “baptism in the Holy Spirit (as evidenced in speaking in tongues” one is not “spirit filled.” Also, both tended to hold up high profile leaders, such as the evangelists Billy Graham and Billy Sunday and the various high profile neo-Pentecostal leaders with their healing and prophecy conferences. Finally, while the evangelical movement in particular was not at all uniform in their respect, both tended to stress apocalyptic expectations, although the influence of prophetic interpretation in the more dispensationalist mode (I knew Hal Lindsey’s early work while still a youth, for example) varied widely.

What has, then, happened in this past Presidential election? Essentially it has been the fracturing of the evangelical movement and the discrediting of the neo-Pentecostal movement. First, a number of high-profile evangelical leaders were quite open in their support of Donald Trump with some of them (e.g. Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr) using Messianic terms for him, such as “God’s anointed.” He was often compared with Cyrus in Isaiah. This was usually connected to Mr. Trump’s stance on abortion that he developed during the 2016 election cycle and his, or his party’s, opposition to LBGTQ rights. This focus on moral issues was in continuity with Jerry Falwell Sr’s Moral Majority support of previous candidates and administrations because of selective interest in certain ethical issues, although the senior Falwell did have a difference in that he has a great concern for the poor and did seem to believe in objective truth and so would quietly abandon stances that he later realized to be wrong-headed (e.g. his opposition to integration in his church and his approval of apartheid in South Africa). The modern supporters of Mr. Trump were more likely to believe in unproved conspiracy theories and in the idea that the moral concerns that others had with that administration were “false news” or part of a “media conspiracy,” i.e. there was no means of dialogue and arguing for truth. It seemed that the post-modernism in the air had seeped into the thinking of the masses.

But, despite some 81% of self-identified evangelicals voting for Mr. Trump, there was another part of the evangelical movement that was of a different mind. First, they were concerned with different ethical issues, not to the exclusion of a concern with abortion, but with an equally great concern for other life issues. Second, they were outraged at the Messianic language being used for a flawed man with a checkered background and no known religious practice or concerns that mirrored those of Jesus for the poor, the alien, and the sick. This outrage included the use of biblical texts out of context in support of partisan politics. This was especially concerning when, in the polarized climate, the language became apocalyptic. Thus, the result has been a number of evangelical leaders and the like denouncing those supporting Mr. Trump and his allies, especially those using the stronger language. Now the split existed more quietly throughout of the Trump administration, but the election brought it to a head and tipped others into the dissenting camp. One sees this in, for example, some of the articles in Christianity Today and in the post-election statement signed by what must be the majority of the faculty of Wheaton College, both premier evangelical institutions. (I suspect that some of the others taking positions or making statements that I have seen online would prefer to remain lower profile so I will not “call them out.”) What is also notable is that while these make clear that the pro-Trump statements of the various leaders and groups “is not us” and in some cases was “idolatrous” or “blasphemous,” they are also quick to repent of their own attitudes of complicity in the past. Post-election others who were had backgrounds in or were sympathetic to the evangelical movement have made statements disassociating themselves,

Recently Barna pointed out that there are significant losses among megachurches, most of which are evangelical or neo-Pentecostal, especially among the young, with something like 30+ per cent becoming “nones.” The overall numbers of those who profess no religion in our society is something like 27% and rising. Another statistic that is a bit older is that evangelical churches are retaining only 17% of their youth. The evangelical movement has always appealed to the Bible as the single standard of truth and unity. When there is splintering, as one sees in the multiple denominations (not to mention the independent groups which are denominations unto themselves), all claiming to be “biblical,” this certainly shakes foundations for some. Many others are shaken by the perceived contradiction between the Bible and science (which is really there for some groups, but not for others – it depends on their hermeneutic). It is another divisive influence when allegiance not just to America but also to a particular political party seems to trump allegiance to other Christians. It is especially true when it is leaders that are conflicting. (I might add that one of the attractions of the Catholic Church for me was that it did not owe allegiance to any country.) Of course, as an evangelical I had long realized that hermeneutics rather than the text of the Bible itself was the deciding difference among groups. And often the decisive hermeneutic was that of the leader. I once interviewed at Liberty Baptist University (it was exploratory in order to determine whether I was right in assuming that an application would or would not be useful). One thing I was told that any theological, interpretive, or ethical issue that others in the institution differed with would be referred up the chain and ultimately the president, who was then Jerry Falwell Sr., would decide and that would be it. That, I can add from my present perspective, is an authority that the Pope does not have in the Roman Catholic Church (he does indeed proclaim truth, but it is in conjunction with the Magisterium, both present and over the history of the Church). But that vesting of authority in an individual leader and his interpretation of Scripture is not unusual (especially if the leader is the founder of the movement or church). Therefore, it is impossible to get a unified voice, much less an official unified voice, although there are various coalitions in evangelicalism that attempt that. Thus, the recent election with some declaring that Mr. Trump was “God’s anointed” and that the election was rigged and others disputing both assertions can only lead to a further fractioning of evangelism and further disillusionment of the youth (and some not so young). Since my “tribe” from my youth through my years in the Episcopal Church is evangelicalism and since it is the group in which I still have professional memberships and, more importantly, friends, this fractioning is not something about which I write gladly.

The neo-Pentecostals have related issues that is causing disillusionment. While they share with and overlap with the evangelical movement in their commitment to Scripture, they also expect or hope for a direct experience of God, specifically in the prophetic word (I focus on this, although other spiritual gifts might be included). Again, it is individual leaders who come to the fore, for while in theory any person “moving in the Spirit” could receive a prophetic word, in practice it is the certain “anointed leaders” that are listened to and who attract large groups to their meetings to hear such “anointed teaching/prophecy.” While this may at the beginning have been limited to the individual or church level, it has over the last quarter century become “strategic level spiritual warfare,” global, in which the leaders, often in small groups, prophesy over cities or nations. Some of these words are viewed as performative – they bring about what is spoken (which does happen among Old Testament prophets in some instances). Some of the leaders are viewed as Apostles. One sees this in some loose coalitions such as the New Apostolic Reformation. (The mark of much of the neo-Pentecostal movement is independence, the Protestant principle taken to its logical end. Pentecostal denominations have tended to move closer to evangelicalism in their practices and in their structures, while neo-Pentecostal communities are more often independent but, since independence is quite lonely, they often group with like-minded leaders in loose alliances such as Global Awakening or the New Apostolic Reformation. Since they are loose alliances, it is also easy to disassociate if key leaders have public failures.)

A number of these leaders prophesied, first that Mr. Trump would win, and, when that was not supported by the ballot counts, that nevertheless Mr. Biden would never be inaugurated. (Whether or not they accepted the unsupported conspiracy theories that circulated around Mr. Trump in a sense does not matter. They declared that God had said these things would happen.) The initial setback of the election was a trial of faith. Thus, one saw two different Jericho Marches, the last just before the assault on the Capitol by a group with significant overlaps in language, use of religious symbols, personnel and the like with those that did storm the Capitol. These events, complete with shofars as in the Jericho narrative in Joshua, encircled the Capitol and the Supreme Court with marchers first calling on God to get Trump elected and then calling on God to change the outcome. In both cases there was plenty of proclaiming that Mr. Biden would not win. In other words, there were words that at least some felt were performative. There should be no surprise that, as already noted, there was some overlap between the peaceful Jericho March and those who assaulted the Capitol the next day – after all, that is what happened in Joshua. But in this case the walls did not fall. After that fiasco there were further prophesies that although the electoral votes had been counted on January 6, God would see to it that Mr. Trump was the one inaugurated on January 20. 

In 1956 Festinger, Riecken, and Schachter published a classical sociological study on cognitive dissonance theory entitled When Prophecy Fails. It concerned a group that prophesied and prepared for the end of the world at a certain date and their behavior when that did not happen. Some were disillusioned and left, and some reinterpreted the prophecies and in one form or another continued. We will certainly see both of those reactions. We will not see the sanctions on false prophets of Deut 13 and 18, but we will see many people disillusioned with the prophetic movement in general and for some with Christianity as well. We have already seen at least one or two of the leaders in speaking such prophetic words resign their ministries. (For how long, one does not know.) But we will also almost certainly see a goodly number of the leaders “reinterpret” their prophecies (perhaps after a period of silence) and their followers accept the rationalizations. Power is addictive. And being in the “in group,” the group that “knows” and the group of whom God specially approves because of their “faith” is equally addictive. (For a more secular example see C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength.)

What we have definitely seen is charismatic groups that never supported such types of prophecy distancing themselves from such prophets and their communities. For instance, I have seen Vineyard leaders cite John Wimber’s teaching that one should always be tentative about prophecy, “I believe that the Lord is saying . . .” with the expectation that one is “putting it out there” so others can “discern.” (It is true that after a flirtation with the so-called Kansas City Prophets, Wimber in particular and Vineyard in general distanced itself from them, moving back to his roots.) Other charismatic movements were never tempted to get on board, for they are more contemplative in character. The word “false prophet” has certainly appeared on the internet. What is clear is that this has caused scandal to many and likely has split the already-dying neo-Pentecostal movement (there are other more humble and contemplative healing and prayer movements that some are joining – I have seen this in postings on the internet, among other places – and some will leave the faith). I feel sad for those who have had honorable lives and ministries in the movement. But at the same time, I realize that revivals of various times come and go. The next revival is not just like the previous one. Benedictines have had several revivals, as have Franciscans, but none is just like what St Francis himself or St Benedict started. They have moved on to correct abuses that have crept in by doing what God is doing in their “today,” not clinging on to the past. And as time passes, each revival movement itself needs revival. Furthermore, we need to realize that both evangelicals and neo-Pentecostals (and I know that they overlap) are actually a minority in the body of Christ.

It is painful when one sees groups and individuals that nourished one at a certain time, that one knew and loved, and that one still has connections to facture and weaken over this flirtation with power, whether political or “charismatic.” They were courted by the administration and in turn felt that they were influencing the administration. They have ended up compromised and, I believe, like viewed with suspicion by the present administration that would rightly see them not as religious, but as political. This, as Dante pointed out at the end of the Purgatorio, is what happens when the Church allies with the state. And God has his own ways of purgation of that leaven. There is a lot of pain involved also for those who were not involved in the excesses but are involved in the institutions and communities. Hopefully they will learn to abandon themselves to divine providence and in that will find peace.

This post has been too long in some ways and too brief in others. I realized while writing it that to fully explore many of its aspects one needed a large book. I have neither time nor inclination for that. That job will be done by others, I am sure, when the present situation is viewed more in retrospect. Meanwhile, I will turn back to ministry and prayer.

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Presidential Fallout

The recent rather contested presidential election in the United States raises all types of issues, which have certainly been discussed by many, but I am particularly interested in its implications for the Christian community, specifically the Church itself and certain ecclesial groupings. I am organizing my musings under two headings: the so-called Pro-Life movement in the church and the neo-Pentecostal movement. Both are found in both the evangelical world and the Church itself. And in both cases, there has been possible, perhaps probable, injury to those bodies.

When it comes to the Pro-Life movement, let me first make it clear that I abhor abortion and find it morally unacceptable. There are situations in which it may be necessary, such as in ectopic pregnancies when there is a grave risk of death to both mother and child (in fact, I have a friend who was precisely in that situation and would have died had there not been surgical intervention). In other words, I agree with the Church’s position, which is also commonly held by many evangelical groups, although some might say that only the mother’s life need be in grave danger if the pregnancy continued. But I do have three issues with how this concern is prosecuted. 

First, there is little attempt to connect the anti-abortion issue to other issues of life with the exception of euthanasia, and even then the connection does not seem to have penetrated the popular mind. We saw that in the postings, publications, and demonstrations surrounding the election – abortion for many was the only issue. There is no connection made between these issues of life and the issue of armed conflict and the issue of the death penalty and the like. In other words, it is not so much Pro-Life as anti-abortion. Now that may be a practical, political move that allows for greater coalition building, but it leaves the movement largely silent when the life issue concerns reasoning moral agents. That is, the Church (and by and large evangelicals as well now) teaches that a child dying before birth is an innocent soul that God takes to himself (the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which acknowledges original sin, is not clear on how this happens, only that God does it in his grace). The idea of limbo infantum for unbaptized infants is not current Catholic teaching and never was its dogmatic teaching. But in war, capital punishment, oppression that leads to starvation, etc. the people who die are, for the most part, above the age of reason and therefore at least at risk of hell, however conceived. There may be the hope that God will reach out in grace and “get through” to them, perhaps just before death, but there is no certainty of this. In some ways this makes the counting of numbers misleading, for how many blessed souls does it take to outweigh one possibly damned soul? (I say “possibly” because we are not the judge and can never really know if any given person is damned.) One wonders if this selectivity is due to emotional factors, due to strategic factors (how to hold the movement together), or due to political factors. But it is there.

Second, there is little awareness that the issue is a philosophical and pastoral problem. That is, I can show scientifically that a zygote has human chromosomes, etc. and is a living human animal distinct from the mother who surrounds it (or the father whose sperm contributed half of the chromosomes). What I cannot show is that that zygote (or any other stage of fetal development) is body and soul, a human being in the full sense. In fact, scientifically I cannot argue that a human being at any stage is so qualitatively different than an ape or a pig (I remember the dissection of fetal pigs in high school biology) or any other animal. And the reason is that there is no scientific test that will demonstrate the presence of a soul, which is what makes human beings qualitatively different – not a higher animal, but qualitatively different from all animals. The Nazi’s could kill so many human beings because they philosophically dehumanized most of them (some they killed as enemies of the state or on similar criminal charges, but most of their killing was of “inferior” races, i.e. of people they considered subhuman). Nor is it sufficient to cite a Bible verse or two to prove the soul is present from conception (which is what evangelicals would wish), for, first of all, that would mean that the issue is a religious issue not a scientific issue, and, second, biblical texts are not clear on when in gestation the developing child gets a soul. This was made clear to me when I was in seminary during a time when evangelicals were first discussing the issues of contraception and birth control. Towards the end of my seminary time a book came out edited by Walter Spitzer and Carlyle Saylor called Birth Control and the Christian: A Protestant Symposium on the Control of Human Reproduction. The article on abortion was written by the dean of my seminary, perhaps the most eminent evangelical theologian of the day. He argued that the soul developed along with the body and thus the seriousness of abortion did as well – one might do it for relatively simple reasons in the first two or three weeks and should have the gravest of reasons (e.g. both mother and child will die unless we abort the child) as one comes close to birth. I certainly did toy with such an argument for decades, for I respected this godly theologian and followed his reasoning (which began with the argument that the soul, like the body, came from both mother and father and developed). It was only when I accepted the Catholic position that each soul was created by God and was fully present from conception, doing so on the basis of scripture as interpreted by tradition (the earliest church documents we have cite abortion as a reason to refuse baptism unless the person has credibly repented), philosophically undergirded by developing philosophical reflection, and clearly taught by the Magisterium, that my degree of concern with early term abortion changed; that is, I became as concerned about early abortions as about later abortions. (In a sense the Church also developed on this point, for while it had, as I wrote above, always rejected from baptism those who procured abortion and excommunicated anyone who returned to such ways, in the criminal codes of the Middle Ages a difference was made between whether the unborn child was alive or quick or whether it was before quickening, abortion before quickening being a much less serious offense for one had not killed a – in their thinking – live child and after quickening being a much more serious offense for one had killed a live child). My point is that it was a theological shift or faith shift that was the basis of my change of thinking. It would be interesting to follow evangelical thought on this topic, for at some time it too appears to have shifted. The issue here, however, is that one deals with philosophical or theological errors and the practices that follow from them with conversion not punishment; at least one does if one does not live in a society in which church and state are fused and the consensus of society strongly supports the church’s position, so one must willfully reject it. We live in a post-Christian era and in a state that explicitly established the separation of church and state. Furthermore, law in scripture can limit evildoing, especially if the evildoers are a minority, but cannot solve the root problem.

Another aspect of the philosophical issue is that the abortion issue is systemically linked to a raft of issues in society. Charles Camosy’s Resisting Throwaway Culture lays some of this out. One can also look at the issue in the light of the history of philosophy and see that as the Renaissance brought back Greco-Roman modes of thought, as the Enlightenment developed, and with the philosophy of Nietzsche, Marx, Sartre, and  Foucault, one has lost the societal consensus that is necessary for a legal solution. Instead, legal solutions are playing whack-a-mole until the can be targeted only at societal deviants. One is trying to kill weeds by mowing them – the roots are left untouched and will sprout again. For example, look at Plough Quarterlyissue 26 What Families are for to see how society is giving negative attitudes towards child raising, children, and dependent adults, which is another symptom of the same complex that offers abortion as a solution to undesired pregnancies. 

That brings up the pastoral aspect in that most legal solutions proposed are fairly much one-size-fits-all in assigning guilt and do not recognize that both moral theology and pastoral practice point out that, especially in the case of the woman involved in the abortion, degrees of moral guilt vary in ways that legal solutions cannot resolve. The women vary in their awareness of the state of the fetus (how many have accepted the “it is just a lump of tissue” argument) and the degree of pressure they are under (some are threatened with death, some with abandonment, some with social ostracism, and some simply are not ready for a child now – I might add that the book Peyton Place (a 1956 book by Grace Metalious) gives an example of such pressure, although in that case it was to send the woman secretly to a home where she would have to give the child up for adoption – the point is that the pressure issue is not new). Moral theology (which is applied in the confessional) shows that the degree to which a person is a free moral agent changes the degree to which they are culpable, i.e. the gravity of the offense. To give a different example, a woman forced into marriage (say, a literal “shotgun wedding”) has not (in Catholic law) contracted a valid marriage and will not be held to her vows – the Church would declare her marriage null when presented with the case – even though she objectively spoke the proper vows. This is a big issue, too big to discuss here, but trying to handle it in law is like trying to do microsurgery with a butter knife. One ends up with some justice and a lot of injustice. 

Third, the final issue I want to discuss is about how the goal of preventing abortion is often being pursued by church men and women through political and legal means rather than prayer and spiritual gifts (preaching, evangelism, prophecy rightly understood, etc.). This is clear when church openly advocates only laws against abortion, sometimes with demonstrations and letters to politicians. But this is also clear when churchmen strongly state that a practicing Christian must vote for this or that candidate or party. While the latter action is prohibited in Catholic canon law (which is why the United States Council of Catholic Bishops puts out guidance for voting in terms of principles, not in terms of party or candidate recommendations) and while a few priests and bishops ignore that part of canon law, it is an important issue, for what advocating for parties or candidates does is turn the Church from the moral conscience of the nation into another political agent complete with demonstrations, slogans, and sometimes worse. On the one hand, it almost always means that the church representative ignores the sins of the candidate while ignoring the right actions of his or her opponent, and, on the other hand, the action becomes power against power; the Church or ecclesial organization appearing to be one more political army. Power against power is the devil’s game using the devil’s means – death (even if it is a political death, although some Christians threaten politicians with not just death but hell), anger, and the threat of death. Jesus did not beat the devil by “blowing him away” but by dying for our sins. Such playing of the power game became most clear in the Jericho Marches the preceded the inauguration of the present President. The very name indicates the marshalling of power and, in the end, the destruction of the “enemy” (as a recent article in the “Sightings” blog pointed out). 

There is also the issue of the dubious means used, such as the various cognitive distortions, including black-white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking, the triangling of people or groups in or out in order to gain power, the polarizing speech, even to the point of being hate speech, and the demonization of the “other side.” Even the sacraments have been used in power politics in which individuals and clerics intrude into the pastoral relationship of a parishioner with their pastor and bishop and without being privy to any of what has been said to or by the Catholic (and if they were, as it would likely have been in the confessional, they ought not to share it) they publicly pressure the bishop or pastor (or some other priest whose mass the person is attending but who does not have a pastoral relationship with the person) to withhold the sacraments or take some other action. Certainly Sirach 19 would urge them to be more cautious, for they are acting on hearsay or their interpretation of public statements, and James 4:11-12 would urge them not to ask God to move off his throne so that they can judge. There are Church channels for reporting abuse, of course, but one had better have a clear case. Furthermore, the Church moves slowly and carefully (and may know more than the complainant) – it is more willing to err on the side of mercy and it is unlikely to be swayed by open letters published in the press. What such politicization of the sacraments and pastoral relationship does is give scandal to the Church and perhaps problematize the pastoral relationship. I might add that I have known several people who prayer with and/or spiritually advised several Presidents. I would not think of asking them about the content of their interactions. I was thankful to God that those people had those relationships and I did pray for them, that God would give them wisdom, insight, grace, and mercy for the good of the soul of that President and for the common good of the people of God. But such discretion is lacking is those politicizing the faith – they seem to want only condemnation (or perhaps undue exaltation). If this is true, about such James does not speak well.

Now I do want there to be an eventual outlawing of abortion, one that focuses on providers once society has overwhelming agreement that abortion is morally wrong. But unless the church wants to be another political  power block (in which case do not scream “persecution” when one is treated as a hostile political power block), a power block playing by this world’s rules, it must follow the way of the Church of the first few centuries. That Church made clear internally that it would discipline abortion. But externally, while some apologists do point to the unreason of Greco-Roman abortion and infanticide, the church basically dealt with the situation by three strategies: caring for women in need (for instance, if one was cast out due to a pregnancy), rescuing newborns who had been exposed (and bringing them up at the Church’s expense), and converting the world. Then, when the Church was indeed the conscience of the Roman Empire abortion was outlawed as was crucifixion and torture (this would return with the rediscovery of classical Greek and Latin literature, but that is another story). In other words, it seems to me that the proper strategy, one that uses the tools of the Spirit rather than the tools of the world, puts conversion first (and that does go on in some parts of the pro-life movement as do various aspects of caring for women who have aborted, such as Rachel’s Children) and legal tools second to “mop up” after the culture has been converted.

At the outset of this blog post I promised to tackle a second major issue, but realize that this blog post is already too long and should be book length to properly document and work through everything. Accept it as a brief outline rather than the full-length book! But I shall tackle that second issue in my next blog post.

But to summarize, when I today (January 22) am praying for the legal protection of the unborn, I realize that I am praying for a radical widespread conversion and cultural transformation that would be expressed in new social structures (perhaps even a new Constitution), among them laws against murder, laws providing adequate financial support for single mothers (for example) and their children so as to make abortion an option for which there was no pressure, and, yes, laws protecting the unborn against abortion itself.

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Advent 2020 with the Davids

This year Judy started our annual Advent newsletter, so our greetings start with her voice and then with mine.

Davids 2020 Advent Greetings

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended,      

That her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;

The uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand for ever.

Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms,

He will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”

                                                                                    Isaiah 40: 1-5, 8b, 10a, 11

The above words are ones that I have had to hold onto as this unusual year 2020 has unfolded!

I began the year with a two-month bout of pneumonia/strand B flu which included days in ICU in the hospital, 5 ½ weeks of fever, sleeping in a Recliner at night and coughing 24/7 for a lot of that time. My cardiologist asked me if I had had Covid-19. In May, I had an antibody test done and it did not turn up Covid-19 but I still wonder if I did not have it before anyone here in Georgetown was testing for it (antibodies would probably not have shown up 5 months later). At any rate, I was very ill. A very bright spot in that is that my sister, a professional nurse, came and nursed me for a week when I got out of the hospital. My Good Shepherd cared for me in an amazing way.

Then came lockdown on March 15th for Covid-19. Oh, my, had our world turned upside down?

We did our first personal retreat here in our home for someone the first week of March before it all began and that was great. I anticipated doing many retreats here and then came the lockdown. Ouch! Many things were canceled!

Easter was a highlight because Peter did the services at the Priory and I got to attend: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil as well as Easter Sunday morning service. The Bishop considered us at the Priory to be one big family – so Peter continued as usual (and we do not use masks “within the bubble” or “family”). Then the Sisters sent us home with a delicious homemade breakfast on Easter which we enjoyed immensely. So, worshipping our good Lord was NOT shut down. And the Sisters began doing our grocery shopping for us.

Our children’s visit in May was canceled – which was a real downer. They all three were coming, (without their families) because Ian was turning 40, Gwen was turning 47 and it was Mother’s Day – so we were going to celebrate. We comforted ourselves saying that maybe they could come in July for Elaine’s 50th birthday but Canada closed her border, so that was canceled, since they all live in Canada.

The Sisters hired a new maintenance man from New York City and he has sold his house there and brought his wife here and bought a new home in Georgetown. The plus in all this is that we befriended them and found out that Teri is a nationally-known quilter and she inspired me to pull out a quilt which I had begun when our first grandchild was about to be born. You guessed it: I had never finished the quilt and with Teri’s encouragement, I finished piecing it together and she is quilting it for me, 23 years after I began the quilt. It will be sent to my daughter in hopes that she will become a grandmother some day, a real plus of Covid-19.

In the summer, I had a mole removed from under my chin, which turned out to be Melanoma; so a second more extensive surgery had to be done. Then I was declared cancer free. Praise God for His grace to me.

Then came the Fall and we had our yearly physical, and it seems as if we have been dealing with health issues ever since. Among these things was a full left knee replacement for me and two cataract surgeries for Peter. I wonder if I have ever done anything so hard as the rehab for the knee replacement: the pain has been intense. But I was released yesterday from the last physiotherapy session and told that I had done well. My sister, my childhood friend, Carolen, and a friend, Mary from Houston all volunteered  to come and help after the knee surgery, so I had help for two solid weeks afterwards. Praise our good Lord for His healing and help. We are finding lots of new doctors in the Georgetown area as a result of our issues.

Peter’s brother’s trip to see us with his wife and sister-in-law (for the two brothers’ birthdays and Thanksgiving) had to be canceled in November.

I have done lots of Spiritual Direction over the telephone – except for January/February and October/November but I am going full blast again. Of course, it is all on the phone or FaceTime because of Covid-19. I have found the Lord’s grace during this year to be tangible and His healing power indeed real in my own life. I am very grateful that His LOVE was not shut down during COVID-19. We are so grateful for how the Good Shepherd has taken care of us.

 We love watching deer out our windows here in Georgetown and the many birds, armadillos, skunks and other wildlife. This is a contemplative setting which is conducive to prayer. We are grateful for this location.

Now Peter will add a few events that were important during this year for him:

My physical issues have been small in comparison to Judy’s, so there is nursing Judy when she was ill or taking over the work in the house, but mostly following a routine of prayer and ministry. I did have this rather quickly developing cataract in each eye (wondered why I felt a bit dizzy in the morning mass in the Priory) – it was not there in January, but by October there they were in each eye (I had my eyes rechecked because of two near accidents with cars that I did not see). I am looking forward to having better sight (and cheaper glasses) than I ever have. Judy was another matter, as she explains above. Likewise, she does not take to the “hermit” life as easily as I – although she does have her spiritual directees and occasional retreatants and, when well, goes to St Helen Catholic Church (since March, well masked and distanced). Otherwise, I am her “pastor” – I say mass for her in the chapel here, using the Ordinariate liturgy. I love what God is doing with me here and look forward to further closeness to Him.

Yours in Christ,

Peter and Judy Davids

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On Fixing the Church

There are obviously problems with the church. Whether it is Protestant or Catholic, Evangelical Protestant or Mainline Protestant, the retention rate of youth is something like 15 – 17%. Catholic worry that their losses are going to Protestant churches, particularly large evangelical ones, while Protestants worry their their losses are either going to Mainline Protestant churches, such as Anglican or Episcopal Churches, or, simply dropping out of church altogether. Surveys show that the “nones” are now about 25% of society and the “spiritual but not religious” are a larger percentage than that. And everyone is looking for solutions.

The Protestant world has the best developed Church Growth movement, so their solutions are being brought into the Catholic world as well as being applied in the Protestant world. Perhaps the key is to fix the service (or the mass) by making it more entertaining or enticing: the sermon/homily should be improved and the music is key (which usually means that it should be modern). Multimedia displays are certainly important. And then one should have a vibrant youth ministry. Of course, these solutions leave out the average church, for the average church is a small church without the resources for such fixes. Furthermore, there research shows that the two most significant reasons why people join a (Protestant) church is (1) that they are greeted warmly at the door (and especially if the greeter recognizes them the second week) and (2) they feel safe in leaving their children in the children’s ministry (safe was the term used, not that they felt that their children would have an encounter with Jesus). Relationship and safety are key, while sermons and music are somewhere down the line.

Still, that makes life difficult for Catholic Churches, for many of them have little formal greeting and less chit-chat. The idea is that once one enters the church one is silent and spends time in prayer and adoration before the mass begins. It is certainly important that one feels that one’s children are safe, if one has any, but CCC only runs part of the year and usually one brings the children into the mass and sits with them. When it comes to music, it is true that beauty is an important aspect of church along with the good and the true, but music is not so much the focus of the mass as Jesus is. Certainly the point is not to have a great choir or band, but to participate in the music and thereby be part of the mass. When it comes to the homily, it is clearly the place for good catechesis, but the average priest has at least one homily to write daily and sometimes two or more, unlike the typical evangelical pastor who has two or three per week and can spend 6 to 8 hours per sermon. I am all for doing homilies well (I have taught homiletics, so I am invested in this), but few Catholic priests have the time for long preparations. If they are invested in something other than multiple masses (with funerals and the like), they are spending time in prayer: liturgy of the hours, among other things. I worked as a biblical scholar for 40 years, so I could and can look at the reading, know the issues in the passage, and “see” an outline: rare is the priest who has such advantages. But on the other hand, the typical Protestant pastor spends something like 15 minutes per week in prayer (other than prayer during services). Many Catholics have tried to focus on relationship with priests dressing informally much of the time and trying to be “one of the people” (especially in the post-Vatican II world, which misunderstood Vatican II).

Catholics often try to import the evangelical Protestant crisis mentality by calling for the faithful to have a “personal encounter” with Jesus. Now there is an authentic Catholic or historic way to encourage this, but that is more a process of increasing devotion that will probably have moments of special awareness of the presence of Jesus. The “asking Jesus into your heart” thing is an induced crisis only known since the time of Charles Finny and not known at all in the New Testament (check out the 10 evangelistic “sermons” in Acts or Paul’s gospel in Rom 10:8b-10, for example). Protestants are finding that without spiritual direction the “crisis” wears off the further it recedes into the past. They are exploring Catholic spirituality which is more process oriented and developmental with crisis experiences happening only when it is felt that God sovereignly intervenes. The two camps seem to be passing each other in the night. Meanwhile, the people keep falling away.

What I note is that some of the most creative thinkers are calling for a different approach. Perhaps the priest should start thinking of himself as a monastic, as a man of prayer. He can do that more easily because he is celibate. So there is a call to return to prayer, refocus on celibacy, dress traditionally so people can see that the man is a priest, and to focus on the holiness expected of priests. This is what one will find in the works of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Robert Cardinal Sarah, and a host of others. The anonymous work In Sinu Jesu calls on priests to spend significant time in adoration, to be priests, men of prayer and the altar rather than administrators or engaging in other ministries – or rather these other ministries should take a second place to the primary ones of prayer and the ministry of the word, as it is put in Acts, with the Mass being the source and summit of all prayer.

The other approach is to turn from “dumbed down” Catholicism to clear, honest, thoughtful Catholicism, an approach found in Word on Fire Ministries. But this also calls the priest to an engagement with theology in a spiritual way. Thomas Aquinas did have a good head, but in the end he was a Dominican friar, for his head was subordinated to and in the service of his devotion to Christ. It is no accident that a number of great saints are part of those studied by Word on Fire.

The above are miscellaneous thoughts for difficult times. What is clear is that the solution to problems in the church is not primarily Protestant Church Growth strategies that are not working for most Protestant Churches. It is certainly not watering down truth so that what one believes and what one seeks ethically is less important than whether it is meaningful to one, makes one feel good. It may indeed be that the reachable solution for Catholics is godly priests, priests who know that they are at their  roots monks, and that their focus is prayer. This is not without its hardships, but it would seem to be in tune with renewal movements down the ages and points towards a unity of liturgy and life with the priest leading the way by example.

 

 

 

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Loving Your Enemies in Peace

I have been concerned for some time about the level of emotional discourse in political discussion and the lack of respectful, rational interaction. This happens within the Church, especially in various blogs, within discussions of news items, and especially within political discourse with its highly polarized and highly emotional discussion. I often referred to Edwin Friedman’s Failure of Nerve in referring to it.

Recently I came across another book, written by a conservative economist (and at the time the president of a conservative economic think tank) who is deeply Catholic, but written in non-religious language (although he does refer to the Bible and clearly admit his religious position). This is a sociological, research-based work that is deeply rooted in the values of Jesus. I recommend it:

Brooks Love Your Enemies

I have both the print and audio book; I love listening to the audio book, but to get the data I need the print book.

Because he is arguing for a dropping of motive attribution asymmetry (the other group is evil and my group has good motives), which is surely a form of judgment, and moving to an approach of love (seeking the good of the other), I was reminded of St Seraphim of Sarov, who says in one of this teachings:

On Preserving Peace of Soul (#12 in Life and Teaching, #25 in Little Russian Philokalia)

“It is necessary to try by all means to preserve peace of soul and not to become indignant because of insults. For this one needs to restrain oneself from anger and to pay heed to guard the mind and the heart against improper doubts.

“One should endure insults indifferently and should train oneself to treat them as if they do not concern one.

“This exercise can set our heart at peace and make it a dwelling of God Himself.

“We find an example of such mildness in the life of Saint Gregory the Wonderworker. A whore demanded publicly a recompense from him stating that he sinned with her. He was not in the least angry with her, but said meekly to one of his friends: ‘give her what she asks without delay.’ When the woman received the money she was attacked by a demon. The Saint however drove the demon out from her by prayer. (Lives of the Saints, 17th November).

“In case it should be impossible to restrain oneself from becoming indignant, it is necessary at least to restrain one’s tongue, according to the words of the Psalmist: ‘I am so troubled that I cannot speak.’ (Ps. 76, 4).

“In this case we can follow the example of Saint Spiridon of Trimithunt and Saint Ephraim the Syrian. Saint Spiridon (Lives of the Saints, 12th December) treated an insult as follows: when he was summoned to come to the Byzantine Emperor, as he was entering the palace, one of the servants who were in the palace thought him a beggar. The servant laughed at him, did not let him come to the emperor and he even hit Saint Spiridon on the cheek. The Saint, as he was mild, turned his other cheek to him, following the words of Christ (Math. 5,39).

“When Saint Ephraim the Syrian (Lives of the Saints, 28th January) was once fasting in the desert, he was deprived of his food in the following way: his disciple on his way broke the container. When the Saint saw his disciple, looking sad, he said: ‘Do not be upset, brother: if the food did not want to come to us, then we will go to it.’ And the Saint went to the broken vessel and sat down there and ate the rest of the food that he could scrape out of the vessel. Such was his mildness. And in regard to the way we can conquer our anger, we can learn from the life of Saint Paisius the Great (Lives of the Saints, 19th June). Saint Paisius asked Christ, when He appeared to him, to liberate him from anger. And the Saviour said to him: ‘if you want to conquer anger and rage all together, desire nothing, hate nobody and humiliate no one.’ In order to preserve peace of soul it is necessary to drive off despondency and try to have a joyful spirit, following the words of the wise Jesus Sirach: ‘I have driven off many sorrows as there is no use in them.’ (Eccl., 30, 25)

“Also it is necessary for the sake of peace of soul to avoid condemning others. The peace of soul is kept by lenience to others and by silence. When man is in such a state he receives Divine revelations.

“In order not to lapse into condemning others man should pay heed to himself, accept from no one the bad thoughts and be as dead to everything.

“It is necessary in favour of peace of soul to immerse in oneself often and to ask the question: ‘where am I?’

“Together with this, it is necessary to observe that the bodily senses, especially the sight, should serve the inner man and should not amuse and distract the soul with material objects. For only those receive the gifts of grace, who are busy with inner work and are watchful in regard of their souls.”

[Puretzki, Nicolas,of Sarov, Monastery. Life and Teaching of  Saint  Seraphim of Sarov. Serebrov Boeken. Kindle Edition.]

If in these polarized times when the parties in the Church, the political parties in the USA, and . . . well, you can name the groups . . . look like the Palestinian-Israeli tension (that comparison is from the person who popularized the term motive attribution asymmetry, which I heard of before reading Brook’s book), we can only expect similar results unless we and many others are part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Whether one comes from a monastic, a sociological, a family systems, or simply a Jesus point of view, it is worthwhile to think on these things, and then act.

St Seraphim is my current spiritual director (at a distance in time and culture) and he and Arthur Brooks, among others, have already challenged me to consider and in some cases revise my behavior, often by simply being silent.

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DAVIDS’ ADVENT LETTER 2019

A new year approaches with a coming new decade. The Davids have so many new things in our lives that we can scarcely keep up with ourselves. First, we have a new address:

         5499 East State Hwy 29, Georgetown, TX 78626  USA

Second, we have a new home (the chaplain’s house at Our Lady of Guadalupe Priory):

ABA10033-336A-449F-8087-9FFF6D8F4D20

Third, we have new ministries: Peter is Chaplain for the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eurcharist, assists as requested in the Diocese of Austin, and celebrates the Divine Liturgy most weeks for the Austin Byzantine Catholic Community, as well as continuing as New Testament Editor for Word Biblical Commentary. Judy continues her ministry of spiritual direction and counsel, mostly over the phone. (She offers individual and very small group spiritual retreats in our house, which is a former convent with its own chapel). The second edition of her Pause, Pray, and Play(which brings her spiritual journey up to date) is expected before Christmas. Together we host and lead a (small) cell group for the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, Domestic.

This was not our plan for the year. We spent the first half of the year busily and happily ministering in Houston, based in our apartment in St Clare Monastery. In June Judy was brought up to Calgary to visit our daughter Elaine and her family there. We had no idea that we would meet Elaine and Greg next time in Georgetown (near Austin), Texas in October. Judy and her sister had gone to El Cajon California for what proved to be a last visit to Judy’s sister-in-law, Harriet Bouchillon. Judy also went to the Brothers and Sisters of Charity Domestic Leadership Gathering in April. We planned an August trip to St Stephen, New Brunswick, to visit our daughter Gwenda and her family, a trip that ended up with more serious purposes, including Peter’s driving our son-in-law Brent back from Saint John twice after eye examinations which indicated that he is going blind from wet macular degeneration. But the start of that trip was altered by the death of Harriet (widow of Judy’s younger brother) on July 24 and her funeral on August 3. The end of the trip had the suspense of an email asking us to make an appointment with the Vicar General of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter. We saw him on August 20 and he proposed that we move to Georgetown TX, for the Dominican Sisters had requested that Bishop Lopes send them a chaplain. We visited the Priory in Georgetown the next weekend and decided to accept the appointment. We had our goods moved on September 13. And we did our final move as soon as Peter finished up his commitments in Houston on September 29. It was breathtakingly fast. Other than Peter’s making a quick trip back to Houston in October for a final Sunday ministry and his going to Mundelein IL for the Ordinariate’s Clergy Assembly in late October, we have been here since then. (He cancelled out of the meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature due to the expense and a lack of time and energy and John Michael Talbot told us not to go to the early October Gathering of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity Domestic, rightly stating that with the move it would have been too exhausting.) The bonus we received with this move was two visits from Judy’s sister in October that helped us settle (and another planned visit over Christmas) and the fact that Judy has a cousin and his wife in Georgetown and her 98-year-old-aunt lives with them. Yet another bonus was the fact that Elaine and Greg had already planned a late anniversary trip to Austin and then that Ian and his two children are scheduled to arrive here from Mission, British Columbia, just after Christmas and to stay until after New Year’s.

So we have moved for the 26th time in our 52 years of marriage and are living in the country on the east edge of Georgetown in, as Judy says, “the most lovely home I ever dreamed of,” and are still in reasonable health (Judy still has congestive heart failure, but is does not seem to have become worse due to the move and her knee problem has been manageable, although she often uses a cane; Peter does have a lower back issue, but can manage it by means of exercises taught him during physical therapy – needless to say, we used a mover to pack and move).

We are thankful for the gifts God has given us this year, all based on the gift of his Son, which we anticipate in Advent and celebrate on Christmas. We look forward to continuing to serve him actively until he receives us at our death or returns to set this world to rights in the coming of his kingdom. Of course, that simply leads to continuing joyful service throughout the coming ages.

Thanks be to God.

Warmest Advent Greetings

Peter and Judy

Fr. Peter H Davids                              Judith L Davids

5499 E State Highway 29,    Georgetown Texas 78626

713-314-7886                                     832-398-9519

pdavids@icloud.com                          jldavids@me.com

Posted in Ministry, Personal, Uncategorized | Tagged | 3 Comments

He Will Take What is Mine and Share It with You – Meditations on Trinity Sunday

On Trinity Sunday 2019 the readings were John 16:12 – 15 and Prov 8:22 – 31. It was while working through these readings that several issues suddenly fell into place for me. The Proverbs reading is about Wisdom, the divine co-creator, that in the New Testament is read as Jesus (Colossians1) or as a type of stand-in for the Holy Spirit (Jas1:5 or the end of Jas 3 – James has no reference to the Spirit). In the former foreshadowing, Wisdom is equivalent to the Divine Word or Reason, and in the latter it functions as the one producing virtues, which Paul attributes to the Spirit.
The Trinity 2.jpg
The John 16 reading is as follows:
13 But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. 15 Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. 
Here one has a Trinitarian reference: Spirit, the Son (“me”), and the Father. The Father shares all with the Son, and the Spirit shares what is the Father’s and the Son’s with the followers of the Son. Thus the followers of the Son become one with the Trinity, as the Trinity is one. In John 15 this is put in terms of “friends,” for in classical literature (Cicero in the Roman world and then later Aelred of Riveaux in the western Christian world) a friend is not necessarily an equal or a buddy, but someone who agrees with his or her friend on all things, earthly and divine. That is why classical authors would say that a wife should have the same friends as her husband and the best and most important friends of her husband were the gods he worshipped. To depart from the worship of her husband’s gods was to depart from friendship with her husband, for she clearly had another opinion. And that is also why friendship can be among unequals, such as someone being the friend of the king or the friend of a Roman noble.
But this passage in John goes beyond simply understanding what friendship is. First, it explains why one should not judge others. It is clear in John that judgment belongs to the Father and the Son, the Father having given all judgment to the Son. Thus to judge independently of the Son is to usurp the place of the “One Judge” (Jas 4:12 – 14), for the Spirit does not normally share the judgments of the Father and the Son with the followers of Jesus. Indeed, Jesus has said that he has not come for judgment, but that he will judge at the end of time, so all judgment within time is premature. (That the Son is now outside of time and thus judging, as necessary, is irrelevant in that human beings are still within time.) There are times when judgment or the threat of judgment is announced, but those are times when the Spirit communicates through those of his people that we call prophets. That role is that not of all followers of Jesus and that role is not even that of most prophets most of the time. But it does explain why James feels free to give a prophetic denunciation in Jas 4:1 – 10 (and that passage is recognized as a prophetic denunciation in the style of the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures). True, the Apostles will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes (i.e. the whole of the people of God), but while aspects of that binding and loosing are for this age, most of it is eschatological, for the coming age. What is for this age is primarily ruling on what is and is not allowed to followers of Jesus, although there are exceptions, explicitly attributed to the Spirit, such as Peter speaking to Ananias and Sapphire in Acts 5. 
Second, the Lord’s Prayer/Our Father is not about human beings getting their desires fulfilled. Rather, the glorifying or hallowing is that of the name of the Father(whichJesus in John connects to the glorifying of the Son) and that is the function of the Spirit in John 16. The main request is for the kingdom of God to come, which is the same as the divine will being done on earth as it already is in heaven, in the divine sphere beyond the space-time universe. In other words, the ones praying(theprayer is collective, for it is the church praying together, at least in Matthew 6) are agreeing with the Father(andthe Son) in all things human and divine. This is an act of commitment or faith. But they only know the content of this request, this agreement, if the Spirit has revealed it to them. Likewise the prayer asks for daily bread, for that is what the client of a patron(bethat patron a ruler or an important landlord) asked for each day. Their security lay in their trust of the patron and their agreement with whatever the patron decided. That means that one wants one’s transgressions against the will of the patron, in this case the Father, forgiven, for then one has deviated from friendship and cannot expect to receive daily bread. The one part of the will of the Father that is clear is that he wills to forgive and therefore, having the same mindset, since the believer agrees with him(anwith fellow believers) on all things human and divine, the true friend, the true believer can say that they have forgiven those who has transgressed against them.
Third, this applies to the role of faith or commitment in praying for the sick. In Jas 5:14 – 15 James gives instructions to presbyters/priests/elders (as over against the whole community, which comes to the fore in Jas 5:16 and seems focused on forgiveness). The presbyters follow a rite of being called to the sick, anointing them with oil as the Apostles did in Mark 6, and praying for their healing in commitment or faith. Without a specific word, this would mean a prayer of trust that the Lord would in some way heal and raise up the sick. One hopes that this is physical healing. However, as John’s gospel shows, “raising up” can have two meanings, one of which is raising up to health from the bed of sickness and the other is raising up to God. The presbyters or presbyter prays as they anoint, fully committed to the fact that God will act, but not necessarily knowing how God will act. It is a simple prayer – it does not seem to need a lot of words or a lot of repeating, as if to persuade God. But at the same time, the presbyters should be those closest in mind and heart to the Father and the Son, the ones that the Spirit communicates the mind of the Trinity to to the degree that it is necessary. (If it were always clear, then we would no longer “walk by faith” but rather “by sight,” even if the sight was inner insight.) Thus at times the Spirit does reveal the mind of the Father and a presbyter knows specifics of what to pray for. Then “faith” has come “by hearing” and in this case not a general hearing of proclamation, but the specific hearing of a “word” from God, as we see at times in the biblical book of Acts. Such “words” of course, need discernment, which is rarely practiced in this day and age, but was well-known to St Ignatius (in an appendix to his Spiritual Exercises. And the proof of whether one has really heard God or not, of whether one is projecting on to God a method of prayer or the desires of one’s own heart, is whether when one prays according to that “word” it really happens.
This truth, of course, is scary. On the one hand, the first time I did pray as a presbyter in the church was at a healing Eucharist in 1979. I simply read the scriptures, expounded the scriptures, celebrated eucharist, and then prayed exactly as James said to pray. And I did not hear anything special or feel anything special. But the one woman there who had a demonstrable illness was healed instantly – only she did not tell me for three months (which was probably good for me). My satisfaction was only in knowing that I had done the will of God, had agreed with the communication of the Trinity through James, and I trusted that God had done or would do whatever type or manner of healing he desired – that was his business, not mine. 
On the other hand, I have been in situations – I think of one in Germany about 2001, in which I went to pray for someone (person y) and, before the prayer time was talking with and praying for another person with the spouse of the “someone” (i.e. person y) present. I heard within,“Prepare person [the spouse of person y] for the death of y.” So as I counseled and prayed, I was conscious of this secondary purpose. Then, when I went to pray for y, my prayer was shaped by what I knew I had heard. I did not want to pray in that way, and in the prayer I expressed my own hopes as well, namely that I had misheard and so could hope for physical healing, and I did not directly say to either person x or person y what I had heard, but I trusted inwardly that God had communicated his purpose and prayed pastorally in such a manner that I was in agreement with it. And so it happened. Nor is that the only time something like that has happened.
So when I pray for the sick, I pray according to the revelation I have. I know God has promised to bring some type of healing or raising up if I trust him. So I pray trusting that that has happened. (Alternative, as John Wimber taught, one can stop to observe and ask what God is doing and then pray for more of what he is indeed desiring, because he is in fact doing it.) But sometimes one gets the word, “Be healed!” “Standup and walk!” or “Set your house in order, for you will soon be with Jesus.” I am comforted by the fact that in my small way this is analogous to what I read in the lives of such holy presbyters as St. Seraphim of Sarov, who often knew that a person would be healed and how they would be healed or, on the other hand, that a person would die before someone came to him asking for pray for themselves or for another. I hardly compare myself to his level of intimacy with God, but his (their– for there are others with such great intimacy with God) experience explains my experience, his way of prayer and holiness guides me forward into deeper intimacy with God, and his teaching I find is exactly what I saw in the readings last Trinity Sunday. And for that I am thankful, although thanks seems too weak a term for the enlightenment and peace that I received that Sunday and thankfulness too little to call the inner drive towards more holiness and intimacy so that I can be humble enough to be trusted with my Lord sharing with me through the Spirit as a friend does with his vastly inferior but still true friend.
Posted in Brothers and Sisters of Charity Reflections, Ministry, Theological Reflection | Leave a comment

The Integration of the Charismatic and the Contemplative

I am a fully professed member of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, Domestic. The BSCD stands for the integration of a number of things (which is good – that influenced our joining), one of which is the charismatic and the contemplative. I want to take this as a type of test case of the problem of integration and look at some of the questions it raises.

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The first question is: “What is integration?” I was in high school during the first half of the 1960’s. In 1964 E. C. Glass High School was integrated. Five students from Dunbar High School, the Afro-American high school in the city, were transferred into E. C. Glass by court order. All were high achieving students. All needed the higher standards and wider academic class selection of E. C. Glass. Most, if not all, were in my advanced English class, which means that I got to know them. What was clear was that integration did not mean upgrading Dunbar so that the academic level and facilities equaled those of Glass: that would be separate but equal. Integration did not mean bringing those five students (in the first year, followed by more the following year; eventually Dunbar would be closed and Glass and a new high school in another part of the city would continue on as fully integrated high schools) into Glass and giving them their own classes (a parallel stream within Glass) or even allowing them into lower level classes in Glass. Integration meant that those students became fully a part of E. C. Glass High School and were a part of any and all classes that fit with their academic aspirations and abilities, as well as were able to join any sports teams, musical organizations, or co-curricular activities for which they were qualified and in which they were interested. It was not that the students of E. C. Glass all accepted this change easily – I witnessed some racial harassment of Owen, the male I knew best, in physical education class (Owen endured it with equanimity) and would suppose that the women students experienced a parallel situation – it was that the changes that happened were what integration meant. It did not mean separate and equal, it did not mean being both held at the same time in tension, but it did mean the two mixed on the basis of total equality. And this meant that some aspects of the E. C. Glass culture, or parts of it, would have to go, such as the assumption that Afro-Americans were inferior or less capable. I should note that at the same time or perhaps a bit later Rev Jerry Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church, was photographed on the steps of his church, arms crossed, blocking the racial integration of his church. I understand that he quietly changed his stance a year later, but at that time he did not want African Americans in his church on an equal, integrated basis. Thus, if we in the BSCD integrate the charismatic and the contemplative or even the charismatic and the Catholic, we would expect the practices, theologies, and experiences of the two to be combined on an equal plane in a single structure or worship experience. Otherwise one would have parallel tracks or separate but equal.

The second question is: “What is the charismatic?” Concomitantly, we might ask: “What is the contemplative?” This issue is trickier. On the one hand, by “contemplative” we in the BSCD would mean Christian contemplation such as that pointed to by St John of the Cross or St Teresa of Ávila. This could be expanded to more imaged versions of contemplation, such as that of the Blessed Sacrament, or such eastern versions of contemplation as that which St Seraphim of Sarov practiced using the Jesus Prayer. All of them include the stilling of the passions, the cleansing of sin, deep humility, obedience to the inner voice of God, and, in the end, direct inner (or outer) experience of God, if that is granted.

On the other hand, the “charismatic” is more difficult to define. I grew up in the Plymouth Brethren, an ecumenical movement of the early 1800’s. To find a common denominator among denominations they sought the Spirit’s leading in the “Breaking of Bread” service (they recognized correctly that the Eucharist is the central Christian experience, the point of unity) so that they would not need to use anyone’s liturgy. John Nelson Darby would write in those early years, “It is the duty of Christian men in these last days to seek the renewal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Thus, he expected a wider set of gifts to be expressed than the “Spirit’s leading” they were experiencing, gifts such as tongues and healing. However, Darby came into contact with Edward Irving (and the New Apostolic Church) that claimed to be having an experience of these gifts of the Spirit. They may also have had a document from a Jesuit in South America that gave the key ideas of what would later be known as dispensational theology. Whatever the exact situation, Darby’s interest in “prophecy” and the “last days” did develop into dispensational theology and Darby’s tendency to react to strong individuals repelled him from the claims of the equally strong Edward Irving so that Darby developed the idea of gift cessationism that came to be connected with dispensationalism. The gifts of the Spirit were only for the initial period of the church, after which the Bible sufficed for the church age and any claim to spiritual gifts (other than the “leading of the Spirit” in the breaking of bread and similar situations) was illegitimate. The Reformed Tradition had a parallel theology, but it was not built on a theory of dispensations, the separation of Israel and the Church, and a particular view of the “last days.” None of these movements expected a crisis experience in either their gifts (or non-gifts) of the Spirit or in evangelism. They did evangelism, but any crisis experiences in evangelism were spontaneous and not required, certainly not engineered. Jonathan Edwards would be a good example of this attitude from the Reformed perspective (for example The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, Applied to that Uncommon Operation that Has Lately Appeared on the Minds of the People of New England).

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The end of the 1800’s all of this changed. Charles Finney introduced “the use of means” into evangelism: there was a shift in music to more emotional forms using contemporary tunes (which one hears when the hymns are played up tempo by a skilled musician), there was the “altar call” to come forward to the “mourners bench” where one knelt until one had the crisis breakthrough, and there were, of course, counselors who helped one through this experience, as well as the gifted preacher. This format would develop through the ministries of Billy Sunday, Dwight L. Moody (and Sankey), and Billy Graham into the “normative” crisis “born again” experience of the first half of the 20thcentury. If one has had the experience, then one is “saved,” and if one has not had the experience, no matter how orthodox one’s belief, deep one’s sacramental experience, or firm one’s commitment, one is still “lost.” The crisis experience is the key.

In my case, I grew up believing the faith, committed to the faith and, of course, Jesus, as far back as I can remember. I know that about age one my mother started to read Bible to me and my older brother. I can remember pride about age five in the fact that I had sung every song in the “breading of bread” (of course, I could not partake of communion at that age). But just a bit later I had an experience of spiritual and emotional abuse when a Sunday School teacher told us in my small class that if we did not “ask Jesus into [our] heart” Jesus might come and “rapture” your parents and they would go to heaven and you would be left behind – alone. It was well-meaning crisis evangelism, but its effect on me was terror. For weeks afterwards I would lay in bed in the darkness and “ask Jesus into my heart” multiple times before falling asleep. I never told anyone about that experience at the time. I made no change in my beliefs or faith commitments. It was an experience of terror, not of conversion. I would quietly grow up in the faith (and even, about age 8, give a talk at the Bible Club fund raising banquet, a talk that was broadcast over the radio – a big thing in those days), and, about age 14, in a rational, reflective movement in my bedroom one summer decided that it was “time to get serious” about my faith commitment, i.e. to take adult responsibility. I made some changes in my life (e.g. I stopped going to school dances, which brought about a breakup with my girlfriend), but mostly I approached the elders of my “assembly” (church) that fall and asked for baptism and to be “received into fellowship” in the “assembly” (church) that we attended. Baptism was put off until the next January, which was after I was 15 and after we moved into a new church building (the baptismal in the old building was leaky and the elders did not want to repair it). Baptism, in their view, was right and proper, but it was only a witness and was really in the end unnecessary. I was, however, “received into fellowship” a couple of weeks after making the original request, as I remember it, which meant that I could not only receive communion, but also take my place as an adult male in the “assembly.” In the ‘morning meeting” or “Breaking of Bread” I could “give out a hymn” or stand and pray or read (and expound) a short scripture passage or even pray for the bread and wine. I wisely limited myself at first to hymns or perhaps a short prayer. You have to get used to the “leading of the Spirit.” Shortly after I turned 15 the elders picked out three young men (of which I was the youngest) and on a quarterly or monthly basis had the youth lead the evening evangelistic service (at which there were no persons who were not died-in-the-wool members, so there was no danger of damaging anyone’s faith) with one of us young men preaching (women could play the piano or perhaps sing a “special number”). By summer the elders decided we were good enough to move to the family Bible hour (the preaching service after the “Breaking of Bread.” The Sunday after my 16thbirthday (which was Nov 22, 1963) I preached my first Sunday morning sermon (I still have it on tape – and if I feel any pride it should be enough to humble me). My point is that a crisis conversion experience was assumed to have taken place in me, but no one knew when it was. I would eventually be asked by a Christian organization, and would give that experience at age 5, but would know all along that it made no difference in my spiritual status. My other point is that while we denied some “charismatic gifts” and certainly “speaking in tongues,” it was clear that we practiced others – the “leading of the Spirit” into verbal expression in the “Morning Meeting,” and the gift of teaching and perhaps even prophecy (although we would not have called it that) in both the “Morning Meeting” and the “Family Bible Hour.” No one needed a crisis experience to exercise those gifts – all adult males who were “in fellowship” were assumed to have them, although some would be more gifted as teachers and preachers.

However, crisis conversion was not the only thing that happened in the late 1800’s, for there were a series of adventist movements (the Plymouth Brethren had been part of an adventist wave in the early 1800’s) then that applied the crisis idea to two other areas: crisis sanctification and crisis healing. The Christian and Missionary Alliance developed its houses of healing for the latter purpose (although they were willing to take more time that would be taken in later movements), and, of course, in that denomination Jesus was (and is) viewed as savior, healer, sanctifier, and coming king. There were, of course, other groups as well, for this was a time of ferment. The Christian and Missionary Alliance, among others, experimented with and longed for crisis spiritual gifts (i.e. what would be called “charismatic experience”), but it was what became the Pentecostal movement that developed this experience. Crisis was how one made spiritual progress, so one stayed in prayer until one received the gift of tongues (the “initial evidence” of the filling by the Spirit) and then stepped out in other gifts. Thus, crisis experience was the key idea of the period between 1880 and 1910, and it remained important in North American fundamentalism afterwards.

As the Pentecostal movement developed in North America, both sanctification and spiritual gifts were crisis experiences (remember that many Pentecostal churches also have “holiness” in their names). When the crisis spiritual gift reception (spearheaded by tongues) jumped into the mainline Protestant world in the 1960’s, the sanctification aspect did not come with it. Most mainline Protestant groups already had a theology of progressive sanctification. But the crisis aspect remained when it came to “charismatic gifts,” with tongues as the leading indicator. Tongues, of course, unlike the opinion now of the typical biblical scholar about what this meant in the biblical text, were seen more as a mantra or sounds expressing one’s emotion, than languages (which is what the term should mean in koine Greek) and likewise interpretation of tongues was viewed something like prophecy based on a “message in tongues” rather than the interpretation of a language that at least some people group (or angels) knew and spoke (even if no one in the gathered community did). Of course, the early Pentecostals also assumed that this actual language meaning was the meaning of the terms and on that basis some of the more enthusiastic undertook foreign missions without language training, often (but not invariably) with disastrous results. But by the time of the charismatic movement it was recognized, due to a number of linguistic studies, that this was not what the phenomenon called “tongues” usually was, although often a story or two circulated indicating that this “could” be the case once in a while. It is also true that in the mainline Protestant denominations crisis conversion was not a critical issue, even if crisis “baptism in the Holy Spirit” was in the “charismatic” parts of the denomination. That caused some tension with the Pentecostal source movements, which wondered whether the mainline Protestants were “saved.” But it meant that one had one crisis experience (baptism in the Holy Spirit) without the others (the “born again” experience or crisis sanctification). One might add that there was a tendency for the adventist eschatology to come with these experiences, i.e. that this experience was a restoration before the second advent and that the end of the age (often pictured in dispensational terms with a rapture) was close at hand.

The integration of this type of charismatic experience into mainline Protestant theology (and even that of some evangelical groups) was difficult. Thus, literature arose – e.g. that of Morton Kelsey – which argued that the gifts had always been around, so this present experience was a type of renewal, a new consciousness, but not a restoration; sometimes this same literature interpreted the gifts in Jungian terms or that of other psychological theory. The music that helped create the crisis experience was more easily integrated, at least so long as one had services set aside for its use. It tended to run on parallel tracks with traditional church music, although a few pieces of music were of high enough quality in both lyrics and musical composition that the did start to make it into hymnals, into the regular musical repertoire. This selection was not discrimination, but the filtering that has always gone on – a Charles Wesley or an Isaac Watts (among others) composed thousands of hymns, but only a comparative handful, perhaps 100 at best, have made it into the lasting repertoire. That is also not surprising: how many hymns or songs from the pre-printing centuries continue to be sung? Be that as it may, usually parallel tracks were arranged for both the music and the experience, with some services being “charismatic” and others being “traditional,” although there were exceptions: Church of the Redeemer, Episcopal, Houston, composed music that combined organ and guitar and that fit into the Eucharistic structure of an Episcopal Eucharist and that church, so far as I could tell, only had the one type of Eucharistic service. One thinks of the “King of Glory” setting of the mass in general or “Alleluia Nr. 1” in particular. While I only spent a week living in a community house of the Church of the Redeemer plus some briefer visits to services while visiting relatives in Houston, I am deeply thankful to that community in particular and their traveling Fisherfolk teams and to the mainline charismatic movement in general for being a step along my path of spiritual growth. All the same, the “charismatic” was usually compartmentalized from “church” in general, even if we tended to think of it as something deeper.

The problem of integration was even more difficult in the Catholic Charismatic movement. Generally, it was solved by either introducing some “charismatic music” at particular masses or having separate charismatic services that were not Eucharistic. In the 1970’s and 1980’s some priests made alterations in the mass structure or in the liturgy for healing during mass, which allowed for the introduction of free prayer and lay participation. In some settings the sacramental of anointing was (versus the sacrament of anointing) introduced so that lay people could anoint. This would fade out over the next decades as bishops and pastors, having seen the over-reaction to Vatican II and its results, insisted on reinstating liturgical discipline

There was more problem with integrating the basically Pentecostal theology. Often the theology was simply accepted and allowed to exist alongside tradition Catholic theology, with Catholic theology adding a sacramental side that made it Catholic. This is something of what I saw in Steubenville in 1980 at the National Catholic Charismatic Conference for Priests and Deacons (I was one of the 80 Episcopalians among the 800 participants). Various prophecies were stated, but, of course, these, while common in the charismatic movement, were not and could not be vetted by the Magisterium, as they should in a Catholic setting. Fr. Scanlon then said, “And we know these are true, for they agree with the Marian apparitions” (some of which, at least, had been vetted by the Magisterium and certified genuine). But there were other theological problems that were not addressed.

Catholic theology has the baptism of the Holy Spirit taking place at baptism – baptism in water and the Spirit. The newly baptized, adult or infant, is anointed at that time. There is a later event of first communion for baptized children, but, while ideally coming with catechism beforehand, this is a receiving of Christ in communion, not a new reception of the Spirit nor a being “born again.” There is also confirmation, but that, again after catechizing, is the time of strengthening and confirming the presence of the Spirit as one in turn confirms one’s faith commitment. It is not the baptism in the Spirit nor is it crisis conversion, although for some it may seem to be the latter. There is, then, growth in knowledge that is recognized at some critical points in life, but the Spirit is there all along. And, of course, in the case of adults being baptized, confirmation and first communion would happen at the same time. Likewise, the Catholic Church never asks in retrospect whether a person has been “born again” (had a childhood or adult crisis experience) but whether the person has been baptized and confirmed. The crisis, in both cases, is at the time of baptism, and it is a sacramental crisis event – what the person experiences or does not experience is not an issue, for the sacrament is effective with or without feelings.

There are other charismatic theologies and practices than that of the North American charismatic movement (which is certainly aging and may well be dying). In the Ruferbewegung in Germany we experienced a charismatic movement that was without the excited music, for it was without the need for crisis. It was assumed that believers had the Spirit, and that what was needed was the removal of blocks for the Spirit to manifest himself more. A quiet prayer over the person would be appropriate, as would the removal of theological objections, and after that a charismatic meeting would consist of gentle music, candlelight, quiet prayer in German, and then would spiral down (so to speak) into the depths and end up in tongues and/or prophecy, although only be a few of those present. Healing prayer was listening prayer that quietly asked for healing, perhaps at a distance from the person being prayed for. The charismatic service with its production of crisis was not part of the German scene we knew (although it was in the military chapel in Würzburg and at least some of the excited music was at a retreat Judy attended). A one- or two-week fasting retreat was more their style. Now that would integrate with Catholic theology better than the neo-Pentecostal approach that is usually used in North America.

Another approach to the “charismatic” is that of the early Vineyard. John Wimber, who saw his movement as neither Pentecostal nor Evangelical, but as a bridge, a middle ground, would another example of a more compatible theology. The early Vineyard music was music of intimacy with God, music sung to God. Some of that was lost later in the movement, but even then, the focus on God was usually maintained even if the music became louder and more complex. (And people stopped singing and became audiences, letting the worship team do the singing for them and evaluating the worship by how it moved them.) Wimber did not believe that one needed a crisis experience, but he allowed that some did have such experiences and that that was OK, perhaps even needed by them. Still, he did not try to produce one. Crisis experiences needed to be spontaneous. One was baptized in the Spirit at conversion (which for him was a conscious experience, not a sacramental one, for as an Evangelical Quaker he was not sacramental at all but had taken over the “born again” crisis approach of Evangelicalism, although mostly through personal conversation rather than higher pressure “rallies”). What one needed to do to experience the “gifts” was to obey the instructions in “the Book” and step out in faith. His conferences were generally trying to build a realistic faith that would endure. One listened to God and that did “what the Father is doing.” So, a particular prayer for healing might be changed as one perceived more and more clearly “what the Father is doing.” Perhaps despite cancer being the presenting issue, inner healing was what the Father was doing. Perhaps a demon might reveal itself, but the Father saw that as the least of the person’s problems and one might end up healing it out. The Christian life consisted of “teaching the Book, caring for the poor, and doing the stuff,” the stuff being operating in spiritual gifts and the like. Notice that social ministry was as much a part of following Jesus as spiritual gifts. It was all the Spirit. And while one might have a crisis experience, such as those who spontaneously started “speaking in tongues like a turkey gobble,” such an experience was not necessary. As Gary Best, leader of the Canadian Vineyards said many times, rather than receiving something that he did not have, “I just started keeping what I had been throwing out.” That meant that he had been getting impulses from the Spirit all his Christian life but had been neglecting to follow them. Once Wimber made him aware of what they were, he started paying attention to them and taking the risk of acting on them. As Gary Best (following Wimber) said, “Faith is spelled R I S K.” Again, this is far more compatible with Catholic theology. Where it differs is in that it follows evangelicalism and earlier fundamentalism in expecting crisis conversion rather than the development of sacramental grace. While the Holy Spirit comes automatically in conversion, the conversion itself must be conscious. One must have the “born again” experience in one form or another. Also, there is no real discussion of the relationship of sanctification with either conversion or Holy Spirit gifting. Of course, sanctification was desirable. No one advocated sinning. But since all sin had been taken care of in the “born again” experience, sanctification was a bit of an extra, although for Wimber at least acts of mercy were an action of the Spirit. To connect sanctification to the gifts of the Spirit might make the latter seem earned, which would not fit a Protestant theology of grace.

Now, as noted, both the Ruferbewegung and Vineyard (or at least Wimber) are more compatible with Catholic theology and sacramental practice than the neo-Pentecostalism that is usually the basis for charismatic experience in the Catholic Church. But there are Catholic approaches that are more compatible, if less exciting. I will look briefly at two of them, one from the East and one from the West.

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In his book In the School of the SpiritFr. Jacques Philipp depends most upon St Thérèse of Lisieux. He, as a good Catholic, argues that the Spirit is in the baptized and what is needed is following the voice of the Spirit. That inner voice or quiet impulse is dulled by sin and by simply ignoring it. The voice becomes clearer as one follows it both into sanctification and into obedience. The voice might say to pray for or visit someone, and if spiritual gifts are needed, they will manifest at the time of the prayer or visitation. The Spirit works through the obedient heart. If one looks closely, the various gifts of the Spirit are there, although the book focuses on the seven in Isaiah, for they are the roots of the others, since all of the work of the Spirit is Jesus. If one asks, “How will I know it is the Spirit?” Fr. Philipp presents the rules for discernment of spirits from St Ignatius and the St Thérèse’s focus on totally accepting the will of God, even willing the will of God, no matter how painful it may be. There may be crises when one makes a breakthrough in one or another area, but it may also be totally gradual. As one becomes sanctified the voice of the Spirit becomes clearer and as one practices discerning and obeying, the process becomes almost automatic. The point is that it is not obtaining gifts that are under one’s own control that is the issue, but being oneself under the control of God, who can manifest himself through one in everything from the humblest service to the most dramatic prayer of faith. All of this, of course, is in the context of the sacraments, for that was the air that the spiritual masters he followed breathed.

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St. Seraphim of Sarov takes a more Eastern approach in On the Acquisition if the Holy Spirit. In that work the focus is on sanctification and humble service. As one does this one grows closer and closer to God (and more and more humble, for one recognizes more and more one’s sinful nature). While God may manifest his gifts in one’s service along the way, it is as one develops closeness to God through constant prayer (daily prayers and, of course, the constant use of the Jesus Prayer) and sacramental life (even before he was a priest St. Seraphim was a frequent, even daily, communicant, which was unusual in the Eastern Church) and faithful, humble service that God can safely channel his wisdom and power through one. When one reads the life of St Seraphim one sees this in action. He becomes (if God wills) a staretz(orstarets) who is not only the source or wisdom but also of prayer and miracles, seen in spades in St Seraphim.  Seraphim did not take this mantle up until he was 60, i.e. after some 37 years of monastic life, although others had sought him earlier and had indeed found wisdom and graces of the Spirit even then. Yet in the earlier period St. Seraphim had also at times chosen to wall himself off for years at a time, sensing he was not yet ready for numbers of people to seek the Spirit in him.

Obviously, there is a lot more to say about both of these books and both priests have other works out, either from them or about them. But there are some conclusions to draw. First, both approaches accept the so-called charismatic spiritual gifts. In that sense they are charismatic. Second, neither approach needs to use means to create a crisis experience. In fact, both would be concerned with the “dictatorship of noise” as Cardinal Sarah notes in The Power of Silence. Music may be the expression of a particular culture, and that is not bad, but in relationship to the Spirit excited music comes afterthe Spirit has acted and one is excited because of the Spirit, not as a means of putting oneself in the mood for the Spirit to act. We are not in the time of the ecstatic prophets of the earlier periods of the Hebrew Scriptures, but in the time of the still, small voice. Both approaches I have cited stress sanctification and that that and drawing close to God are the focus rather than the gifts of the Spirit being the focus. One discerns what the Spirit is saying and then says it or does it. The gift is there to do what God has led one to do.

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There is safety in this approach. Many leaders of the North American charismatic movement have been “taken down” by some character fault or another – sexual issues, pride, greed (which often slips in bit by bit), and others. I personally have sensed such things in some (i.e. that they were at risk) and seen them in others (including seen the results in congregations that are no more). The greater the power God manifests, the deeper must be the humility, self-knowledge, and repentance. Otherwise one is in great danger, and, if the danger becomes reality, others will be destroyed. I myself started to slip into the danger of seeking the gifts rather than simply seeking intimacy with God, especially during the 1980’s. Power tends to puff up, as does knowledge. Thanks be to God, he stripped me of a lot and has made me a disciple of the monastics. Other headline ministries (although in the wider perspective of the Church, they were actually small) were not so fortunate and continued until they crashed. On the other hand, St Thérèse endured years of weakness and illness that made her into a chosen vessel and similar things could be said of St John of the Cross or St Teresa of Ávila or St Ignatius Loyola and many others. We are an impatient culture and seek techniques or means of getting things done immediately. God trained Moses in the wilderness for 40 years – he is a very patient God – and even Jesus spent 30 years in virtually undocumented obscurity as “the technos[builder, carpenter, handworker]” before spending 3 years in active ministry. And he did not have to rid himself of sin and the like.

If we want true integration of the charismatic with the contemplative, we need, first, to find the charismatic in the gifts of the Spirit, not in the music that is part of a particular time and culture, but is also part of a means of trying bring about a crisis of breakthrough in the Spirit. The music is not charismatic per se, and it can be a distraction from what the Spirit is doing. I have often struggled while praying for people in a charismatic meeting, standing outside the prayer group so as not to hear their excited prayers and trying to focus inwardly so as to get past the music and hear the quiet voice of the Spirit. If we want true integration of the charismatic, we will also need to see sanctification as a key aspect, if not to receiving the Spirit, at least to making the Spirit safe (untainted by our sin and desires) and to enabling us to hear his voice and discern it. If we want true integration of the charismatic, we need to cultivate humility and time with God. We need to realize that those who are not willing to spend the time with God are not going to be able to be used by God and that those who are willing to spend the time with God will not care whether or not they are used by God, but only whether they experience the Father’s smile. Yet they will be used powerfully. If we are to integrate the charismatic with the Catholic faith, we need to be thankful for how the neo-Pentecostal movement or charismatic renewal may have helped us in the past (as I indeed am), but realize that in the end the way forward is found in the lives and teaching of the saints, but East and West.

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Becoming One Under God – Theonomy rather than Autonomy or Heteronomy

As one meditates through Lent one reflects on realities one knew about, but which come alive anew. One such was Bp Robert Barron’s citing Paul Tillich’s analysis that peoples and nations alternate between heteronomy (when one’s life is determined by another person or group, such as a father in the family, a government in a nation, or law imposed on one) and autonomy (in which one’s life is determined by oneself). This alternation is often violent, such as when the colonists in what became the United States of America, resenting the order imposed on them by the colonial power, England – basically taxation both for the expenses of governing the colonies and for the benefit of England (many of the colonies were established as investments) staged a violent revolution and then in turn put down the Whiskey Rebellion against the taxes imposed by the new central government on the frontier makers of whiskey. One similarly sees this on the level of the family with the teenager who rebelled wishing to control their own family as they age and have children of their own. For Tillich and even more for Bp Barron the solution was theonomy in which people submit to the rule that stems from God, which is a rule of love in that it seeks the good of the other, not of the ruler. But it is true and principled and not liable to one’s own’s desires. As long as one is run by one’s own desires, there is fragmentation in society and chaos is one’s life – we need to be ordered by another, but the other to be acceptable must be recognized as ordering out of love, which is precisely the nature of God, both internally and externally towards whatever he has created. In other words, good social order requires conversion of heart.

The second element in my reflections was Luke 11:14-23, the demonized boy, who was in chaos, for the demonic is characterized by akatastasia(Greek), i.e. instability. The degree of organization is like that among orcs in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, for they jostle together and even fight as they jog along in companies, kept in order by the whips of those who rule them. The tongue is, in this respect, demonic, for it is a restless evil in Jas 3:8, or, as the person of divided loyalties, unstable (Jas 1:8). The divisive pseudo-wisdom of Jas 3:14 – 16 is indeed unstable (akatastasiaagain), but it is also “demonic.” It is no wonder that in his call to repentance in the next chapter James calls for submission to God and resistance to “the devil” (Jas 4:7). In the case of the boy, once the demonic is expelled the boy is integrated and able to integrate into society. It is interesting to note that Jesus relates the expulsion of such spirits to prayer (and in some manuscripts “fasting” – but the two go together in that fasting is a “no” to this age while prayer is an alignment of the self under God), Lenten disciplines, which align one under God and return one to submission to him.

This relates to the present state of the world, which was well-described in the latest work of Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Day is Far Spent(which will come out in English in September) as described in a recent interview. The West in general (and I would add the USA especially) is in the grip of its passions, or, one could say, a radical autonomy. Thus there is a tendency to impose heteronomy on others, for only a strong power can bring the forces of autonomy to (temporary) heel, which Cardinal Sarah sees as Western imperialism trying to force its (corrupt) values on Africa or, we could add, the desire to use the heteronomous power of government to impose behavior and values on those in society– without conversion of heart – which is why Cardinal Sarah opposes the elements of the social agenda of those who would turn the Church into a social force rather than a spiritual force. He has already called for a return to this spiritual core (a core that draws from the deeper reality of God) in his work The Power of Silence.

This also fits with what Bowen Theory observes that the more anxious, more passion driven, undifferentiated selves are chaotic forces in society, while the true leaders are the less anxious, more thinking, differentiated selves. As Edwin Friedman pointed out in Failure of Nerve(posthumous work after his 1996 death that draws upon his earlier work), the emotionally driven society is what we see in the USA. And he would surely underline that today from a President who goes by his “gut feelings” rather than studies, analyses and reports (and that is what he says he does, although others concur) to an opposition that calls in highly emotional scare headlines for the rising up of “the people” to “demand” this or that. One is not surprised to see writers suggesting that the election of 2020 could bring about a type of revolution.

The solution is hardly in Protestantism, for at a time when the various principalities were asserting their own autonomy against the heteronomy of the Holy Roman Empire, the various Reformers proclaimed a type of autonomy in the principle of sola scriptura. Of course, autonomy was only taken so far, for when the peasants rebelled, Luther was all for the use of the forces of the state to ruthlessly impose heteronomy. Unfortunately, the Church did need reform, and we see it in its championing of the suppression of various reform movements by the Holy Roman Empire (which was indeed threatened). Meanwhile, the various principalities used the various reform movements to give religious sanction to their own aspirations of independence. Martyrs were numerous on both sides. But that also meant that Reformation was an infelicitous title, for while it may have started that way, in the end there was no reform but only a fractured revolution with the parts hating one another almost as much as they hated Rome (and more when Rome became less of a threat). The reform came, but it came in the Council of Trent that in fact codified into Church law 76 of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. But the genie of akatastasiawas already out of the bottle, for now there are 20,000 to 30,000 Protestant denominations (and does this count the many independent churches and house churches?) of every stripe of theology and often factions within the various denominations, factions that ultimately cannot be contained.

At times the Catholic Church has joined some Protestants in trying to use the state to control the autonomy of individuals as in their joint efforts at suppressing abortion. Laudable as the goal is, the means are not the conversion of hearts to a divine order, but an attempt to impose a heteronomy on the destructive autonomy of some, which will in turn lead to the breaking out of a new revolution against that heteronomy, for there will be abuses that will get publicized. The state, of course, is often vary willing to use this desire for state control to gain support for its wider agenda, an agenda that splits the very groups it is using. Thus those desiring health care that would lower the appalling rate of maternal and infant mortality in the USA and those who read their scripture as welcoming the immigrant and especially the refugee are often suppressed, or the attempt is made to suppress them, especially in the evangelical world, because that would give the group less traction with the state, which does not have those other items on its agenda. It is, instead, using the agenda agreed upon to suppress the liberal parts of Protestantism and those parts of society which are happy to side with it. The real god of the state is Mammon (although it is not afraid to give some deference to Mars and especially to Aphrodite – we see this in the numerous scandals infecting both state and church). There seems to be a new division between the various states (with the West, or parts of it, being the new factor in the division), and the battle could get violent. My concern is not the akatastasia, for that is to be expected in an emotionally driven society, but that the Church (and the multitude of ecclesial communities) is far from peaceful and far from a force for peace in that it is participating in the various sides. (I will not discuss how this state of affairs has changed in my lifetime, but simply note that there are reasons that Trinity Evangelical Divinity School spawned what would become the Sojourners community and not a religious community of the right.)

The need, then, is for the Church to be the Church and use the tools of the Church. That is, it should display the opposite of akatastasiain its unity. It should show that it can make peace among waring groups. It should live its contrast-lifestyle, the lifestyle of life under theonomy, rather than trying to impose it by force on others. In the Roman Empire there was abortion and the exposure of infants and all the moral vices that we find today. The Church speaks about them, but mostly to reject such lifestyles for Christians. That is the pre-conversion life. Now the Christian is reborn. And the Church lived love for others, adopting the exposed infants, giving up their negative practices, and helping the poor, the immigrant, the widow, and the orphan, as scripture says, which in part made them an attractive alternative to the society around them and its deities. And the Church did this through proclaiming the power of conversion of heart, of coming under the love-theonomy of God, seen in the upside-down world of the death of their God breaking the power of evil and leading to the establishment of their new community with its new future. Furthermore, the change was visible now in the holy lives (and often holy deaths) of its leaders (whether they were leaders in the hierarchal sense or leaders by their moral example, for some saints never had positions in the church, much less positions in society). That, I argue, is the way forward for the Church, although without divine intervention it is unlikely that we can do much about society collapsing around us. We might, however, be in a position to pick up the pieces as it collapses and after it collapses, whether it collapses into a new heteronomy, a type of dictatorship, whether of the right or the left, or autonomous chaos.

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