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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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):


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                

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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.
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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.


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.


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.


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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Sheep and Goats

If you go into the Stone Chapel of Lanier Theological Library on the north edge of Houston, you will see in the dome of the apse a figure of Jesus in a composite view of final judgment, left hand gesturing down and right hand gesturing up. Human beings in the midst of collapsing buildings are heading upwards on his right and downwards into flames on his left. Obviously, the right and left gestures are from Matthew 25, the parable of the sheep and the goats. There the criteria of judgment are how one has handled the hungry, the thirsty, the immigrant, the sick, and the prisoner – the needy of this world, the “least of these.” This behavior, it is clear, is credited as having been done or not done to Jesus himself.

Jesus Last Judgment Lanier Stone Chapel.JPG

This parable has been discomforting to the interpreters of my youth. This is judgment on the basis of works, it was asserted, and surely it must be for “someone else,” either “the nations” (but what does that say about “the nations,” then, that they can be “saved by works”?) or perhaps the Jews (since Jesus was speaking to Jews). Neither of these was satisfactory in that they introduce multiple bases of entry “into the kingdom.” Yet, in a sense, the answer is clear in two factors, one being that commitment and deeds in accordance with that commitment cannot be separated, as James says in Jas 2, and the other being that the same nature of God that we see in the Hebrew Scriptures is also found in the New Testament, and preeminently in Jesus.

God is, as Christian theology teaches, a triune God of love. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit is the love between them being one way that this is put. Each seeks the good of the other as other (for their benefit, not for the benefit of the one doing the loving action), and this is their nature. Creation itself is an act of extending this love, creating a human being who can love and be loved, and who can be drawn into the love-bond of the Trinity. Love, then, is always reaching out to find others to draw into the love relationship.

In the Hebrew Scriptures God shows love towards the Hebrews in rescuing them from bondage in Egypt just as he already showed his love to their ancestors who lived as foreigners, immigrants, in a land they did not own. This divine action, which we have sketched in the briefest of terms, is enjoined upon the Hebrews, upon Israel, in the covenant-making act and the expansions upon it. They are to be holy as God is holy, i.e. set apart, different, like God. So says Lev 19:1-18, which is only one example. What does this look like? It includes doing good to the underprivileged, the vulnerable. This passage concludes with, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus was asked, and he gives an example of a member of a group that the Jews saw as illegitimate immigrants who followed Torah teaching (i.e. the Samaritan Pentateuch in some form) and showed love (was a neighbor to) a Jews, a member of a group that was actively hostile to them. The parable has no benefit returning to the Samaritan, but rather the love is simply seeking the good of the other as other, doing to another what one would want done to oneself. In the Hebrew Scriptures the key groups to reach out to are the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien/immigrant. All were without means of repaying those who sought their good; all were vulnerable. God is on their side, for he is love, caring for them. One sees this with hardly a mention of God in Ruth, in which two widows who do not seem to have access to the older widow’s land (which either was not planted or had been sold before her foreign sojourn or, if it had been planted, the one who planted it, relative or not, was not sharing the crop with them) receive divine love, in this case defined as covenant faithfulness, despite the main character being an immigrant from a group that could not, according to the Torah, enter into the people of God, an excluded group. Thus if one was faithful to God, if one loved God (sought his good, his honor, not that anyone could actually add to God’s honor or well-being), one loved that which God loved, which were those on the margins or even outside of the covenant people. There is where one found a face of God to love, where there was someone one could actually benefit, where one could be God’s “hands and feet” or “co-worker,” reaching out in love as God loves.

We return to the parable and see that if one really loves God, has entered into the loving relationship that characterizes the Trinity, then one loves whom God loves, and that is the hungry, the thirsty, the immigrant or alien, the sick, the prisoner (one suspects in the New Testament period especially those captured in war and often exiled and/or sold into slavery). There one sees the face of God, the same face of God one saw in the Hebrew Scriptures, and there one can perform concrete acts that express the verbal commitment one makes in worship settings. Of course, this comes at a cost, and the cost is a type of cross, a dying to self-interest and a seeking of the interest of others, but that makes one more one with God. When Jesus sits on his throne, i.e. exercises his rule, he calls such into his “kingdom,” into a fuller experience of his rule, of his way of life, of the loving union of the Trinity (which would be explicated later), for in following their Lord, their heart and commitment is already there and they are expressing it every way they can in this age of the world and in this life.

What about those “goats?” They have also lived out their commitments. The devil in the various forms of Jewish literature, is involved in self-interest and self-honor. He is the opposite of the first part of the Lord’s Prayer, in a way. He is seeking pleasure, honor, power, and wealth (we might say, security). That is what is offered to Eve and Adam in Eden, that is what the angels who fall seek in 1 Enoch, and that is what Jesus consistently condemns. It is the opposite of love. The hungry, the thirsty, the immigrant, the sick, and the prisoner have nothing to give one; they are of no benefit. Thus they are ignored, or perhaps thrust away, or even exploited. Look at the politics of this world: if our care for the sick can benefit our cause or result in care for us at a later time, then we are for it, but if we do not see that, then we want to privatize medicine, making the sick care for themselves. If the immigrant can gain us votes or a good reputation or be needed workers for our industry (often at exploitive rates of pay), then we are for immigration, but if all we can see is social costs to their integration or a call to accept them and their culture as equals, then we reject them, for whatever reason. This is not a full explication of the politics involved in this country and many other countries, but it sketches the style of reasoning (to the extent that Christian thought and its kin has not been taken up, consciously or unconsciously). The point is that this age is concerned about “us” and, if there is a “seeking the good of others,” there is an underlying “for the ultimate benefit of us.” The giving characteristic of what God describes of love is relatively absent, and certainly there is no cross.

The “goats” may be saying what they like about their commitment to God or to Jesus, but their lives show that their real commitments, their true “faith” is in self. That is their ultimate good. They are like their greater and more powerful antecedents, the Watchers of 1 Enoch (picked up on Jude and 2 Peter 2, among other places), or the devil (in his first century form, ready to put down others for his own exaltation, and leading others in rebellion, i.e. in exalting self against God). Such a “kingdom” is unstable, which is how the New Testament characterizes the demonic. In is in a sense already a fire. And fire is prepared for the demonic (it is not said to be prepared for people, not even for goats, but for the devil and his minions) – they can be given freedom or space to express their nature. That, of course, is not the desire of God for any human being. Yet there is this mystery of freedom, which is necessary for love. God can create space for freedom and yet in his being outside the created order with its time know in his once-for-all knowing its outcome. These have chosen to put their real faith in self, or what they see as self, even if in actuality they are captive to spiritual forces they do not admit exist. They get to burn in the fire they have chosen. In fact, if they were in the presence of love itself, if they were dragged into the sphere of the kingdom, since it is the ultimate opposite of what they have chosen, they would experience it as fire. To the extent their choice of self is a negation of the good, to that extent the presence of Love Himself would be the burning refilling of their negation.

Jesus does not tell us how many are in each group. His purpose is to tell us what choice of the kingdom looks like and what are its results and the results of the negation of this choice. We can hope that ultimately not many choose the negation of love of “the least of these,” although, looking at the world around us, that seems more like hope in a coming conversion than the observation of the apparent actions of the people, structures, and political systems that we see, i.e. of the world.

So, no, faith without works is dead, for it is not true faith. There is no commitment to the love of God if we do not express the love that God is. The more God frees our lungs, the more this is as natural as breathing. It is all grace, but where one sees no evidence of grace there may well be no grace.

And that is why one wants to read, mark, and live Matthew 25. And that is also why one wants to observe its concrete outworking in the life of someone like St Teresa of Calcutta and countless exemplary lives before her, for they show that such entering into Trinitarian love is not only a desirable ideal, but an actual possibility, if one is also willing to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus.


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Restoring Community

I was sitting in a cell group of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, Domestic, as Sr. Carolyn taught, discussing the origins of the BSCD.She noted that John Michael Talbot had had his earliest vision of Christian community in 1971 (see Changes, pg 4), before becoming Catholic in 1978 (Signatures, pp. 105-107; the year before I was ordained in the Episcopal Church). Suddenly, there in the group, it dawned upon me: this BSCD movement (originally, just the BSC) happened in context. John Michael Talbot was not the only one dreaming of Christian community in those days – I did a quick search on my iPad – Dave and Net Jackson had published Living Together in a World Falling Apart in 1974, which arose from a tour of already-existing Christian communities in the United States of America. (It would be followed in 1978 by Dave Jackson’s Coming Together: All Those Communities and What They’re Up to.) Community was “in the air” and in fact, around the world in Germany, it would be our interest in community that would trigger our own diving into the long history of Christian spirituality and our charismatic renewal in 1975, both of which were linked to communities.

As any biblical interpreter or historian knows, context is very important in interpretation and understanding. Let us look at a wider context. At the same time as the rise of Enlightenment rationalism, the West got the fracturing of the Holy Roman Empire into what became the modern nation-state, the fracturing of the Church in the west into what became a multitude of Protestant denominations (often tied to the nation-state in which they were based), and the fracturing of the tribe and extended family into
Western individualism, which exalted the nuclear family over the extended family and often even the individual over the nuclear (or any other) family or tribe. This would develop through the French Revolution (the cry of liberté was central, as were other seminal ideas that would become mantras for those peoples who took up its ideas) and take its deepest root in the colonies that became the United States of America.

Several wars later (on both sides of the Atlantic) the ideal of the independent nuclear family probably reached its height in the USA in the 1950’s. Yet this collapsed in the 1960’s on several fronts. First, the Vietnam Conflict (war was never declared) was highly unpopular (and in many ways equally immoral) and revealed the degree to which Americans were controlled by forces other than themselves. It was accompanied by and followed by a series of other conflicts, some proxy wars sponsored by or supported by the USA, some conflicts in which US soldiers were engaged, none of which, so far as I can remember, had a clear victory, although success was usually declared, and if not, quiet
disengagement). This undermined trust in the collective ideology of the USA and the idea of equality. Meanwhile, the Civil Rights struggle was also going on in the country, which also revealed how little liberty and equality, much less community, really existed in the USA (the issue of Native American rights would come later). During the same period the development of the oral contraceptive pill (while it was first approved in 1960, and continued to be further developed after that, it would take a series of court cases for it to become widely available) was viewed as putting a woman in control of reproduction
(which also meant that the man could abdicate responsibility) and so undermined
the connection between sexual intercourse and marriage/nuclear family. But the
breakdown of unity and community and the conflict between individual liberty
and societal control (i.e. control by the government) led to a predictable reaction, the search for a new type of community. Hippies and the like promoted love and a community without rules, dropping out of mainstream society, while those realizing that there was a need for some structure in community developed communes of various forms, some of which became cults, some of which collapsed quickly, and few of which endured for more than a decade or so.

In this context the development of intentional Christian communities was quite understandable. What was going on in society was clearly not Christian, but neither was the very individualistic Christianity as practiced in many churches and the new parachurch organizations. Surely salvation was more than just “asking Jesus into my heart” and “my personal relationship with Jesus.” And sitting the pew thinking my individualistic thoughts about Jesus seemed a long way from the New Testament. And it was also clear that Christianity had social implications and that it was only in groups
that Christians could either influence society or demonstrate a counter-culture to society. This was the void that spawned the many intentional Christian communities.

Some of these communities drew on precedents. Reba Place and the Bruderhof (Society of Brothers), among others, drew on the Anabaptist tradition (which in turn, at least in its South German form, drew on monastic movements, trying to expand the ideals to an integrated community of families). Others, such as St Gregory’s Abby and Word of God drew more directly on Catholic monastic precedents, although St Gregory’s Abby was Episcopalian in the Benedictine tradition, not Catholic. Others, such as Church of the
Redeemer, Houston, grew out of the charismatic renewal, with the experience of the Spirit being the binding force (it too was Episcopalian). Koinonia Partners was rooted in the vision of one man, Clarence Jordan, a Southern Baptist, and his New Testament-inspired vision of a new society. Others were more eclectic, such as the People’s Christian Coalition (which later changed its name to Sojourners) that developed as a social justice community in the seminary that I attended (although the year after I graduated). Some called on the ecumenical vision of the Taizé community in France. A number developed out of relationships formed in and reactions to the individualism of a variety of evangelical parachurch organizations. One should note that the older communities that preceded the turmoil of the Vietnam era in the USA often developed in the context of a previous era of turmoil in Europe, the Bruderhof in Germany in the aftermath of World War I (migrating to the USA via England and Paraguay during and after Word War II) and that Taizé community in Switzerland in concept during World War II and then being established in France in 1954. A number of communities experienced persecution – the Hutterites being driven into Canada during World War I (with some members martyred), Koinonia Partners undergoing a variety of persecutions, mostly from people who would
have called themselves Baptists, and the People’s Christian Coalition from Christians who tried to get them expelled from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Finally, there is almost always a strong charismatic leader in the foundation of these communities no matter how equal they claim that the status of the members is.

This is the context in which the Brothers and Sisters of Charity was birthed and developed. It is also the context that caused some of the significant developmental pains for the BSC, for a community tends to attract those interested in community, often the semi-gyrovague type who had tried other communities and feel that they finally have found “real community,” and sometimes those with emotional issues needing acceptance and support. It is a wonder that any community survived. Most did not survive for long. For some the demise was quite dramatic: Church of the Redeemer had spawned its daughter communities, Community of Celebration (as each was called) and the Fisherfolk traveling teams, but collapsed internally, in part due to accusations of sexual
impropriety on the part of its founder. The Church of the Redeemer itself lost members to the extent that it could not sustain itself and was closed. The building with its mural in the auditorium that more or less announced its vision was razed. I do not see this as absolute failure, for a lot of good grew out of most of the failed communities. It is only if they see decades of continued flourishing and even spreading as the criteria of success that they are failures.

But my concern is in asking what this context can mean for the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, whether monastic or domestic? Certainly is explains a bit of the look and sound (not of his music, but of his earliest talks) of John Michael Talbot – I can think of a number of other community founders for the time he could have been mistaken for, other than the habit – but that is too superficial. It does explain a bit of the “why then?” and “why those people?” and the like. But again, this is of historical interest and perhaps of systemic interest (communities are an interest of Bowen Theory analysis, just as families, churches, work systems, and even nations). The meaning of this context is in the questions that it raises, so let me name a very few of them.

First, what makes the BSC/BSCD different. It is not an ecumenical community, but a Catholic-based community that is open to integrating in as much as possible others who are not Catholic who wish to be part of it. So, the community is not Taizé, and it is not Anabaptist-based, and so forth. It is very much Catholic. Those who are not Catholic can become permanently professed, but not voting members of the Public Association of the
Faithful. The BSC does exist under the authority of a Bishop and is based in a Diocese. But there is more than just this canonical arrangement. I doubt the cradle Catholics who are part of it realize how often conversations in cell groups or at the Gathering make Catholic assumptions and assume Catholic culture. And the fact that either the final mass or Eucharistic Adoration at the Gathering is the high point makes a significant statement to the non-Catholic (in theory and theology the mass is the high point, but ceremonially and emotionally I doubt that the Eucharistic Adoration can be best). We try to integrate, but unless one is interested in Catholic culture and worship, one will not be drawn very far in. The BSC is Catholic. Fine with me, for I am a Catholic priest. Perhaps it is more difficult for some others.

Second, the BSC was originally Franciscan and now is said to have a Franciscan base with in Catholicism. It certain uses monastic language (although the Liturgy of the Hours is at root Benedictine, even if St Francis used it), habits, and the like, but (1) the Franciscans were a preaching order, going out to preach and coming back to rest, heal, and reflect, and in the BSC most of the traveling, the going out, is done by John Michael Talbot, at least at present, so, with the exception of some short-term missions that serve under other groups at the destination, this aspect is quite limited, and (2) the Franciscans are at present quite varied, as they have been over time, so which Franciscans? Some are quite unorthodox, some quite new age, and some quite orthodox. There is Franciscan simplicity, but that is difficult to explicate over the levels of monastics and domestics – what exactly is simplicity of life? Is it simply an individual choice? Are there rules? I do not know of any of us who approach St Francis in his level of simplicity. Perhaps this will
always be a tension, and I say this as someone for whom the call to simplicity of life was very important in my being drawn into the community.

Third, the BSC integrates the charismatic and the contemplative. Excellent. But how? What aspects of which? And which charismatic? It looks to me like it is the neo-Pentecostalism of the 1960’s and 1970’s that was taken into the Catholic Church during that period with sacramental addition, but without theological revision. That was the spirit of the age, found in many of the books of that period. That is more or less what I
saw at the National Catholic Charismatic Conference for Priests and Deacons in Steubenville, OH, in 1980. But that raises challenges, for, as I have pointed out in a recent blog post, that charismatic movement appears to be dying. (And there are many other charismatic styles than those I mention – what about African styles of worship and charismatic expression, to name one example.) In that same point I also raise issues about how integrated this can be with the teaching on the Holy Spirit in at least Eastern Christian contemplatives. It looks like the eastern contemplative vision is the stressed version in the emphasis on the Jesus Prayer. But all contemplative visions have a good deal of asceticism, and that is difficult.

Fourth, we try to integrate all walks of life, so we have monastic families, couples, singles, and celibates. In the domestic expression we do not make those distinctions, but we do have people in various walks of life, some living in a deliberate cluster, others widely spread from one another. This is such a tricky balance, perhaps more on the monastic side, which has seen more obvious “churn” as people come and go, but in other ways on the domestic side. Nowhere is this seen more than in the relative cultural
homogeneity. Afro-Americans are conspicuous by their absence. We have a few Hispanic members, but they must function in English. In the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston I must be able to function or at least pretend to function in Spanish (I do speak German, but that overlies my Spanish). I have stretched to do so: I have said mass, preached, and hear confessions in Spanish, although the latter with great difficulty. But I will not be able to spread the vision of the BSCD to these cultures and communities if I do not find a way to fully integrate them, and integration means both of us sharing parts of our linguistic and social cultures, not just their learning my home culture. I might add that I find a bit of this challenge with the Byzantine Catholic Church, but I am learning and do have some past exposure to Slavic and Greek culture.

Finally, the elephant in the room is, so to speak, the passing on of our values to coming generations. Now the Constitution does give a procedure for replacing the Spiritual Father (and Mother) of the BSC. Easy on paper, but difficult in practice. I face my mortality and so I can hope that I pass off the scene, either through disability or death, before John Michael, but he too will pass out of active leadership, either through disability or death. The general rule is that groups with a charismatic leader choose a
manager as a leader in the next generation. I could name more than one such group. Some groups do not survive the loss of the original charismatic leader. While we will hopefully face that issue much later (ideally, after my time), the time to start praying about it is now. There is always talk (some of it quite appropriate) about who might be a good next pope well before the current pope dies (or resigns), and so it also proper in Public Associations that elect their leader(s).

Along with this is integrating in the next generation. The Bruderhof allow the next generation to grow up in the community, then send them away from the community for at least two years for trade or university education, and only then, after they know they are capable of living outside the community, are they allowed to return and ask for baptism, which means life-commitment to the community. In that way they ensure that the next generation has made the same type of commitment that the previous generation did. Religious orders do not have this problem, for there are no children. They have to recruit every new generation from “outside,” which has its own advantages as well as risks. The Catholic Church as a whole tries to do both, both evangelism and initiating the young into the Church (the young often actually being members of the Church from soon after birth). We lose a lot, as do other religious denominations. One reason is that our youth grow up in a different world than that which is the roots of the parish in which they grew up. The same is our challenge. The BSC(D), as I have noted, is rooted in the
post-Vatican II 1970’s and 1980’s. Our youth have grown up in a different culture, danced to different music, walked on changed streets. Their perspectives will have to be taken into account in communicating the vision, and that will mean dialogue and a perhaps adjustment. I know from teaching university students that I could not use the illustrations, metaphors, and practices of my early years of teaching with students of my later years of peaching. The illustrations and metaphors did not communicate. The practices were not those of their world of experience. Something analogous to this will
have to happen if we want our youth to integrate into the BSC(D) and rise to leadership in a future generation. The other alternative is to recruit from outside the group, but that has the disadvantage that any group tends to recruit people like themselves – their age and culture and the like. Others may come and try it out, but do not “stick.”

I am indeed not pessimistic at all about the BSC/BSCD, but optimistic. My purpose in the blog was to lay out some (by no means all) of the challenges facing it, in part because it is itself rooted in a particular context and culture (which is why I was attracted to it). The future will involve change, but change is good, if it is healthy change accepted graciously. Regent College, Vancouver, changed its leadership structure and style while I was there. There were some sighs and regrets, but it was good and bode well for the future. The vision of that institution lives on and seems to be prospering. That is indeed my prayer for the BSC/BSCD. It was birthed in a world that needed the restoring of community. That is still needed today in our fractured, individualistic world, even if the shape of the restoration may change over time.

It is indeed interesting what one comment by Sr Carolyn in one cell group meeting can trigger. I guess it pays to pay attention, including paying attention to what the Lord wants to do with such comments.

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The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit

I have been reading theology and especially spirituality for decades – it is part of my life. As one part of this I have been reading (or having read to me) Bible since I was one year old. Some have joked that I “bleed Bible” when cut. As a result, I am interested in integration. How does one integrate the classic spiritual tradition (and currently the Eastern “lung” of that Christian spirituality) and charismatic experience? And how do these fit with the Scripture? Or must one have a bifurcated life, with theology separated from certain experiences? That is the purpose of the critical examination of the charismatic renewal in the light of Scripture and alongside the spiritual tradition.

I have been part of the charismatic renewal in more than one form: there was the charismatic renewal that we experienced in Germany, which was contemplative, quiet, and did not boast about its accomplishments; there was the charismatic renewal that we experienced in the USA, which was much more exuberant, tended to focus on gifted healers, prophets, and, now, apostles, often trumpeted its successes (e.g. healings, numbers at meetings), and tended to focus on healing and deliverance (although seeking personal prophecies was also important) – it is also often identified with a certain style of exuberant worship; and there was charismatic renewal (although usually seen as a middle way) originally found in the Vineyard movement (and often in groups that are part of the Association of Vineyard Christian Fellowships) that tends to be egalitarian (“everybody can play”), folksy, rooted in the desire for intimacy with God, and simply identifies healing as a part of “doing the stuff” (the “stuff” that Jesus taught his disciples to do), the other parts being “feeding the poor,” and “teaching the word.” Healing in that movement is, at least in theory, more connected with evangelism “in the streets” (i.e. “power evangelism”) than with the meetings (which are seen as training events for taking the power of God and his good news to the streets; healing goes on in “clinics” after the service, which are practice sessions for what to do when one goes out). For John Wimber, the streets were where the action was and doing the “works of Jesus” in the streets was how one gained a deeper knowledge of God and scripture, the slogan being “the meat (the deeper knowledge of Scripture) is in the street.”

I am mostly going to bracket “charismatic worship,” for a number of reasons. First, it is one style of worship growing out of the the 1960’s and 1970’s that fit that culture. Thus, it would take a course on the history of Christian worship (which I have taught at times) to do it justice. Let us just say that much of it is not conducive to contemplation and much of it is forgettable in terms of either lyrics or music. But, then, much of the worship of any age is forgettable, however popular it was in that age. Whether Wesley (Samuel, John or Charles), or Isaac Watts or the music of any other age, the output was prodigious, and those hymns and songs still known and used are relatively few. And the further back one goes, the lower the percentage of musical output that has survived. Furthermore, it is not unified: one has the mass settings coming from the (Episcopal) Church of the Redeemer, Houston, which combined guitar and organ, which are very different from the loud “tinkly” music of the other parts of the charismatic renewal. Musical style becomes problematic when it is identified with, in this case, charismatic renewal, and therefore a “must” for being involved (often then foisted upon a later generation, just like insisting that one is not truly worshipping if one is not using traditional hymns), or when it is used to hype up a group for experience, rather than flowing out of what the group is already experiencing. Music is not the main issue in integration.


Returning to the groups of charismatics, Catholic charismatics have been found involved with each of these groups, although the best-known Catholic charismatic groups have been an uneasy mixture of neo-Pentecostal/US charismatic renewal theology and Catholic sacramentalism. For example, Holy Oil, which in the New Testament is only used by presbyters (priests in typical Catholic parlance; James 5) and the Twelve (Mark 6), is sometimes used by those who are neither; Holy Water, which is not found in the New Testament at all, but does have a venerable tradition in the church, is sometimes used without discrimination and without liturgical context; and in prayer for the sick the healer or healing evangelist is often preferred to anointing by the priest or seeking healing through pilgrimage to Lourdes or some similar shrine, without reference to either Scripture or tradition. Furthermore, the Holy See has at times had to quash the level of intercommunion and mixture of practices, for where the theology is not clear, there can be a lack of discernment where “the body” is actually present. (I will mostly avoid naming names and giving dates, although I could, for they would detract from the main points I am making.)

There has been a lot of mixing and separating in the movement. For instance, John Wimber borrowed from the classic charismatic movement, but (at leaest in theory) only to the extent that he could integrate it with a quieter more contemplative “seeking God” and an evangelical theology. That did not mean that Pentecostal/neo-Pentecostal/charismatic folk of the classic type did not try to influence the movement (as conference speakers, for instance) or infiltrate the churches (as people with “experience” who thought they knew better “how to do it”) – for a while John Wimber’s meetings and the associated Vineyard fellowships were “where the action was,” so they were attractive to the charismatics who sensed that their own movement had peaked and the Spirit seemed to have “moved on.” That was indeed what was happening by the late 1980’s. But on the other hand, even though Wimber himself could talk about “bishops, priests, and deacons” as the structure of the church at the time of his release of the Canadian Vineyard movement as an independent body (which was a borrowing from classic Anglican and Catholic Church structure, as well as the New Testament and early Fathers), Wimber and the Vineyard board split with Toronto Airport (at that time Vineyard) Christian Fellowship over its emphasis on phenomena (earlier critiqued by Jonathan Edwards – phenomena happen, but prove nothing), and, concomitantly, with Global Awakening (Randy Clark being instrumental in both) that also focused on new apostles and prophets, strategic spiritual warfare, and large group revival, while still maintaining that they exist to equip every believer. There is clearly a sense in which this is true – they do encourage believers to pray for healing – and yet is there really any expectation that all will become like the “anointed healer” or “prophet” or the like? The “impartation” from above gives the impression that that there will always be a hierarchy of gifting, but that hierarchy is not the hierarchy that Wimber was thinking about.

There will always be a tension between this latest version of the charismatic movement and the Catholic Church. First, its theology is clearly Pentecostal-evangelical with the language of “saved” and “anointing” and “baptism in the Spirit” being used freely. Second, its ecclesiology is, well, individualistic and charismatic. By “charismatic” one means that in the movement (and similar movements) there are those who are apostolic and/or prophetic, but totally independent from apostolic succession in the Anglican or Catholic sense or even any of the larger Protestant bodies. They are ordained “from above” (although often there are services of ordination in which there is a type of circular ordination) – no qualifications other than “the Spirit,” no screening process, let alone formal education (some do have formal education, but it is not a qualification per se, and it is sometimes seen as something they have managed to overcome), and very very little in the form of accountability structures. They claim tens of thousands of affiliated congregations, many of them splits from other congregations. One wonders what the average size of a congregation is, but while there are some larger congregations, the total Sunday attendance is probably in the hundred thousands. From the Catholic point of view this is the multiplication of separated brethren without accountability structures and with a multiplication of grand titles. The Catholic Church has always believed that it can learn from separated brethren, but it has also been concerned with the tendency to recruit from Catholic ranks and to undermine Catholic theology.

However, the above is just descriptive of the situation. The central concern of this post is the question of integration, i.e. the theological and practical authenticity of any claim to the reception of the Spirit and whether that fits with the Scripture and tradition, including the spiritual tradition.

The Charismatic movement in the USA is aging and its numbers have been decreasing (movements like the Global Awakening may not yet have peaked, although the information I have received is that certain of its churches have declined). It obviously has not been fully satisfactory to many of its participants or to the church at large. Why might this be?


First, there is a failure to deliver on its promises. People are promised power (a dangerous promise, spiritually), and they are shown apparent power in the large gatherings, but few actually experience the power in their day to day lives. Great statements are made about breaking the power of this or that principality or spirit over this or that area. Great prophecies are proclaimed. Great healings are hoped for (on the basis of some real healings). The people eventually realize that little or nothing has really changed.

Second, there is the failure to deliver on holiness. The Pentecostal movement arose out of the healing-holiness movement of the late 1800’s, which also spawned groups such as the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Many Pentecostal churches have “holiness” in their name or “sanctification” as one of their pillars. But, without accountability structures and with great power in the hands of pastors, apostles, prophets, and “anointed leaders,” the promise of holiness has been less than fulfilled in virtually all of the forms of the movement and in the charismatic movement flowing from it. On the local level, individuals have been abused by prophetic words and/or by being blamed for the death or continuing sickness of a loved one because they, it is claimed, “lacked faith.” Pastors and youth leaders have abused money, sex, and power, and have done so with relatively impunity. Only lately do we observe a more consistent demand for accountability as victims come forward. Many of the most high-profile prophets, apostles, and “anointed leaders” have publicly “fallen,” sometimes to be restored to ministry in a relatively short period by some of their colleagues. Indeed, this was part of the reason for the break between John Wimber and the “Kansas City Prophets.” Other situations are swept under the rug, their victims blamed, and the wound continuing to fester. The waiting rooms of abuse counselors fill up. Now, there are lots of holy men and women of God in these movements, to be sure, but the fact is that there is every reason to believe that sexual abuse, to name one issue, is just as prevalent among these groups as among mainline denominations and the Catholic Church. Where then is real renewal? The difference between such groups and movements and mainline denominations is that unlike, say, the Episcopal Church, accountability, clear rules, and abuse prevention and detection training have not been implemented, partly because of there being no structure to implement them. And unlike the Catholic Church there is no Dallas Charter (most instances of abuse pre-date the 2002 Dallas Charter that established a procedure of training, reporting, and resolving these issues, and any I have read about since 2002 appear to have been swiftly reported to law enforcement authorities, if illegal, or to have swiftly led to suspension from ministry and investigation, if immoral but not illegal, or, better put, breaking canon law but not civil law). The fact is that power, including if it is spiritual power, gives great temptations to corruption, so money, sex, and abuse of power will continue to be problems. Without accountability structures that have real authority, there is no way to remove the perpetrators. And without the centralized training, it is difficult for a church or denomination or movement to move from seeing such acts as “sin” or a single “fall” to be repented of, to seeing them as psychological problems to be treated, to finally realizing that they are addictions or major character flaws and permanently disqualify one from ministry (which are the stages that Bishop Anthony Taylor, the Catholic Bishop of Little Rock, says that the Catholic Church in the USA had to move through over 50 or 60 years). Wherever in the Catholic Charismatic movement or in any other form of the Charismatic movement up to the present there have been such failings, they have left wounded, disillusioned, and often, unfortunately, bitter people in their wake. Holiness is not an option, and, if lacking, the only appropriate recourse is retreat to a hermitage or other place of penance until one gains mastery and self-control.

Finally, there are the theological issues which make integration of the charismatic movement difficult at times, more or less depending on its form:

The baptism in the Holy Spirit language, for one, is problematic. It was developed from the crisis sanctification language of the 1800’s and there is no doubt that people often have a series of peak experiences marking their lives. But theologically virtually all Christian traditions connect the baptism in the Holy Spirit to Christian initiation (Pentecost in Acts 2 being an exception, for the Spirit does not “come” until Jesus physically leaves this dimension), and in the Catholic Church and a number of other traditions this is sacramentally expressed in the use of properly blessed oil. Furthermore, the experience of glossolalia is neither common in Christian initiation in general nor universal in Acts. Paul, in fact, does not connect glossolalia to conversion-initiation at all. As long as this language continues to be used in this way, people will remain confused and disappointed, and all the more as they become theologically aware. It is unfortunate that the Catholic Charismatic movement took this language over from Pentecostalism, for which there was a clear series of crisis conversion as an older child or adult (taken over from what was developing in conservative evangelicalism) to which was added crisis sanctification/baptism in the Spirit. This just does not fit with Catholic theology.

The focus on the Spiritual gifts of 1 Cor 12 is also problematic, not in the insistence on their still being operational, but in how they are made central out of context. The Catholic Church has focused more on Isa 6:2-3, which is reasonable because all Christians are “in Christ” and therefore should expect those Isaianic gifts of the Spirit to be present in them. These gifts also mesh with the “fruit” of the Spirit in Gal 5:22-24. What is characteristic of both lists is that they are behavioral and ethical and indicate connection to God, which should be universal aspirations of every Christian.

The gifts of 1 Cor 12 are ministry gifts. Paul explicitly states that not every Christian has any one of the gifts in that list, not even tongues (the attempt to get various versions of tongues, some being languages – either of human being or angels – and most being the “prayer language” of someone simply does not fit the texts contextually or linguistically). Instead Paul is giving a list of examples of gifts that one may have, a list that starts with speech coming from wisdom (known from the wisdom books of the Old Testament, from James 1 and 3, and from Isa 6), then speech coming from knowledge (what one knows of scripture, or, presumably, the natural world – linguistically this would notrefer to a revelation, but to the inspiration to apply or properly interpret knowledge), next come the related trust in God/Jesus (that may come from listening prayer, an awareness of what God wants to do in a given situation, although Paul does not make that explicit – his point is that the Spirit inspires trust), various types of gifts of healing (we do know that in Mark 9, for instance, there were some things that the disciples were not gifted to heal, while earlier it is clear that they had been gifted to heal many things, presumably in different situations), working wonders, prophecy (visions and oracles, for that is how the term is used in Hebrew Scripture; in Acts it is rarely used for foretelling, and when it is so used, it is a warning with a present application; later in 1 Corinthians Paul speaks of it as upbuilding and convicting in its effect), discernment, linguistic ability (certainly needed as the church reached across cultures and linguistic groups, as one sees in Acts 2, whether one was aware of what one was saying or not, whether one had the gift of learning language or the instant appearance of language), and the ability to interpret languages (again, clearly needed in cross-cultural ministry, whether the Spirit’s gifting was evident in how quickly one learned or in instant understanding). There is no reason to believe that these are not fully operational today, for they are clearly still needed. I have personally experienced all of them at one time or another. But the is not Paul’s point. Paul is taking some examples and stating that they are equally gifts of the Spirit, that no person will manifest them all in a given group setting, and that no person has a monopoly on them, for “to each is given.” The point is that together they serve “the common good.” They do not validate one’s spiritual experience or status, they do not belong to a few, they do not create a gifting hierarchy – they work together for the good of the community. That is why love is more important than any gift (1 Cor 13) and that is why glossolalia (speaking in a foreign language, learned or unlearned) should only be done if the person or someone else interprets for those who do not speak that language. It is the unity of the body and the upbuilding of all that is the point. Likewise, those prophesying should not interrupt or otherwise disrupt one another, and there should be few enough oracles that the leaders of the community can evaluate them – all individuals are mixed bags of holiness and depravity, so all gifts will tend to be at least somewhat tainted by our desires and the like. People are to desire the “higher gifts,” which appear to be those that most strengthen the community and speak to outsiders. Thus, glossolalia is of limited value, for it may be irrelevant in a group in which all speak Greek, but it should not be forbidden, so long as it is interpreted, for even if one is not aware of the fact, perhaps someone is there who needs to hear some key phrase or message spoken in their mother tongue.

Paul (assuming that he is the author of Ephesians) does speak of individuals characterized by certain ministries in Eph 4, but the gifts are the people, not the ministries. The gifts are apostles (I doubt that the Twelve are meant, but rather missionary-church planters like Paul, for such people also appear in the Didache and are not allowed to stay in a local church but must move on after a rest), prophets, evangelists (one thing that I am not, although once in a while God surprises me by using me this way), and pastors and teachers. Again, the list need not be complete, but exemplary. The purpose is the same as in 1 Cor 12: for the common good, i.e. for “the equipping of the saints,” for “the building up of the body of Christ.” They serve the servants of God. Nothing to get proud about, folks.

That, in brief, is what biblical studies might contribute to the discussion, and ignoring the context makes the whole seem questionable and difficult to integrate. Likewise, the typical charismatic teaching on “faith” is linguistically problematic and often pastorally disastrous. It becomes our work, not God’s gift. Equally problematic (in contexts in which the language is used) are the teachings about “mantles” and “anointings” and “impartation.” They are also quite in contrast to Catholic teaching, if one is a Catholic.

The point is that if one speaks enough of these theologically questionable teachings, eventually at least those with some theological education see through them. The wise leader knows this, which is why John Wimber would contract with me, for example, to “take apart” his teaching on an issue by issue basis. That is, he asked me for a 5 to 10-page or so paper summarizing the biblical teaching on a topic with no holds barred when it came to disagreeing with him. I was not the only one so “privileged” (I put “privileged” in quotes because, while I did feel honored and trusted to be asked, I also experienced sending in a paper and before receiving any acknowledgment, receiving a communication from across the continent from someone wanting me to defend it because Wimber had sent it to him as “the official Vineyard position!”), which is good, for it is in the multitude of counselors that there is wisdom. Let the scholars argue it out and look carefully at the evidence that they produce for their positions. Likewise, there are consequences of ignoring Paul’s teaching, consequences that often mean the dissolution of the community that one is not building up.

Yet there are gifts that everyone should seek and obtain, for they are available in Christ, and those are the Isa 6 and Gal 5 gifts. But they all are connected with an ethical lifestyle, even an ascetic lifestyle (in Paul’s words, “crucifying the flesh”). And that is what triggered this post. Last night I was reading St Seraphim of Sarov, On Acquisition of the Holy Spirit(no press is listed, but I got it from and its ISBN is 9781499236965). Now this seems to be a poor translation of a transcription of a discussion with St Seraphim, and the discussion must have taken place before Seraphim’s death in 1833. To understand it one must realize that “saved” essentially includes sanctified, ready for the beatific vision, and that in fact the beatific vision or intimacy with God is what the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is. For Seraphim almsgiving and other acts of ministry (including the ministry gifts of 1 Corinthians) are simply means of preparing one’s heart for closeness to God, and they only function this way if done for Christ. St Seraphim also includes “crucifying the flesh” in this category, naming fasting in particular. The most productive way of preparing one’s heart is prayer, and he was no wimp when it came to prayer: he prayed for hours in his hut kneeling upon a stone.

Now the various gifts of the Spirit and then some are attributed to Seraphim, but not claimed by him. He did his duty in the church or focused on prayer in his hut. He does not talk about miracles. But others did, and the writer of the work experience Seraphim’s clairvoyance when the old man simply says that he realizes that the writer started his spiritual seeking quite young and had still not found what he was seeking after having consulted many spiritual men (the writer fills in how this meshed with his experience). I would suppose that Paul would call this prophecy. But Seraphim does not speak of this or of any other miracle attributed to him. He refers to himself as “humble Seraphim” and to the writer as “your Godliness,” although the writer refers to St Seraphim as “father.” While Seraphim’s exegesis is spiritual exegesis, almost Philonic in places, and while one is sometimes not sure whether it is the translation or poor biblical memory that brings in some inaccuracies, the tenor of the book is clear: like John of the Cross, or Teresa of Avila, Seraphim (and, as well, the Philokaliain general, which I happened to be reading later in the night, in particular Diodochus of Photiki) sees the purification of the soul as critical to obtaining intimacy with God, and this is the goal of the Christian life. Purification comes through the sacraments, through prayer (especially), and through righteous deeds, which include ministry done for the sake of Jesus, especially almsgiving. Thus while all of Paul’s gifts of the Spirit are not just accepted, but, according to other accounts, experienced in the life of Seraphim, he pays little attention to them, for they are just tools for doing the ministry God has called him to for the sake of Jesus. In other words, he is determined to put on Christ, to receive the virtues of Gal 5, to become like Jesus, and he does so by laying down his life for others, as Jesus did. God gives the needed tools for doing this, the “charismatic gifts” being one and only one aspect of this, and not the most important one, and for that he is thankful, but, in a sense, hardly notices, for of course God would give the gifts necessary to do his will, and all Seraphim wants to do is thank the giver. His concern is the conquest of the passions, bringing them under the control of the mind informed by Christ.

This puts charismata in context. It brings me back to the contemplative focus on the gifts that I found in Germany in the Rufer Movement (Ruferbewegung). But it takes me beyond that into the holy men and women of God down the ages practicing the same disciplines and the same gifts. They often renewed the church, although at times they were islands of piety in the midst of corruption. Yet rather than anger or outrage, they expressed sorrow and prayer. Here are charismata in the context of the whole of church history. And now I know why I have been uncomfortable with the charismatic movement even while enjoying the gifts and the fellowship – there is often an “us” – “them” mentality, “us renewed and with it” ones over against “them, the dead and unspiritual and hierarchal” ones. I have called myself a charismatic, and basically that is correct, if it means accepting the gifts listed in 1 Cor 12, and expecting them to function in my life and the lives of others. But what I have longed for all the time is to forget the gifts and simply use them as they are needed by this or that occasion and become a man of the Spirit, to experience the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. Then they are integrated as Paul would have them integrated.

If I succeed in that acquisition of the Holy Spirit, do not expect me to blog about it. To experience the Spirit in that way, says St Seraphim, is to lapse into silence, as he did for some 13 years, three outside the monastery and 10 within. The silence is both the silence of deep humility in face of the all-knowing God, and the inability to express the inexpressible, which may well mean that there will be lot of silence (loving silence) in heaven.



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