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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Remember! Blessed Charles, King and Martyr Part 2

Upon further investigation, I wanted to confirm that Blessed Charles was added to the Kalendar in the 1980 Alternative Service Book in the Church of England as well as the Anglican Church of Canada's The Book of Alternative Services (1985).  No collect contained in either.  However, a new collect was added in the CoE's Common Worship and is cited below.

King of kings and Lord of lords,
whose faithful servant Charles
prayed for those who persecuted him
and died in the living hope of your eternal kingdom:
grant us by your grace so to follow his example
that we may love and bless our enemies,
through the intercession of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Remember! Blessed Charles, King and Martyr

It is as natural that the Church of England should keep this day as it is that Christ's universal Church should keep Saint Stephen's martyrdom.
John Keble, in a sermon on the Feast of Blessed Charles 

On January 30, 1649, the "White King," Charles I of England was led to a scaffold outside of the palace of Whitehall in London to be executed.  He was later buried inside St. George's Chapel within the grounds of Windsor where he rests in peace to this day.

One cannot boast membership in the Society of King Charles the Martyr and neglect his feast day in the blogosphere.  Sadly, I'm away from Sewanee this weekend and unable to attend the Commemoration Mass for Charles.  Perhaps an elucidation of Charles may serve as my penance...

Charles I, the martyred King of England, is remembered today in some parts of the Anglican Communion--depending on one's slant towards monarchy and high churchmanship.  When the monarchy was restored under Charles II, the martyred king was added to the Kalendar for commemoration and stood firm on January 30th until the reign of Queen Victoria, when the Commons had petitioned the Queen for his removal.

Charles has never been officially canonized, at least in the Roman sense, in the Anglican Communion simply because there is no known process of creating saints--a relic of the Reformation for sure.  Thus, Charles receives the title, "Blessed Charles."  According to John Moorman in his work, A History of the Church of England, Charles stood, "as a symbol of the patient sufferer who lays down his life for his creed and for his Church."  Charles was a firm believer in the Divine Right of Kings and could be accredited, if for nothing else, for the appointment of William Laud to be Archbishop of Canterbury.  Charles was not a savvy politician, his policies of enforcing the Prayer Book on the Scots proved disastrous.  The effects could be easily sensed even in 2009 when I stepped inside St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh!  

Whether or not you agree with Charles and the succeeding history surrounding his cause for inclusion on the Kalendar, he died a martyr's death, and certainly won the hearts of many of his countrymen.

Today, the Society of King Charles the Martyr exists 1) to pray for the Anglican Communion; 2) to promote a wide observance of 30th of January as the Feast day for this martyr; and 3) to work towards the reinstatement of Blessed Charles on the Kalendar of the Book of Common Prayer throughout the Anglican Communion.

According to the scholarly source, Wiki-pedia, The Church of England added Charles in the 1980 Alternative Service Book as well as a collect included in Common Worship.  He is not contained in the Episcopal Church's Lesser Feasts and Fasts.
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Icon of Charles, King and Martyr, 2009.  
Acrylic on Wood.  Author's private collection.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Retreat Prayers

Silence.  The deserted wilderness.  The furnace of transformation.  Abiding love.  Wooing of the Spirit.  These were some of the many themes that kept surfacing during my vigil retreat in preparation for taking vows.  To synthesize these themes, I wrote several prayers dedicated to our patron, Abba Anthony the Great.  You'll most likely see the repetition of the themes throughout, but I wanted to share these with you.
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O Christ, draw near me.  Woo my soul to the desert where I may be transformed in the furnace of silence.  Abba Anthony guide me; your life to Christ is my daystar and your faith is my hope.  Help me learn to stand before God in silence, to be still, and listen with the ear of my heart.  Amen.

A More Typical Prayer Book Collect
Almighty and everlasting God, instill in my heart your transforming silence; whereby your servant Anthony the Great witnessed the solitary life of faith to show the abundance of your grace and love; bid us in quietude to be still and to know that you are our God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Come Holy Spirit and woo me to the deep, fiery wellsprings of your love.
Lead me through the desert and into your light, never leave me.
Come breathe in me the strength and courage to stand and walk
today, so that I may witness your love and truth.
Come, may I abide in your peace.  Amen.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

On Being a Monk: The First Week

The day was spent in a flurry of preparation.  Many last minute things had to be addressed:  liturgy, music, reception food, and so forth.  I was busy finishing my latest icon project, a large image of our patron, St. Anthony which needed to be dry in time to be blessed during the earlier Eucharist.  The day came on the heels of a busy weekend and the opening of the Easter term.  But the air was filled with excitement rather than anxiety and worry, for this day was to be the beginning of a new chapter in my life and I had set aside ample time beforehand to prayerfully reflect on the sacramental profession of monastic vows.

Once everything was in place, people arriving in the night's crisp air, it was truly going to happen.  The organ burst forth and began the hymn, my abbot leaned towards me with, "are you ready?"  There was no turning back now.   

I had thought long before that the "moment" for me would come when I was to be prostrate on the seminary chapel's cold stone floor--lying vulnerable at the foot the cross.  The music that I chose for this moment was something very dear to me, the Taize chant, "Jesus, Remember Me."  A favorite of mine, I had incorporated it into the healing services that I led at St. Matthew's Homeless Shelter just two short years ago.  That place was a deep mark in my heart and an important time for my formation.  There I came face-to-face with the wounded Christ in so many people hungry for wholeness.  I can still recall their faces, the smell of the annointing oil, and the repetitious chorus of the chant.  All of those memories flashed before me as I laid on the floor with tears. 

But to my surprise, that was not the moment.  It came when my abbot placed the black habit of our Order over me.  Trying to find my way through the dark, hooded garment was the moment--I distinctly recall a feeling of being lost and alone.  I remember saying to myself, "this isn't supposed to be the moment!"  But alas, it was.  Inside the clothing was my journey, my journey from death to life, from darkness to light.  It all happened in the space of a minute or so, but inside it felt as though time stood still.  It all became clear when I peaked my head through the hood, it was true. 

Ending one chapter and beginning a new one was the deep emotional stuff inside of me that day.  I never thought that by entering seminary I would stumble upon the catalyst to discern a contemplative call that has really been there in my soul for a long, long time.  It went unanswered for too long, and for too long it struggled to find its authentic voice inside of me.  That changed and so did I.

I can truly say that professing vows is indeed a sacrament.  Grace came when I unexpected it, inside the darkness of a habit.  That moment will forever stay with me, most likely because I was not ready for it.  God does indeed have a sense of humor.  I wish I could sometimes understand it.  Perhaps in silence, perhaps one day.   I stand ready to begin this new chapter and to see what new unexpected graces will happen.  Silentio Coram Deo.       

Got Fog?

We are no strangers to fog here in Sewanee.  There's even the annual Fog Festival in nearby Monteagle to celebrate the haze.  High atop the Cumberland Plateau, the University sits quietly surrounded by misty, billowing clouds.  Some days it can really get to you; the fog can sometimes appear so thick that you can almost cut it.  Fog lights on your car fail even to provide visibility.

I wanted to capture the ghostly essence of the fog surrounding the main quad on campus--All Saints' Chapel and Breslin Tower.  Here are few of my photographs.

Breslin Tower

The Quad

All Saints' Chapel

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Making Sense of Haiti

Sightings 1/21/2010  
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School

Is the Devil a Black Man?
by Spencer Dew

In what has now become a much-circulated clip, Pat Robertson makes sense of the catastrophic Haitian earthquake as the latest in a string of curses delivered by God to Haiti’s people.  Robertson’s interpretation of this catastrophe, whether we find it repellent or compelling, offers an excellent example of one of the ways religion functions:  Robertson reiterates a reassuring framework of meaning in the face of experiences which call such frameworks into question.  The earthquake, rather than evidence of the random and senseless nature of human existence, provides for Robertson evidence of God’s existence and ongoing, partisan involvement in human history.  Robertson’s theology provides comfort, too, in its categorization of the victims of this tragedy as deserving of their fate, insulating Robertson from the agony of identifying too closely with these wounded, mourning, homeless, and hungry fellow humans.  Robertson may be moved by this suffering – his remarks were delivered as the Christian Broadcasting Network raised money for earthquake relief – but his religious anthropology renders this suffering, in his words, “unimaginable,” a stark contrast to anthropologies that urge empathetic relations.  

For Robertson, the Haitian people are markedly other, a tone that carries through his version of the nation’s history:  “They were under the heels of the French,” he says, “You know, Napoleon III, or whatever.  And they got together and swore a pact to the devil.  They said, we will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French.  True story.  And so the devil said, OK, it’s a deal.  And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free.  But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other.”  This story is, of course, far from true.  Robertson offers here a typical demonization of the Voodoo religion and a Christian distortion of the legend of the 1791 Bois Caiman ritual.  Yet Robertson, one imagines, finds animal sacrifice and blood vows repellent, and he has no reason to be accepting of any religion other than his own, ruling them all false and therefore damnable.  In the clearly defined narrative Robertson insists upon, the followers of God can expect rewards while to the followers of the devil come destruction, blood, and wailing.  The troubling aspect of Robertson’s remarks, however, is not the myths he offers to make sense of the world, but what he leaves out of his thumbnail history of Haiti:  Unmentioned in his summary is the word “slavery.”  The “true story” that Robertson occludes is that Haiti, the first country to be founded by former African slaves, owes its origin to armed uprising.  What began as raids on plantations became full scale revolutionary war, with people who had been regarded as chattel claiming their liberty via the blood of their former “masters.”  

From Nat Turner to Fred Hampton, the armed, independent black person has remained a nightmare image to those who benefit from white privilege in America, an image, indeed, not unlike Cotton Mather’s description of Satan incarnate in New England, that “Black Man” with the power to destroy the social order.  Haitian Independence was an event interpreted by much of the white, slave-owning world of the time as catastrophic.  That “they” would dare – and be able – to seize power called into question preexisting systems of meaning-making as surely as any earthquake.

The image of black slaves shedding their chains and taking up arms contributes far more than any hobgoblins of the evangelical imagination to the historical “curses” that have kept Haiti poor and troubled.  The history of American relations with Haiti has been indelibly tainted by America’s true devil – the lingering effects of our own schizophrenic founding as a nation insistent on liberty yet practicing slavery.  Just as racist terror helped shape the stereotype of Voodoo as devil worship, so too racist attitudes have dominated the history of American relations with Haiti, from the fearful to the patronizing, from clandestine political machinations to occupation by military force.  Hopefully, the current attention on Haiti (for those of us who reject dismissive metaphysical explanations such as Robertson’s) will prompt Americans to examine the racism embedded not just in foreign and domestic political history but, indeed, in our own minds.  Without honest confrontation of the legacies of our past as a slave society, some “they” will always be demonized and some “devil” will always be imagined as a mask for our earthly hatreds and fears.


Pat Robertson’s clip:

Previous Sightings columns on the 1791 Bois Caiman ritual: and

Spencer Dew is an instructor in the department of theology at Loyola University, Chicago.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Sacrament of Monastic Profession

Photo:  Before the Profession of Vows Liturgy, 
Chapel of the Apostles, Sewanee, TN.  2010

So you say that there are only seven sacraments?  Really?  No way!  What about the burial office?  And what about monastic profession?  I believe that there are more than seven sacraments--external, visible signs of an inward spiritual grace.  For me, I cannot imagine grace being contained and complete in mere seven.  More of that later...

On the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter (Jan. 18th), I professed simple vows in the Order of St. Anthony the Great.  The "OPC" Brothers and Sisters are a mixed contemplative community in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, GA.  Founded in 2006 by Abbot Kenneth Hosley, OPC, the young order is in process to seek full recognition by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  To date, we have 8 members under vows and several postulants.  We seek to embrace a rule of the contemplative life that helps teach others the richness of the Christian spiritual tradition and cause renewal in our Church.

My heart was full that night;  God has called me down a new road in my life and one that gives voice (or silence!) to a very important part of me.  More over, I had a lot of dear friends present with me--and many who were unable to be there praying for me--which impressed upon me the love that so many have for me and our Church.  I was, and still am, in awe.

As part of my discipline, I decided to write an icon of our Order's name-saint, Anthony the Great and present it to the Order upon my profession.  Admittedly, I got the idea from seeing the Icon of the Brotherhood of Gregory the Great.

It is the largest icon to date that I have completed.  It was exciting to see the image come alive and then to customize it with important emblems from the Order.  I painted a frame to surround the saint and placed the Order's initials in each corner, OPC, which is Ordo Precis Contemplativae or "Order of Contemplative Prayer."

The flash does do justice to the brilliant color.  Anthony's hands are holding a scroll with the Order's motto, Silentio Coram Deo, or "Silence before God." I began this icon at the beginning of January, and it helped me get through the GOE exams!  I can see an improvement in my hand each time I write an icon, plus a willingness to embrace imperfection (which is something that I've been working on for years).  The icon was blessed during a Eucharist in the Seminary's Chapel by our Associate Dean of Community Life.  It was graciously received by my abbot and will travel to Atlanta to live with our Order.

~Silentio Coram Deo