The Locked Door

A prayer after the non-ordained were refused Communion all through Easter to Ascension.

Art Thou ascended, Lord, who hast not yet appeared

To us who in agony weep beside the fast-locked door?

Who with minds perplexed, and hearts by Thy loss seared,

Still hopeless grieve Thy death, and may not hold Thee more.

Are we no more Thy people, who locked outside Thy house,

Are given Thee in picture and forbidden to receive?

Hast Thou turned from all within Thy mystic Spouse,

Except the very stewards whom Thy sheep of Thee bereave?

Art Thou ascended ere Thy people can Thee touch?

Hast Thou Thy human nature abandoned in Thy death?

Thus unassumed, unhealed, and lost in peril such

That we would betray our faith and mourn our pointless breath.

O Lord, if the gift Thou gavest meant more than bitter loss,

As human tears Thou weptst and human blood didst shed

For us sinners counted precious upon the accursed cross,

Look with favour on Thy people in their most bitter dread.

O turn again, O turn us  – turn to Thy starving sheep,

And be Thyself our shepherd, and feed again Thy flock.

O leave us not for ever outside Thy tomb to weep,

O answer Thou the door who Thyself didst bid us knock!

 

Cherry Foster

 

 

N.B. “accursed” is pronounced here, as I believe traditional, with three syllables.  I can’t work out how to mark that.  And also, I do appreciate most people are acting in good conscience, and anyway, however rightly horrified I am by what is being done from the logical and spiritual point of view, I cannot rightly assign blame.

O Life, art Thou become Death?

Rembrandt, the denial of St. Peter source wikimedia commons photo credit unknown no copyright
Painting by Rembrandt: source: Wikimedia Commons; Photo: credit unknown.

 

I reached my hand to the door of the church,

And found Thy people might not enter in.

At Thy desire I would receive Thy cup,

As from Thy hand, but that was counted sin.

The Bread of Life we deem a source of death;

Thy scattered sheep are perishing alone.

Our faith is not in Thee but in the earth,

For earthly life we Thy command disown.

O Lord, forgive!  O Lord, restore to Thee,

Thy people whom Thy faith turn upside-down:

Who seeking life, find death, and know it not,

And Thee as Life and Truth in shame discrown.

Cherry Foster

Champaigne_shepherd
The Good Shepherd by Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

What do we believe? Questions of a Troubled Churchgoer

Resurrection_(24) Photo credit Surgun source Wikamedia Commons no copyright
Resurrection – this icon shows Christ rescuing Adam and Eve from Death. Photo credit: Surgun; source: Wikimedia Commons

Where is God now?

To be sought in leading the way in trying to preserve earthly life and our infrastructure?

Does this make sense?  What does it suggest we believe?

In the primacy and priority of earthly life, over and above all other considerations, including the Divine Life which does not notice death.  In the notion that lay-participation in the Eucharist, lay Communion, is merely a selfish indulgence and not part of the outflowing of God’s love “for the Life of the World”.

We are not witnessing to God in a crisis, but standing helpless and craven before a threat which is horrible, but which Christ has overcome, not by sparing us death and disaster, but by raising us up through them into his risen life.

This is not all or nothing – a matter of taking reckless risks or a matter of giving up altogether.  I would be inclined to advocate, for instance, within my own Church group, that people should be live-streaming services from their Churches, and then engaging everyone who can to take Communion to people in their homes to do so.  Through an open window with both minister and recipient wearing mask and gloves, if necessary.

I come from a part of the Church that makes a lot of celebrating the Eucharist daily and receiving daily.  But so far, we have been left without any sort of access to the Sacraments for almost six weeks,  during a crisis – when we need it more, and when the world needs it more.  It is an inherent part of what I was taught about the Eucharist that it is Divine inbreaking, the Real Presence.  To set it aside is to set Christ aside.  If the laity say to the clergy in normal times that they don’t need to come to Church, and that they don’t need to receive the Sacraments because God can provide in other ways, then the clergy tend to disagree quite hard.  And rightly so according to our theology and world view.  But now the church seems to be saying exactly that to us – and I’m not sure people are even aware that it wasn’t what they were apparently saying ten weeks ago.

It’s true that I would advocate straightforward disobedience to a state command to stop people participating in Christian worship, for all I would also advocate taking any precautions that don’t involve actually stopping participation.  However, under these circumstances, I do feel able to understand and respect a preference for yielding to the injunction temporarily while making an enormous fuss about being allowed to reassume as soon as possible.  (And I am talking of denying Christian ministry, not of a particular Christian deciding in all conscience that they are right not to seek to receive under particular circumstances.  That is completely different).

But who is speaking for us?  Who is clamouring to be allowed to worship?  To be allowed to return to our prayer and service to a world that is in agony?  That is rediscovering the horror and inevitability of death, and needs so much to hear the news that death won’t have the last word.

I feel that what is happening is rather like being told that 2+2=5.  If we believe in the Divine Life, then given a straight choice, it takes precedence over earthly life.  What is going on?  How is it we seem to preach one set of beliefs, and act upon another?  Why are we supposed to be serving the world by accepting its values and fears?  We speak the creed, and we act as if there was no Resurrection, as if human death was final and as if the ultimate service we can offer is to attempt to preserve it, rather than to witness that it is not, or at least does not have to be, final.

What has happened?  What is happening?  Have we been persuaded to believe, only to be persuaded not to believe if we have to take a risk in order to act in the way that belief would dictate?

Kyrie eleison – Lord, have mercy upon us all.  I do not see any way forward, personally or as a church, and I am totally bewildered.  But the faith of Christ is enough to supply our lack thereof.

Cherry Foster

How shall we seek Thee?

Champaigne_shepherd
The Good Shepherd by Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

O Lord, how shall we seek Thy help who have forsaken Thee?

Thou gavest us all Thyself by bitter death and bitter grief,

Thy Body broken, Thy Blood shed for us upon the Tree,

And still, when questioned by the flame, we turn from Thy belief.

O Lord, we turn away the gift of Thine appointed aid,

Demanding that Thou shouldst provide according to our choice,

And setting now our earthly life above Thy help, we fade,

And cowering thus deny Thy Life, Thy witness with one voice.

Through the shelter of Thy faith that sustained Thine anguished death,

And through the love of Three-in-One that raised Thee from dark hell.

And by the blood of those who gave for Thee their mortal breath,

And in the courage of the One who ever with us dwells:

O turn again, and turn us, Lord, to place in Thee our trust,

Not human sin, nor mortal death, Thy covenant can shake.

Turn us to look to Thee for help and not to mortal dust,

That we may witness to the Life that all from Thee may take.

 

Cherry Foster

 

 

N.B.  Given our cultural tendency to an “all-or-nothing” attitude, I would clarify by saying that I advocate taking all possible precautions in the process of receiving the Sacraments (Thou shalt not put the Lord Thy God to the test); it is denying access entirely on the grounds of human risk that I argue against.  Also, I don’t claim to be innocent in this or anything else, and as always, I do not judge anyone else’s conscience.  That, at least, is thankfully not my problem!

“In solidarity” – comforting or upsetting?

Do you find people talking about suffering “in solidarity” with some other group of people comforting, or does it upset you more?

One of the mainstays of the sympathy of the clergy in regard to the fact that many of us have been deprived partly or completely of our worship and/or normal sacramental practice by COVID-19 prevention policies is to explain that our suffering is “in solidarity with X group of people who have the same problem.”

For example, someone told me that our being deprived of the capacity to receive the Precious Blood put us in solidarity with poor Churches that can’t afford enough wine for the whole congregation to receive, and today I received a letter which talked about our loss of the Sacraments being “in solidarity” with persecuted Christians similarly deprived.

Like a lot of things, I do completely appreciate that those who say it mean to comfort, and also like a lot of these things, I am actually deeply upset by it.

When such disjoints between what is meant and what is heard happen, it is very important for people to talk about them and discuss why – otherwise we are heading for a state worse than that of those on the unfinished tower of Babel!

Part of the fact that I find the “in solidarity” convention upsetting is to do with perspective, for although the clergy are undoubtedly having an extremely hard time, they are not in quite the same position as the rest of us with regard to these things.  Which means that one group of people are saying to a second that they (the second group) are suffering something that first group is not suffering “in solidarity” with some different third party.  I feel that this is an inappropriate external imposition of a spiritual and emotional response which, while it may be very worthy, can only be a personal response coming from inside, not a response one group of people can assume will come from another.

This would perhaps suggest a more tentative phrasing would be better: “some people may find it helps to think of this suffering as being in solidarity with…” rather than an apparent expectation that we should respond like this and find it comforting or useful.

Moreover, I’d comment that I personally don’t usually find the insistence that other people are suffering the same, more, or worse, comforting when I am myself suffering intense grief.  Sometimes it may be necessary to hear it for practical reasons, but often people draw attention to others’ suffering as if they suppose it to be comforting – that it will somehow lessen the burden of my own grief.  But the notion that enduring not only my own grief, but that inevitably suffered in empathy with the others I am being reminded of, will cause me to suffer less rather than more, seems odd to me.  This doesn’t just apply to the solidarity comment, but to a lot of others.  (I suspect this difference is down to personality type and the manner in which any particular person processes things).

Finally, I think it is that “in solidarity” is straightforwardly not something that helps me with this type of intense spiritual confusion.  It is the very essence of Hell that solidarity is not a possible response.  It would not have the nature it has, if it did not cut off the possibility of relating to anyone else inside it or with regard to it.  In this particular type of confusion, to appeal to solidarity is a category mistake.  This reason for not appealing to “in solidarity” would only apply to things that elicit this response in others, and I have no idea how common it is as a spiritual response to the loss of worship or the sacraments*.  That it is possible, however, should be theoretically obvious**.

What do you think?  If you talk to others of solidarity, why do you feel it could be helpful?  If you hear people saying it, do you find it comforting or upsetting, and what do you think the reason for your response is?

Cherry Foster

 

 

*I am among those who would test the soundness of spiritual responses by asking if they are consistent with the Tradition, not by asking whether or not they are normal.  That is, if someone says “I felt God called me to commit a murder,” or that He told them to worship Ashtaroth, then I would think them almost certainly deceived.  And similarly there are things I really experience spiritually that I do regard as unsound because they are contrary to theological truth – I regard them as something to be acknowledged as there, but not accepted as right or true.  But that is different from assuming something incorrect merely because it is unusual, and it seems to me there is a tendency to do that.

**Assuming that Hell is properly understood as a state of exile from God, and that the things we do in worship are real, both of which statements I would contend are correct, and would seem to me to be what my branch of the Church (traditionalist Anglo-Catholic) generally teaches (yes, people are welcome to tell me I’m wrong about that :-P.  But some of us do actually listen to what is said in Church and think about it, however much of a shock this may be to those who are not used to people taking an interest!  I’ll expand on the whole question if anyone actually wants me to).

By the way, the one helpful thing someone did say to me – in case it is of use to anyone else – was to remind me of the vision of St. Silouan: “keep your mind in Hell – and despair not“.

 

 

 

Shall we demand of God…

(As always, I know that people are doing their best in difficult circumstances and do honestly believe they are making the right decisions – but I also think that there are things being ignored which are important).

Shall we demand of God

That He sustain the hungry without food,

That none may be at risk from taking shopping to them?

Shall we demand of God

That He send angels to minister to the sick,

That no-one may be put at risk by nursing them?

And shall we demand of God,

That He sustain the Life Divine without the Sacraments

That there may be no risk to any from receiving them?

 

Cherry Foster