Oh, rebellious children, says the LORD, who carry out a plan, but not mine…
For they are a rebellious people, faithless children, children who will not hear the instruction of the LORD;
who say to the seers, “Do not see”; and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions,
leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”…
Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.
Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Then you will defile your silver-covered idols and your gold-plated images. You will scatter them like filthy rags; you will say to them, “Away with you!”
For all the love I have of the Anglican tradition (which I describe as an ancient, evangelical and catholic tradition), it does have those pockets of soft, new-age intellectual goo that remind me there’s work to do.
As I head down the path to possible ordination (nothing is a given, and the issue I am raising here may ultimately require my thinking and direction to change, who knows?), one of the things I have been encouraged to do – and which I have done – is to meet regularly with a spiritual director. That’s a foreign concept to many. Think of a Jedi-Padawan relationship if you like. It’s an old practice of meeting regularly with a person of much experience as they help you to connect with God and to develop practices for staying good at it. It has a strong history in the older mainstream churches, especially Catholic and Anglican (I know little of the Orthodox so can’t comment about them). The man I am meeting with is Catholic (a Marist priest). With my interest in the concept now piqued, I decided to get a short book on the subject from an Anglican perspective, and as I am reading through it, some of the opening comments intended to set the tone for the book have highlighted for me some of my tendencies – tendencies I think I have always had – that I regard as very Catholic in nature, and tendencies that turn me off from some of what I will inevitably encounter in my new church world.
Let me sum up the difference between two ways of thinking about spiritual direction. The first is a way that you will encounter in Anglican Christianity – and in many modern Catholic parishes too. It does not represent a traditional Anglican way of doing things, but you’ll certainly find it today: “Alright, here is a book of some advice on spiritual direction, but first and foremost, let me say (if I may – if you’ll let me) that there are many ways of going about this, and please please please don’t hear me as saying that the way I will suggest is right. I wouldn’t want that. Gosh, there is a fabulous colourful array of equally OK ways of going about this, and a pick ‘n mix of traditions to celebrate. Here’s a flower.”
Now, here’s another way of approaching this. When I look at this way, I recognise my own way of thinking. This is the way of people like Ignatius of Loyola approached spiritual discipline, and I’ll sum it up like this: “I’m going to tell you how to do this. It’s important, so listen carefully.”
You don’t reinvent the church for a new generation.
On reflection, this isn’t just a different attitude I have to spiritual direction / discipline. It’s my attitude to doing the whole church thing. Although examples like the one above are features of some pockets of modern Anglicanism that irk me somewhat, on the whole the Anglican view of the Church is one of the things about this tradition that draws me to it. You don’t reinvent the church for a new generation, as some people might say of their own approach to the church. The church is a big, old thing that you don’t own and God does, and you join it and follow ways that you didn’t create and which might not suit you, and you become conformed to expectations that are external to you and you might not have chosen if it were up to you. You are changed by your union with the church. As regular readers know, there is much in the content of Catholic belief that I can never accept, but I have been talking here about a Catholic attitude to making your own faith as opposed to belonging to one.
Contrary to what some trendy airheads say, this is not “a relationship, not a religion.”
Contrary to what some trendy airheads say, this is not “a relationship, not a religion.” It’s a religion (which doesn’t mean that it’s not a relationship). There is a point to the earliest Christian Creed, “Jesus is Lord.” He’s not simply your travelling companion, your friend, or somebody to help you find your own way. He is the way. Christianity isn’t a “pick a path” book (remember those?). This is an arrangement where God says “this is the way. Walk in it.”