Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: February 2005

A Dawn of Perfection

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” {Ezekiel 37:1-6}

Anna recently posted her thoughts regarding Marriage, Sex and the Kingdom of God at Deepsoil.Her thoughts and insights are very great and I commend them to you all.

The thread I would like to pick up on is this understanding of restoration, perfection and consummation in creation. These are all, of course, intimately connected to salvation and dependant upon the work of Christ.

Over the past several months I have been thinking and reading a lot about marriage, most particularly as the marriage service is presented in the historical Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Now, why did I approach from this direction? Why not look directly at the scriptures? (I have been-appropriately-challenged because of this). Primarily I approached the topic from this perspective because I was writing a paper for a pastoral theology course and I am at an Episcopal seminary. Because it is my tradition I need to consider the ways in which that tradition approaches these questions so that I can speak truthfully and in an informed manner with people who come to me and seek an understanding of what our church believes and teaches when it witnesses and blesses their joining in Holy Matrimony. Additionally, I think the approach of the historic liturgy is a very good way to consider the question of what exactly Christian marriage means.

Obviously this is begging the question as to what exactly the above passage from the book of Ezekiel has to do with marriage. Be patient, I promise I’ll get there–in this post even.

In considering the way in which Christians have traditionally approached questions of marriage, most have considered it from the dual perspectives that rule the Christian life, i.e. creation and redemption. In doing so Christians have taken theircues from Christ himself. Anna has done a good job of opening up the issue of the eschaton in the Christian view of marriage. But this view in and of itself is not explanatory. What exactly is it that is being finished, completed, accomplished, perfected, restored or recreated @ the end of days? The answer to that question is, I believe, apparent in Christ’s teaching on divorce:

Mark 10:1-11

And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? 3 He answered them, What did Moses command you? They said, Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away. And Jesus said to them, Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.

And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.

In this and other, similar, situations Jesus demonstrates a manner of interpretation that goes back to the beginning, comments on the fact that dispensations were given because of our hardness of heart but, in keeping with the inauguration of the Kingdom which his incarnation and earthly ministry represent, Christ is quick to call his listeners (and us) to task and to demand that we grow up. This is not merely an analogy; you see Jesus has come to demonstrate true humanity, to redeem us from our bondage to sin, and therefore from our hardness of heart. Jesus is proclaiming the Kingdom and in doing so he is recalling the original intent of God in creation, and commanding us to live into that intention.

In the original state of creation it is generally believed by Christian theologians, Adam and Eve would not have died, physical death being a ramification of the corruption brought about by sin and spiritual death (or second death, final death) being the result of the act of sin itself. St. Athanasius in On the Incarnation reflects this view in his discussion of the reasons for the incarnation:

This, then, was the plight of men. God had notonly made them out of nothing, but had also graciously bestowed on them His own life by the grace of the Word. Then, turning from eternal things to things corruptible, by counsel of the devil, they had become the cause of thier own corruption, the graceof their union with the Word made them capable of escaping from the natural law, provded they retained the beauty of innocence with which they were created. That is to say, the presence of the Word with them shielded them even from natural corruption, asalso Wisdom says: “God created man for incorruption and as an image of His own eternity; but by envy of the devil death entered into the world

Athanasius goes on to give an account of all the sins and compounding of sin which transpired in the world after the fall, finally ending his account of the reasons for the incarnation with these thoughts:

Even crimes contrary to nature were not unknown, but as the martyr-apostle of Christ says: “Their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature; and the men also, leaving the natural use of the woman, flamed out in lust towards each other, perpetrating shameless acts with their own sex, and receiving in their own persons the due recompense of their pervertedness.”

A close reading of the Bible and the Fathers will reveal an underlying concern with the bentness of the current state of the world. In other words, there is a sense in which what is is a perversion or a shadowed mirror of what was intended at creation. Consider the act of creation in Genesis for a moment, where God is said to “hover” or “move” over the waters. It is important to understandthat water, the ocean, the abyss were often seen as the source of chaos in Israelite thought. This is something that early Christianity picked up on, which was continued later on in the tradition, as we see in the works of the Laudian divines who thought that:

Heaven and earth had a beginning. They were not always. But at that beginning, they were not distinguished, the one from the other. All lay in a confused heap, “like a disordered and deformed chaos”. That is “said to be void and without form, and not able to be kept together, had not the spirit of God cherished it”. What is of interest here is Swan’s clear implication of the tendency of created matter towards annihilation, or reverting to nothingness, even in the most primeval and chaotic state, were it not for the action of God. This emphasis is his awareness that all things are upheld, not by their own natural force, but by the grace of God. (God’s Order and Natural Law: The Works of the Laudian Divines, by Ian M. MacKenzie)

This reversion to nothingness is what Athanasius is concerned about in De Incarnatione, when he discusses the importance of the first sin, the turning of humanity from the contemplation of and fellowship with God. In other words,humanity, being created ex nihilo or out of nothing, along with the rest of creation, had a natural inclination to revert to the original state, i.e. non-existence. The only thing that prevented the spontaneous degeneration and disintegration of humanity was the fact that in our creation we were made in the image and likeness of God, via the Word. In other words, eternity was imputed to humanity by virtue of being created in the image of God through the Word of God. But when we fell, our relationship with God was frayed, and as a result, death and decay entered the world, being a natural intrusion of the original nothingness into the good creation which God brought forth from it. St. Symeon the New Theologian approaches the fall in a similar manner and is representative of the tradition. In his 2nd Homily On the Blessed State Symeon states that God instituted the Law so that humanity might not fall completely away “after man had eaten of that forbidden tree and had died a bitter death, that is, had fallen away from God and become subject to corruption”. This fallen state however, is not without recourse, and God is not without resources in this situation:

Afterwards, however, when Christ came and so intimately joined in himself the Divinity with humanity that these two which had been extremely separated, that is, the Divinity and humanity, became one Person, although they remained unfused and unmingled–from that time man became, as it were, a light, through the union with that first and unsetting Light of God, and he has no more need of any written law, because the divine grace of Jesus Christ remaining with him and in him brings forth as fruit for him the blessed state, that is, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, mercifulness, faith, meekness, and temperence. [. . .] All [. . .] striving and all [. . .] struggle must be directed to acquiring the spirit of Christ, and in this way to bring forth the fruits of the Holy Spirit: for in this consists the spiritual law and the blessed state.

In this sense then, the Incarnation of Christ reestablishes the blessed state. Yet, there is obviously a problem: people still die. The Kingdom has been inaugurated, but it has not yet been consummatedor made complete. In other words, creation, and redemption are still imperfect insofar as they are incomplete. This is not to say that anyonessalvation is incomplete if they still die and their bodies still decay, rather it is only to highlight the reason for the Christian’s cry of “Come Lord Jesus.”

“Son of man, can these bones live?”

How, in our present state, are we to seek out the perfected state promised by our Lord? Here I am referring to sanctification, or the completed work of the Spirit in our hearts. Finally of course, we must admit that such a work can only be completed in God’s time, which in most cases must be considered to be at the last. But, like Wesley, I believe we should at least admit the possibility of sanctification in this life. We must admit the possibility because to do otherwise would be to deny that the Holy Spirit can complete God’s works in our hearts. To state that it must be complete in this life however, would lead us not only into a sort of spiritual scavenger hunt, but also to the creation of spiritually elite or arrogant folk.

But I digress. And I need to digress further in order to pull everything together a little more tightly.

The word secular used in English to refer to something apart from the Church has its origins in the use of the latin root as a term for the time between times, or the liminal period between Christs earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.

During this interim period, creation is being drawn toward the ends ordained by God. As such, there are certain practices which help individuals participate in the ongoing perfecting and eventual consumation of God’s kingdeom.

{more to come}

Old Man In the ShantyMeridian BandMonroe Street3:33

Everything is fine, we swear, just don’t look too closely. . .

Rare drug-resistant HIV found in NYC


NEW YORK — City health officials are working to track down sex partners of a man diagnosed with a rare strain of highly drug-resistant HIV that progressed rapidly to AIDS.

The virus was found in a man in his mid-40s who had unprotected sex with other men, often while using crystal methamphetamine, an addictive stimulant, health officials said Friday.

Naked As We CameIron & WineOur Endless Numbered Days2:32

Oddworld. . .

Dolly creator to clone human embryos

London, Feb. 08 ( – The British scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep has been granted a license to clone human embryos for medical research.

Professor Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh and scientists from Kings College London will clone embryonic unborn children to study motor neurone disease.

Wilmut told the BBC the license will enable him to study how the disease progresses and stressed his team has no intention of allowing the cloned children to be born. He added that the unborn children will be killed after experimentation. He said, “Our aim will be to generate stem cells purely for research purposes.”

{read more}

Winding RoadBonnie SomervilleGarden State3:27

Something from Amy Laura Hall

I thought this might connect well with the discussion Anna’s been having re: womanhood over at Deepsoil. Its from an essay in our class’s ethics text.

While [. . .] evasion of discipleship may be particular to class and locale, it is, within that class and locale, less and less particular to gender. While the generic mainline men’s group has been anemic for some time, with many chapters typically hosting a pathetically symbolic pancake breakfast once a year, up until fairly recently one could rely at least on the good old United Methodist Women, or a similar group of dedicated mainline ladies, to maintain the practices of incarnate discipleship. But no more. The stalwart ranks of such faithful are thinning (as are the ranks of sisterly orders in the Roman Catholic Church), because women have better things to do. Although upper-class women have long avoided the “women’s work” relegated to their gender, middle-class women are now increasingly expected to forgo, or they jettison by their own choosing, the work of feeding, clothing, nursing, and otherwise tending real bodies. As women have entered the workforce in earnest, the middle and upper-middle classes in the one-third world have hardly redistributed these tasks. Rather than men joining women in the servant ministry of mopping floors, washing dusty feet and touching broken bodies, women who are economically capable of doing so are joining men in the aviodance of this work. Men and women are all alike, disembodied and self-deceptively self-sufficient, in the new economy. [. . .]

[. . .]

Such self-sufficiency is a lie against which Christians must testify. The middle and upper classes are hardly self-sufficient; rather, they are dependant upon an underclass that cares for other people’s children, runs the chash registers, and serves the burgers. [. . .] In my own experience, many mainline churches are sorely tempted not only to accept these patterns and eschew discipleship, but to mimic our culture’s expectations–to hire inexpensive caterers to replace the covered-dish supper, foriegn nannies to soothe the babies in our creche, and low-wage orderlies to spoon food into the mouths of the Church’s patriarchs and matriarchs. Mumbling something about “gifts,” about who is best suited to such service, some Christians attempt to robe this parasitic economy in theological garments.

[. . .]

What would [discipleship] look like? To script changes generally is beyond my limited scope. But, from where I stand in the upper-middle class, there seem to be some basic necessities. At present, the average father in my social class spends twice as much time each evening watching television as listening to his children. The average professional mother is steadily catching up with him. While bussinesmen, lawyers, professors, and doctors may like looking at BabyGap babies, few of us want their messy needs to interrupt our real work. North American mainline Christians increasingly pay immigrant women from the two-thirds world to do that (and then find ourselves shocked when they lose patience with the child we can hardly take the time to tend). For the Atlantic Monthly–reading, Starbucks-sipping, J. Crew-wearing classes, an alignment with dependant life must involve a change in the pace of life, to clear real time (not “quality” time) to do the work that has become increasingly hired out.

Amy Laura Hall, “Naming the Risen Lord: Embodied Discipleship and Masculinity,” The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, ed. Stanley Hauerwas, Samuel Wells

Good night. . .

Canticle 17 The Song of Simeon Nunc Dimittis
Luke 2:29-32
Lord, you now have set your servant free *to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, *whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations, *and the glory of your people Israel.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen

PolarisJimmy Eat WorldFutures4:51

Sin Sick. . .

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. I John 1:8

If anyone needed proof that human beings aren’t filled with sugar and spice and everything nice. . .

MIAMI (Reuters) – A fugitive Florida couple accused of beating and chaining five children, pulling out their toenails with pliers and starving them, were caught in Utah, a sheriff’s deputy said on Saturday.
Doctors alerted investigators two weeks ago when the couple’s 16-year-old boy, who weighed just 60 pounds, was treated at a hospital for head and neck injuries.

and don’t forget the German canibal fiasco last year (he was sentenced to jail but they couldn’t give him the full punishment because the murder and meal were “consensual”):

A man accused of killing, dissecting and eating another man has gone on trial in central Germany.
The court heard how horror films had fuelled Armin Meiwes’ childhood fantasies of eating school friends. [BBC]

Yeah… everybody’s good at heart.

Just look at the picture

blessed Jeremy Taylor: Holy Dying

[More on Jeremy Taylor, whom I’ve come to have more and more interest in of late. We celebrate Jeremy Taylor on August 13]

A man is a bubble, (said the Greek proverb,) which Lucian represents with advantages and its proper circumstances, to this purpose; saying, that all the world is a storm, and men rise up in their several generations, like bubbles descending a Jove pluvio, from God and the dew of heaven, from a tear and drop of rain, from nature and Providence; and some of these instantly sink into the deluge of their first parent, and are hidden in a sheet of water, having had no other business in the world, but to be born, that they might be able to die: others float up and down two or three turns, and suddenly disappear, and give their place to others: and they that live longest upon the face of the waters are in perpetual motion, restless and uneasy; and, being crushed with a great drop of a cloud, sink into flatness and a froth; the change not being great, it being hardly possible it should be more a nothing that it was before. So is every man: he is born in vanity and sin; he comes into the world like morning mushrooms, soon thrusting up their heads into the air, and conversing with their kindred of the same production, and as soon they turn into dust and forgetfulness – some of them without any other interest in the affairs of the world, but that they made their parents a little glad and very sorrowful: others ride longer in the storm; it may be until seven years of vanity be expired, and then peradventure the sun shines hot upon their heads, and they fall into the shades below, into the cover of death and darkness of the grave to hide them. But if the bubble stands the shock of a bigger drop, and outlives the chances of a child, of a careless nurse, of drowning in a pail of water, of being overlaid by a sleepy servant, or such little accidents, then the young man dances like a bubble, empty and gay, and shines like a dove’s neck, or the image of a rainbow, which hath no substance, and whose very imagery and colours are fantastical; and so he dances out the gaiety of his youth, and is all the while in a storm, and endures only because he is not knocked on the head by a drop of bigger rain, or crushed by the pressure of a load of indigested meat, or quenched by the disorder of an ill-placed humour: and to preserve a man alive in the midst of so many chances and hostilities is as great a miracle as to create him; to preserve him from rushing into nothing, and at first to draw him up from nothing were equally the issues of an almighty power. And therefore the wise men of the world have contended who shall best fit man’s condition with words signifying his vanity and short abode. Honour calls a man “a leaf,” the smallest, the weakest piece of a short-lived, unsteady plant. Pindar calls him “the dream of a shadow:” another “the dream of the shadow of smoke.” But St. James spake by a more excellent spirit, saying, `Our life is but a vapour,’ viz, drawn from the earth by a celestial influence; made of smoke, or the lighter parts of water tossed with every wind, moved by the motion of a superior body, without virtue in itself, lifted up on high, or left below, according as it pleased the sun, its foster-father. But it is lighter yet. It is but appearing; a fantastic vapour, an apparition, nothing real; it is not so much as a mist, not the matter of a shower, nor substantial enough to make a cloud; but it is like Cassiopeia’s chair, or Pelop’s shoulder, or the circles of heaven, fainorena, for which you cannot have a word that can signify a vernier nothing. And yet the expression is one degree more made diminutive; a vapour, and fantastical, or a mere appearance, and this but for a little while neither, the very dream, the phantasm, disappears in a small time, “like the shadow that departed; or like a tale that is told, or as a dream when one waketh.” A man is so vain, so unfixed, so perishing a creature, that he cannot long last in the scene of fancy: a man goes off, and is forgotten, like the dream of a distracted person. The sum of all is this: that thou art a man, than whom there is not in the world any greater instance of heights and declinations, of lights and shadows, of misery and folly, of laughter and tears, of groans and death.

Now listening to: Brokedown Palace Grateful Dead American Beauty4:09

Pope rushed to hospital

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope John Paul was rushed to hospital late on Tuesday after his condition deteriorated from flu but he was not in intensive care, the Vatican said.
He was being treated at the Gemelli hospital in Rome for an acute respiratory infection after the flu complications.
“The flu condition that has afflicted the Holy Father for the past three days deteriorated tonight with an acute laryngospasm. For this reason, it was decided to urgently take the Pope to the Gemelli hospital,” a Vatican statement said.
Laryngospasm is a closure of the larynx that blocks the passage of air to the lungs.
“The Holy Father is in the same room that he has used in the Gemelli in the past. It was not therefore necessary for him to be placed in the intensive care unit,” a separate statement said.
The Polish-born Pope, 84, who has been in poor health for some years, fell ill with influenza on Sunday and had been forced to cancel all engagements over the past two days.
Vatican deputy spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini told Reuters the Pope, who also suffers from Parkinson’s disease, was taken to hospital just before 11:00 p.m. (2200 GMT).
The flu forced him to miss an audience through ill health for the first time in more than a year.
A Vatican spokesman said in a statement earlier on Tuesday that the influenza was “progressing as expected.”
“As a result, the appointments planned for the next few days have been put back,” the statement said, adding that Wednesday’s weekly general audience would not go ahead.
A Vatican source told Reuters on Monday that the Pope would miss all public engagements on Tuesday and Wednesday.

23Jimmy Eat WorldFutures7:23

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