Monday, July 02, 2007

A Valediction Forbidding Whining

(...with apologies to John Donne)

As small as the Episcopal Church is, there is rarely more than a degree or two of separation between any two Episcopalians who are active in leadership at a trans-parochial level. Even so, I do not personally know Al Kimel, and I doubt he would recognize either my name or my face. For the last year or so, Father Kimel has been a Roman Catholic priest, but prior to that he exercised presbyteral ministry in the Episcopal Church for two decades. Since 2003, his blog Pontifications has attracted a wide following, especially as it chronicled his journey from Anglicanism to--as Anglo-Catholics of yore were wont to express it--the Roman obedience.

I was not even a regular reader of Fr Kimel's blog. But when my attention was drawn last week to the announcement that he is giving up blogging, I took a look at his farewell post, and found it quite moving. As one who has, over the last fifteen years, and in direct response to the seemingly inexorable degradation of Anglicanism in this country, taken several long hard looks at said "Roman obedience," I have more than a passing interest in the experience of Anglicans who swim the Tiber. My intuitive hunch is that, were I to do so, it is too late in my life for me to completely "go native." I would always be an immigrant, one who speaks with a thick Anglican accent. "By the waters of the Tiber we sat down and wept...'Sing us one of your Choral Evensongs!' they said, but we could not."

Reading between the lines, at least, Fr Kimel seems to bear me out:

Becoming Catholic has brought many blessings, but it has not healed the sorrows of my heart. Indeed, in some ways it has intensified these sorrows. But this is all very private. All I need say is that I often find them overwhelming. God is silent. I am reduced to silence.

This is the testimony of a grieving heart, even as there is more left unsaid than is actually spoken. He continues with an apt quotation from Tolkein:

On the way home to the Shire, Gandalf sees the discomfort of Frodo:

Are you in pain, Frodo?”

“Well, yes I am,” said Frodo. “It is my shoulder. The wound aches, and the memory of darkness is heavy on me. It was a year ago today.”

“Alas! There are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured,” said Gandalf.

Then he drives his point home with excruciating transparency:

Over the past few years God has stripped away the loves and passions of my heart. Even the words seem to be disappearing. Writing has become impossible—and prayer, difficult.

There is palpable holiness here, and I stand humbled by it. There is also palpable suffering. But the suffering will, in time, melt away, and only the holiness will remain.

Those of us who are involved--in varying degrees and varying ways--with the struggle for the soul of Anglicanism (some of us, like myself, because we feel we have no choice), might do well to practice more of the classic Christian virtue of detachment. We remain substantially invested in the infrastructure of our ecclesial lives, the fabric of our praxis--for those of us who are ordained, the literal tools of our trade. We are not keen on being stripped of everything we love. We love it too much!

One of the truly liminal moments of my spiritual experience occurred in April of 2005, on a Saturday afternoon in London. I was finished with the conference that was the primary impetus for my trip, and was finally free to be a tourist. I happened upon Westminster Abbey just as they were admitting people, not for tours any longer, but for Evensong--that is, to worship. Having been cued by a travel guide, I asked to be seated in the choir (the actual choir doesn't require all the space in the area that is designated by that name). The Office Hymn was Love Divine, All Loves Excelling sung to the Welsh tune Blaenwen, with which I was familiar through recordings, but had never actually sung. I joined in with all my heart and all my voice (inspired by the example of the man next to me, who, as a youth more than half a century ago, had been a boy chorister). On the final verse, in classic cathedral fashion, the organist "kicked it up a notch" and indulged in some subtle reworking of the harmonies. I cried real tears. I was in Heaven itself--my own personal Heaven, at any rate. When I say that I have an Anglican soul, that moment is the sacramental sign of my conviction.

Am I willing to be stripped of that--that which I love, that which lifts my soul to God? Have I made the Anglican ethos an idol? These are hard questions. These are good questions. I may be glad that Father Kimel is not blogging anymore.

3 comments:

Judge373 said...

I was myself in Westminster Abbey in the summer of 2004. I spent hours there, wandering around; I couldn't leave the place. It was truly a place of wonder. I haven't before felt a sense of God's presence like I did there.

A Square Peg said...

Reading between the lines, at least, Fr Kimel seems to bear me out:


Becoming Catholic has brought many blessings, but it has not healed the sorrows of my heart. Indeed, in some ways it has intensified these sorrows. But this is all very private. All I need say is that I often find them overwhelming. God is silent. I am reduced to silence.

This is the testimony of a grieving heart, even as there is more left unsaid than is actually spoken. He continues with an apt quotation from Tolkein:

On the way home to the Shire, Gandalf sees the discomfort of Frodo:

“Are you in pain, Frodo?”

“Well, yes I am,” said Frodo. “It is my shoulder. The wound aches, and the memory of darkness is heavy on me. It was a year ago today.”

“Alas! There are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured,” said Gandalf.

Then he drives his point home with excruciating transparency:

Over the past few years God has stripped away the loves and passions of my heart. Even the words seem to be disappearing. Writing has become impossible—and prayer, difficult.

Now you might understand where I am coming from.....

Martial Artist said...

Dear Fr. Martins,

You wrote: "Those of us who are involved … with the struggle for the soul of Anglicanism … , might do well to practice more of the classic Christian virtue of detachment."

It is not only those who are involved in the praxis, but those who, like myself, are simply torn by not wishing to "aid and abet" those who seem engaged in rending the Communion—and there are some on either side of the current conflict—who need also to learn more of the practice of detachment.

Patience has never been my "long suit," and it has taken quite a number of years for me to realize that much of my understanding of God's will must be provisional, that I may not know His answer while I still live in this world. It has taken much of my almost 62 years on this earth to come to this stage of my understanding.

That having been said, one of the greatest services the clergy might be able to offer at this time of tumult in our communion life is to share what they have learned of how to live in God's detachment and how to come to terms with the fact that our understandings may very well be partial and provisional. I suspect that Fr. Kimel may have insights to offer, as I suspect that you might also.

God's blessings to you and yours,