Monks' Corner

Episcopal News Service. May 26, 1977 [77188]

J. Brian McHugh, Prior, Mount Calvary Retreat House

Some people I know in the Church, and in the Monastic Life, often say how easy it used to be to be obedient. Well, frankly I think that most of them have either forgotten what it was really like, or they never really engaged in it in the first place. The impression they give is that "in the old days" everyone knew what was what and did it: simple as that. The history I read, however, and the people I know who have real scars of obedience (and scars are what are needed to be convincing) don't paint quite as simple a picture.

I also know the Anglican Communion better than that! Most of us remain, or become, Episcopalians because she is a Church with no other doctrine, discipline and worship than that of the ancient Catholic Church (an Archbishop of Canterbury said that, not I on my own), faithful to the principle and process of Reformation when needed, and respectful of the contributions in thought and expression of conscience of each of her members.

We are an Episcopal Church (according to our Bishops by our own choice in response to our Tradition certain authority within the whole life of the Church), a Prayer Book Church (rejoicing in a heritage of Common Prayer, devotion, discipline, and teaching... all of which the Book expresses to every age, not enshrines to every age as perfect in that expression), and a Canonical Church (constantly regulating and guiding the life of Her members based on the Scriptures and the accumulated Wisdom of the Church). It goes without saying that we are a Biblical Church as well.

We allow, we strongly encourage, difference of opinion and diversity of expression... in liturgy, discipline and doctrinal acquiescence. And in a glorious way we have been vindicated, for it has not only made us resilient but also given us a chance to witness to the incredible comprehensiveness of the Kingdom.

To achieve this, parts of the Church from time to time have seemed to court disobedience, and were most successful when they went to the incredible comprehensiveness of the Kingdom.

To achieve this, parts of the Church from time to time have seemed to court disobedience, and were most successful when they went about it prayfully, quietly, and loyally.

To pray, to seek God's peace, to care as deeply as God cares for others and their beliefs and struggles: that I believe is the way to the beginnings of true Obedience. Jesus did not have a Perfect Way: its discovery lay in the seeking of God's Spirit. We will not always have even mildly stable, clear ways. Jesus listened: the whole Truth lies never in the hands of one group, or another, but is distilled out of the many, as the Gospel is from the whole of the New Testament, Jesus prayed: not my will, but Yours.

This is the beginning of obedience: to take the painful step of acknowledging that God's Will is shown to us very often through the direction, guidance, opinion, wisdom, even folly, of Others, and not just our own individual endeavours. As we humbly learn this, His Will grows... and so do we.


ABSOLUTELY! For Christians, it is normal to be intimate with God Himself. There could be no greater intimacy than to be one in Him, "as I am in You"... and that is precisely the gift that Jesus makes to us. Of course there is something slightly shocking about being so "at one" with God; it infuriated the Pharisees when Jesus exhibited that closeness to the Father. Our spiritual ancestors knew that God invites us into such a relationship: look to the Book of Genesis, and see a picture of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, coming to speak with man and woman.

There has always been for me a tremendous attraction about that image of God from Genesis, even to the use of the phrase "in the cool of the day." While we know that all is not well with Adam and Eve, and that they are dreading God's approach, yet in God is peace, calm strength, compassionate judgement, profound understanding, commitment. All that He is He has always been, and through Jesus He affirms that He has not abandoned us to a breaking of that intimate bond, creature to creator. He has no "blind eye;" He knows every sin. But He is still "Abba" for us.

To celebrate the Eucharist is the very sign of that intimacy with God. I do not think that there is, on the one hand, need for "care" (as so many Anglicans are wont to say) in approaching the Holy Mystery that is the Eucharistic Feast. Because of the nature of the Christ-gift in the simple elements of bread, wine, prayer, and fellowship, our lazy minds and hearts often fail to recognize the wonder of the Gift. Carlo Caretto, in his Letters from the Desert, tells of being left alone for a week in the Presence of the Eucharistic Bread, and the difficulty of being aware that he is in the awesome Presence of God, there to be loved.

On the other hand, there is in a sense no need for "care," no need to act outlandishly, artificially, exaggeratedly, fawningly, wrongly piously, in the celebrating of the Eucharist. There is no need for long Thanksgivings after Communion, long preparations rattled off, constant attention to the words and movements. Such things are rather given in joy and love as each person is called. The greatest care should be to come to the Eucharist, as to life, as fully yourself as you can be at that moment, open and giving to God, listening for the voice of Him who comes to meet us in the cool of the day which He Himself always brings into whatever chaos may be swirling around and through us. There is, I believe with many of the saints who have written about it, a great joy in coming into the intimacy of God with quiet simplicity, perhaps saying nothing, going forward to meet Him, speaking to Him of everything and anything because we trust His love. Such intimacy is invited, justified... and normal.