Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why I am an Episcopalian – Mentors

In an earlier post, I mentioned Anglicanism's classic comprehensiveness as one of the things that attracted me to that tradition. The last couple of posts (here and here) with thoughts from C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams have reminded me of another. My understanding of God, the world, and humanity has been formed and my imagination – which is another way of saying my capacity for faith, love, and wonder – has been expanded by several representatives of the Anglican way. Besides Lewis and Williams, and in no particular order, some others are:

Dorothy Sayers (greatly influenced by C. Williams and a friend of Lewis)
Charles Gore (who I recently learned was an influence on C. Williams)
Evelyn Underhill
William Temple
Austin Farrer (theologian who preached at Lewis' funeral)
E. L. Mascall
Madeleine L'Engle
Michael Ramsey
N. T. Wright
Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury who has recently written a book about Lewis' Narnia Chronicles)

To that list of mostly 20th century authors I would add these classic Anglican worthies:

Richard Hooker
Lancelot Andrewes
John Donne
George Herbert
Jeremy Taylor
Thomas Traherne
F. D. Maurice
Phillips Brooke

I have been inspired and informed by representatives from other traditions, but I feel most at home with these.

Each of them exhibits a commitment to what I've identified elsewhere as basic Anglican Values.

One way or another reading each of these authors evokes Christmas for me which is one of my basic tests for whether or not someone is onto something. They bear witness to the hope that now that Christmas has arrived in the coming of Jesus Christ there is the promise that we might be overcome by Christmas any time, any place even in the midst of whatever winters we endure as we await the final Advent of the King.

There is more to this sense of Christmas. There is in the writing of each an emphasis on the centrality of the Incarnation. The Incarnation, of course, includes the way of the cross and the crucifixion. But the Incarnation has rich purpose, meaning , and wonder in itself.

To varying degrees they each emphasize what Charles Williams calls the 'Way of Affirmation' which bears witness to the goodness of being human in the midst of the splendor of God's good creation. As Hooker wrote, "All things are of God (and only sin is not) have God in them and he them in himself likewise." There is goodness and beauty in humans and the all creation because God is Good and Beautiful.

Consequently, they tend to hold to a sacramental appreciation of all created reality as having the potential of mediating the divine Presence.

At the same time they do not minimize the deep reality of sin and our need of salvation.

Thus, in each is a serious engagement with spiritual disciplines that make for sanctification in the context of God's grace.

Each is more or less an exponent of what Evelyn Underhill called 'practical mysticism':

Therefore it is to a practical mysticism that the practical man is here invited: to a training of his latent faculties, a bracing and brightening of his languid consciousness, an emancipation from the fetters of appearance, a turning of his attention to new levels of the world. Thus he may become aware of the universe that the spiritual artist is always trying to disclose to the race. This amount of mystical perception–this 'ordinary contemplation', as the specialist call it,–is possible to all men: without it, they are not wholly alive. It is a natural human activity.

Nearly all of them represent a high church, catholic way of seeing things that draws abundantly from the deep well of Christian thought, practice, and worship.

For the most part they each express an expansive orthodoxy  solidly orthodox with an appreciative engagement with non-Christian ways of thinking and being (which is not the same thing as unChristian ways of thinking and being, though they are not shy about challenging those as well both within and without the church).

Each also holds to a typically Anglican reticence which is wary of claiming to know overmuch about God or God's ways. They accept that God has been revealed in Jesus Christ and the scriptures that bear witness to him, but each retains a posture of humility and awe in the presence of the untamed, wild God at the heart of it all who is, as Lewis says of Aslan, "Good, but not safe."

No doubt we could name other common themes, but these are the ones that occur to me at the moment. In any event, their themes and presentation of Christian faith resonate deeply and inspire me. I am an Episcopalian partly because of these 'Glorious Companions'.


C. Wingate said...

Mustn't forget Martin Thornton: Spiritual Proficiency is one of the most useful manuals I've found for ordering my life in an Anglican way.

Matt Gunter said...

Thanks, Charles. I confess that I haven't read much Thornton. I have a couple of his books that I keep meaning to get to. It is definitely a gap. There are others.