October 9, 2020

Of “Revision” of Marriage Rites

The debate over whether the proposed marriage rites authorized under Resolution B012 of the 2018 General Convention constitute “a revision of the BCP” or “trial use in accordance with Article X” is moot. Article X provides for the authorization of trial rites "throughout this church" as part of the revision process of the BCP. 

So when someone says these rites were "not proposed as a revision" that only means they were not proposed under the first part of Article X as a “first reading” to be approved finally at the next session of General Convention. That is a procedure only undertaken when rites have been tested and are ready for their final form

It is not at all unusual for a rite to be authorized in the manner of B012. Since the early 60s, in the leadup to the wholesale revision of the BCP in 1976/79, the various revisions of individual liturgies were published, promulgated, and authorized “for trial use” until, in 1976, the “first reading” of the whole new BCP was approved, and the same (with only a couple of minor emendations to take account of the approval of the ordination of women) ratified in 1979. The marriage rites are now in the exactly the same situation as the numerous revisions of other rites, including matrimony, that were published from 1964 on; that is, as Article X says, they are authorized “for trial use throughout this  Church, as an alternative at any time or times to the established Book of Common Prayer or to any section or Office thereof,” as “a proposed revision of the whole Book or of any portion thereof...” (emphasis mine.)

Meanwhile, part of the reason Bishop Love of Albany has been found wanting is due to the marriage canon (I.18.1), which states that all clergy may solemnize marriages using “any of the liturgical forms authorized by this Church.” The rites are unquestionably authorized, and Bishop Love interfered with that clerical right, though he had absolutely no need to do so. 

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 21, 2020

Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking, a Symphonic Poem

This is a Symphonic Poem, based on the poetic elegy by Walt Whitman, this is the first movement of a projected work based on several key periods in the poet’s life: this first being his account of the origin of his poetic spirit, awakened in childhood to the reality of love and loss. I began this work in the late 70s, only bringing it to completion this year of 2020... so I may never complete the project! But here is what I have to offer; the video provides a sing-along to the poem in a vocal part suitable to a lyric baritone or dramatic tenor.

The music reflects my influences, from John Cage (in some of the aleatory involved in creating the thematic and harmonic material) to Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss (in shaping the harmomics along chromatic lines), with a nod to Richard Wagner — both in terms of how the leitmotifs were evolved (in this case from a pair of 12=tone rows) and applied, and with a specific brief quotation of a phrase from Tristan and Isolde: this Whitman poem being the American poet’s Love-Death meditation.

July 21, 2020

Pastoral Care in the Time of Pandemic

One of the key elements of the ministry of pastoral care is presence: being present to and with the one to whom one relates as a pastor. So the greatest challenge in this time of pandemic — and concomitant social distancing and isolation — is the inability of the pastor to be in the physical presence of those with whom the ministry of pastoral care is exercised.

I take as my text in response to this the words from First Corinthians 15: “If there is a physical body there is also a spiritual body.” Paul is, of course, talking about the resurrection; but this also applies to our present circumstances. If there is a physical presence there is also a spiritual presence — and this should not be a surprise to those of us who believe the promise that where two or three are gathered together in God’s name, God is present with them; and who trust and believe in the presence of God in, with, and under the forms of bread and wine.

Of course everyone knows the difference between sitting next to a person in flesh and blood and looking at their image on a computer monitor. But I would like to draw on another element of our tradition in response to that distinction: the tradition of the icon. It is part of that tradition to believe that in venerating an icon — an image of a saint or of Jesus Christ (the Incarnate One, the perfect image of God in human flesh) — the believer enters into their real presence, through a window into heaven. The icon is, it goes without saying, an image — and the faithful contemplation of that image requires imagination — image-ination). This imagination is a work of empathy and sympathy, of feeling with and feeling for — of allowing one’s mind to expand one’s spiritual presence to be with the other.

This is not as exotic as it may sound. One of the reasons using a mobile phone while driving (or even walking down the street!) — even with headphones, or mounted on a holder — is so dangerous, is that in conversation over the phone one’s mind wanders to be in the presence of the other person, mentally away from where one is physically to where one is mentally. What I’m suggesting is that this can happen in a good way, a spiritual way, when we are engaged with another in an act of pastoral care via Zoom or some other application — or even on the phone.

I would like to draw on two other saints from our tradition, two Francis’s. First, you may be familiar with the time that St. Clare visited St. Francis of Assisi in a vision while she was some 50 miles away — this is why she is the patron saint of television! More relevant, both to us as a community and to the question of pastoral care at a distance, is St. Francis de Sales. His work contributed to the foundation of the Sisters of the Visitation, without which we would very likely not be here, as it was through their presence on the Hudson River in Riverdale that our founder Brother Richard Thomas formed and shaped his vocation. St. Francis de Sales was renowned as a pastoral guide, but did most of his pastoral guidance and spiritual direction at a distance, by means of his own era’s primary communication technology: paper and pen and ink. One can read his letters still, and put one’s mind back to the 17th century, and receive spiritual guidance from one long dead — through the power of imagination.

Imagination is also key to another strand of our tradition that relates to pastoral care and spiritual guidance: the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. The technique St. Ignatius commended is a form of spiritual imagination, in which one places oneself into the biblical scene as vividly imagined as possible. For example, in our readings for Morning Prayer this week, we can imagine ourselves walking in silence with the children of Israel around that mighty but doomed city Jericho, hearing nothing but the sounds of our own footsteps multiplied by thousands, and the harsh and frightening blaring of the rams’-horn trumpets, aware of the awesome presence of the Holy One in the ark leading our procession, catching on the air, through the stirred-up dust, the bitter scent of fear wafting down over the walls that will soon come tumbling down. Can’t you feel yourself there?

And so my brothers I urge you to use your imagination in your pastoral ministry, to use the tools provided to make your presence felt and to feel the presence of those with whom you minister, as best you can. We are in the midst of a fast — a fast from our usual tools of ministry, a fast from being able to gather in our churches as congregations. But let us not forget that the church is the church when it is scattered as much as it is the church when it is gathered — indeed, as the deacons remind us, this is when we get about the work we are called and empowered to do, loving and serving God and our neighbor. 

This is a time of fasting, but let us always recall that what counts in a fast is not what you give up but what you take on. Take on the work of imagination, and let it empower your ministry of service and pastoral care.

—Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG 
This is a reconstruction of an off-the-cuff presentation delivered via Zoom at the recent virtual Convocation of the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory.

May 5, 2020

A Prayer for Communion with Christ

Because of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, most Episcopal parishes have been unable to hold public worship, though many are live-streaming celebrations, bidding those at home to commune in spirit. Some have commended a prayer by Alphonsus Liguori. I would like to note, however, that the Episcopal Church has a resource for this situation, in the 1988 edition of A Prayer Book for the Armed Forces, edited by Howard Galley.* I believe this prayer is superior to the prayer by Liguori, and better congruent with the traditions of the Episcopal Church.

In union, O Lord, with your faithful people at every altar of your Church, where the Holy Eucharist is now being celebrated, I desire to offer to you praise and thanksgiving. I remember your death, Lord Christ; I proclaim your resurrection; I await your coming in glory. And since I cannot receive you today in the Sacrament of your Body and Blood, I beseech you to come spiritually into my heart. Cleanse and strengthen me with your grace, Lord Jesus, and let me never be separated from you. May I live in you, and you in me, in this life and in the life to come. Amen.

Note: the 1951 edition of the Armed Forces Prayer Book had this form:

In union, O Lord with the faithful at every altar of Thy Church, where the Holy Eucharist is now being celebrated, I desire to offer Thee praise and thanksgiving. I present to Thee my soul and body with the earnest wish that may always be united to Thee. And since I can not now receive Thee sacramentally, I beseech Thee to come spiritually into my heart. I unite myself to Thee, and embrace Thee with all the affections of my soul. Let nothing ever separate Thee from me. May I live and die in Thy love. Amen.

—with thanks for all who serve and all who hunger, Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
* I worked in the publication office of the international HQ-PECUSA (“815”) at the time, and assisted in the production; hence my familiarity with it.

April 6, 2020

On being alone

When Wesley taught that there is no such thing as a solitary Christian he was emphasizing his belief in a particular kind of realized ecclesiology — that the church is the church when it is gathered as a “Society.” Far be it from me to deny the social aspect of the church, of the Body of Christ composed of many members, and of the need Christians have for each other.

My concern is that in this time of enforced solitude for most if not all Christians — a solitude only lessened but never entirely erased by virtual fellowship — that those in isolation may put too much stock in the necessity of sociality, and neglect or forget the truth that the church is not only itself when gathered, but equally so when it is sent — even if that sending is to isolation rather than to mission. Many a saint (and many a sinner) have found in the depths of isolation the truth that lies on the other side of Wesley’s maxim: that there is no such thing as a solitary Christian because no Christian is ever entirely alone: she is part of the Body, like an outreached hand extended yet still attached to the arm, the shoulder, and the heart. Donne had it right when he pictured each of us as a promontory, not an island.

But there is more: there is no such thing as a solitary Christian because even in isolation, there is always One to keep her company; One who has been with her from the beginning; One who will never by separated from her by even so much as a hairs-breadth; One who is close enough that she can feel him breathing.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 25, 2020

The Broken Body

The Holy Eucharist is about the assembled people of God, but it is not only about the assembly. For while it is true, as the Didache put it, that the grain once scattered on the hillside is in the Bread of Communion made one, it is also the case that that Bread is then broken and distributed — just as the assembly is dismissed at the end of the gathering, with a missionary purpose. We at present dwell in our sequestered isolation, viewing the celebration through the virtual "squints" of our laptops and tablets, unable to receive due to illness we may not actually have, but in fellowship with all those sick monastics and anchorites who saw the Eucharist only at a remove, through a narrow gap in the stone, or from the balcony — our fellowship, our communion, is no less real. This is the Body truly broken, to testify that it is in our dispersal, in our brokenness, that we find our true vocation as "given for the life of the world." Ite, missa est!

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 20, 2020

Sickness unto Death

Parts of the church are experiencing a kind of autoimmune disease in which the body attacks itself. Such conditions are always painful, and sometimes fatal.

This — among other things — is leading more and more people to realize that one does not need to be a “churchgoer'' or listed on a parish roll in order to be a Christian; it leads many into the company of those who see themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”

More and more people, for various reasons, are coming to see that institutional aspects of the faith have little or nothing to do with its core values. While it is true that one cannot be "a solitary Christian" there is no need to identify the locus of the community of faith with a parish — especially when that parish, and its leadership, adopt policies or practice behaviors so inimical to Christ and his teachings.

Christendom is not yet dead — but it is sick; and much of its sickness is self-inflicted, the product of its embrace of empire and institution at the expense of the Gospel.