Where has devotion gone? What happens if you cut Sunday church?

All Saints Anglican Church
All Saints’ Anglican Church, Rome (my photo)

I posted recently some thoughts inspired by Franciscan devotional art, where I observed that in these images the saint, the focus of the viewer’s gaze, was focussed on Christ, thus drawing us back to the reality that all Christians need to keep in our minds: Where is Jesus? Where is our focus in life?

In a follow-up to this post, I discussed three central facets of evangelical devotion that so many of us trot out time and again and so rarely barely even do let alone do well — go to church weekly, read the Bible daily, and pray daily. This was followed up by a post about ways to weave Christ the Saviour into daily life without adding time to the routine.

These latter two posts were inspired by a comment by a friend on Facebook regarding the Franciscan post that our lives are so very different now than they used to be. Given that I’ve been ever-so-fond of Franciscans since the long-gone days of regular acquaintance with this friend, I imagine that it is the question of focussing life on Christ that has changed on my friend’s part.

Not being brave enough to ask where, when, and how this friend’s focus went away from Christ the Saviour of the human race, I just started thinking about ways we can cultivate this focus in our own lives. And I also wondered what sorts of omissions start the cracks in our daily routine that grow into fissures such that ‘real life’ — marriage, kids, work, household, money, neighbours, civic duty, shopping, family, garden — crowds out our devotion to the Incarnate God Who made Himself manifest to us in spectacular fashion 2000 years ago and is readily available to us anywhere, whether digging in a garden, washing a squirmy child, or kneeling before a crucifix.

And when I think about these concerns, my thoughts drift outward to other friends, former bulwarks of youth ministry or camp ministry or high school Christian groups or uni Christian groups, some of whom are not church attenders, see no relevance in the Trinity, no longer read Scripture regularly, find it more engaging to question everything than to rest comfortable in anything, list their religion on Facebook (if at all) as agnostic or atheist — or other friends who seem to be orthodox in every way save, say, shacking up, or conservatives who have taken a liberal stance on hot-button issues in today’s culture, and on and on and on.

My father, and Anglican priest, said that some people (not all, mind you) move these directions — away from Christ entirely or simply into liberal beliefs and lifestyles — because of failing to attend to times of personal devotion. These times can be hard to maintain. I go through spells both of forgetting as well as not ‘enjoying’ it one bit if I do get around to it.

This blog is partly here to help us rediscover ancient/mediaeval/less popular paths that God can use to revitalise our devotional lives — if anyone cares to read or take heed.

Alongside these daily times of devotion to God which are to be guarded no matter how dry they may be at times, there is Sunday.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday.

Where you go to a church or house church and sit with a bunch of phonies who sing bad music and do the same darn thing over and over again and to whom you never reveal your deepest doubts and concerns because they’ll just laugh it off or chew you out. Where you listen to the same poor preacher week after week. Where the same good preacher succeeds in offending time and again. Where you drift from church to church seeking somewhere with the right orthodoxy, the right music, the right community, the right preaching for you. And it never fits.

I mean, church on Sunday can be intolerably awkward.

So you stop going. Stop engaging.

From there, a once burning coal is taken from the fire and starts cool, dims, and turns black and cold.

The Bible verse, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone,’ can be taken beyond its specific context to mean that it is not good for human persons to be alone. We thrive in community of one sort or another, to one degree or another, usually, even introverts like me.

Imagine cutting out Sunday morning/evening/whenever as well as prayer and Bible reading.

It strikes me that most of the time, such activity would be fatal for the spiritual life.

But these are just my own thoughts drawn from my own experience of church-going and the ups and downs of devotional life. Not sure if I’m brave enough to seek out the truth from my friends …

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Saint of the Week: Lancelot Andrewes

Chances are, you’ve probably read something by Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626). ‘What is that?’ you may ask me. A fairly sizeable book that turns 400 this year. That’s right, the Authorised Version (KJV) of the Bible. Not that Lancelot Andrewes wrote the Bible. That would be worse historical revisionism than people who say the Roman Emperors chose the canon of Scripture, for goodness’ sake! Nor did he even do the whole of the KJV translation. He was, however, Dean of Westminster Abbey at the time of the translation’s preparation and one of the secretaries of the Translation Company.

Since, however, the KJV was a group effort and owes something like 60% of its phraseology to Tyndale, Andrewes must be memorable for more than this. And he is.

Andrewes was born three years before the accession of Elizabeth I to the throne of England. He was one of the notables when he studied at Cambridge, and was later to be a fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. In 1580 he took holy orders, and preached about the Ten Commandments, drawing great interest in his work. Indeed, he moved upward from there, as quoted Alexander Whyte: ‘Scholar and Fellow of Pembroke, Vicar of St. Giles’, Cripplegate, Prebendary, first of Southwell and then of St. Paul’s, Master of his College, Chaplain to Whitgift and to Queen Elizabeth, and Dean of Westminster.’ (Lancelot Andrewes and His Private Devotions, p. 5)

Under James VI/I, he was consecrated Bishop of Chichester in 1605. In 1606, he preached a sermon recalling the Gunpowder Plot that recommended people remember such events in years to come to keep them from happening. Thus, Guy Fawkes’ Night today. 1617 saw him in Scotland with King James in a (failed) attempt to convince the Kirk that episcopacy is a much better way of organising the church.

A shame that he failed, really.

He was translated to being Bishop of Winchester. One of his last public acts was to be present at the coronation of King Charles I; he was quite ill himself. In 1627, after a fairly successful career in the Church of England, Lancelot Andrewes entered the rest of the saints.

His churchmanship was that typically Anglican way of trying to steer between the Puritans and the Papists. Hurrah for that!

My first acquaintance with Lancelot Andrewes — besides a name in the Calendar in the front of my Book of Common Prayer — was through his Private Devotions. These were never meant for publication, but we can be grateful they have been put abroad. He organises his devotions along Times of Prayer, Places of Prayer, Circumstances and Accompaniments of Prayer, and then a Course of Morning Prayers for the Seven Days of the Week, Other Morning Prayers, Evening Prayers, Meditations and Prayers for Various Times and Seasons, and Communion Prayers and Meditations.

These are wonderful devotions, and I well recommend them to you. His sermons are also worthy of commendation.

It is evening when I write this, so here are some appropriate thoughts from Bishop Andrewes:

Meditations before Evening Prayer

In war there is the note of charge, fitted for the onset: of recall, whereby stragglers are recalled;

And the mind of man, as it must be stirred up in the morning, so in the evening, as by a note of recall, is it to be called back to itself and to its Leader by a scrutiny and inquisition or examination of self, by prayers and thanksgivings.

An Act of Thanksgiving

By night I lift up my hands in the sanctuary,
and bless the Lord.
The Lord hath commanded His lovingkindness
in the daytime,
and in the night His song shall be with me
and my prayer unto the God of my life.
I will bless Thee while I live,
and lift up my hands in Thy name.
Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense;
and the lifting up of my hands
as the evening sacrifice.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God,
the God of our fathers,
Who hast ordained the changes of day and night,
Who givest songs in the night,
Who hast delivered us from the evil of this day,
Who hast not cut off like a weaver my life,
nor from day even to night made an end of me.

Traditional and Modern Meet in Steve Bell’s CD “Devotion”

AMC Casiday, in Tradition and Theology in St. John Cassian, writes something along the lines of being traditional as creative interaction with one’s origins.*  This is, essentially, what Steve Bell‘s CD Devotion does.

The songs Steve chose for Devotion, save two, are by Gord Johnson, a songwriter from his (Anglican) church in Winnipeg, St. Benedict’s Table.  They would sing these songs in church, and, it seems, Steve really liked them and wanted to share them with the world; these riches were not to be hoarded.  So, with Johnson’s blessing, Steve Bell recorded the album Devotion, a worship album of relatively simple yet deep songs of worship and prayer, praise and supplication.

The lyrics of “Almighty God”, the very first song on the CD will be familiar to all who have been to an Anglican Eucharist:

Almighty God
To you all hearts are open
All desires known
No secrets are hidden
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
By the inspiration of your Holy Spirit
That we may perfectly love you
Worthily magnify your holy name
Through Christ our Lord

Two other songs draw upon older texts: Gayle Salmond’s “The Lorica”, a modern reworking of “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.”  I love the original hymn, but enjoy singing this new telling of it.  The other is “Benediction.”  For those of us who pray Compline, this is Johnson’s adaptation of the ancient office hymn “Before the Ending of Day” (“Te Lucis Ante Terminum”).

While few other songs are modern retunings and rewordings of old prayers and hymns, still, I believe, the spirit of these songs is the spirit of the Great Tradition.  One of my favourites is “Praise the Father, Praise the Son,” whose chorus is thus:

Praise the Father, praise the Son
Praise the Spirit, three in one
Who was and is and is to come
All praise and honour and glory and power
O praise his name forever

Also great is “Embrace the Mystery,” a very short Eucharistic song (“Behold what you are / Become what you receive / Take up this bread and wine / Embrace the mystery”).  The other songs are also great and notably singable and full of grace, beauty, and truth, the same truths and ideas found in the traditional hymns.

Worship is not about how you feel.  It is not about your ability to connect with God.  It is about rendering praise to God and telling Him how much He is worth (worth + ship = worship).  It is extolling his Name.  We are, however, to worship Him in spirit and in truth.  Songs such as these help us focus our spirit so that we are singing more than mere words, as our minds focus their attention on the words — empty diction, empty syntax, empty grammar — and infuse them with meaning.

Whether you feel good, bad, or indifferent, singing a Gord Johnson song will help you focus your mind on God.  This is worship.

*I’m in Ottawa; my notes are in Toronto.  I’ll let you know later what the proper quotation is.