Blue Flower Feedback

Since publishing The Blue Flower in late June this year, my website statistics inform me that the file has been downloaded 317 times. It might have been read by that number of readers with varying degrees of interest.

Feedback is always useful for what modern business calls a strategy of continuous improvement. The review is intended to be quite high-brow for the sake of contributing to discussions that may no longer be fashionable in universities. When I was at Fribourg University, we had seminars that we could choose, and they involved dialogue with the professor in the old Greek tradition. This was very valuable in my experience as a student and opening my mind to possibilities of new paradigms.

The writer can feel quite discouraged if working “into a vacuum”. Feedback from readers would be appreciated so that progress can be made.

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Solitude and Loneliness

When I was in my school choir, we sang the famous Mendelssohn anthem Hear my Prayer, the text of which is derived from Psalm 55.

Hör’ mein Bitten, Herr, neige dich zu mir,
auf deines Kindes Stimme habe Acht!
Ich bin allein; wer wird mein Tröster und Helfer sein?
Ich irre ohne Pfad in dunkler Nacht!

Die Feinde sie droh’n und heben ihr Haupt:
“Wo ist nun der Retter, an den ihr geglaubt?”
Sie lästern dich täglich, sie stellen uns nach
und halten die Frommen in Knechtschaft und Schmach.

Mich fasst des Todes Furcht bei ihrem Dräu’n.
Sie sind unzählige – ich bin allein;
mit meiner Kraft kann ich nicht widersteh’n;
Herr, kämpfe du für mich. Gott, hör’ mein Fleh’n!

O könnt’ ich fliegen wie Tauben dahin,
weit hinweg vor dem Feinde zu flieh’n!
in die Wüste eilt’ ich dann fort,
fände Ruhe am schattigen Ort.

In English, the last verse we sang was –

O for the wings, for the wings of a dove!
Far away, far away would I rove!
In the wilderness build me a nest,
and remain there for ever at rest.

It all seemed so solipsist, selfish and sentimental, but it struck very deeply in me. In fact, generations of monks and other special people took to the wilderness, which can be a physical place like mountains, the desert, a forest or the sea in a boat. St Aelred of Rievaux wrote at length on the Sabbath of the Soul in his Speculum Caritatis. The soul finds rest insofar as union with God is achieved and the sin of selfishness is purged away by divine grace and asceticism.

It seems like running away from reality, that reality being the noise and stress of modern urban life. I have mentioned before that my own experience of life is that of someone on the autism spectrum, especially sensitive to the negative emotions of other people. On the contrary, social media, city life and addictions are more like running away, whilst solitude is for the person who has the courage to face his strictest critic – himself.

In his play Huis clos, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote L’enfer c’est les autres (Hell is other people). The idea as intended by the French Existentialist philosopher is difficult to understand correctly. Are our relationships with others always toxic, infernal? All human beings contain what is important in ourselves for our self-knowledge. We all belong to the universal idea of the human being, but there is a vital distinction between persons. The scholastics thus distinguished between nature and person when discussing the theology of the Trinity. We are fallen and sinful, and dependence on other people will bring us to unhappiness in short order. We have to be resilient and self-reliant. We have not to compare ourselves with other people, but with ourselves the way we were yesterday. This is surely the condition of the authenticity of any intimate or social relationship. However populous the place where we live or work, we are always alone. Whether that is loneliness or solitude will depend on our awareness of our otherness as persons, the absolute impossibility of experiencing life as another person. The quality of empathy gives some insight into the emotions of another, but as “through a glass darkly” as St Paul put it. As someone with a degree of autism, I have often given thought to this impossible mystery of otherness and the lack of communication caused by weakness of perception. The autistic person or “aspie” (a term I don’t like very much) is alienated and often sickened. I am brought to think of the philosophical novel, also by Sartre, La Nausée. Nausea is a very powerful emotion by which someone would say “I am sick and tired of…”. It is a feeling that is often felt around the stomach and resembles the experience of a physical digestion malaise or a reaction from a disgusting smell like rotten meat. My own experience of anxiety will often make me feel like wanting to puke up. Sometimes, we have to take leave and go away.

The other side of the coin is that solitude can be lived positively, and we “recharge our batteries” through a week in a boat or camping in wild places. The line dividing beneficial solitude and toxic loneliness is brief. We do need some kind of relationship with those we trust like family and old friends. If we can’t be in their presence, at least we can write letters, e-mails and call them on the phone. It’s something. If our loneliness is to be converted into solitude, we need to experience God, the sacred, the spiritual.

For many years, I have worked alone to earn my living as a translator. A translation agent contacts me and ascertains my capacity to do the job. It then sends me an e-mail with the text to translate. I process the translation from French into English, using the proper technical terms, using various modern tools like Trados. I then send the file back and invoice the agent at the end of the month. No commuting! No bullying by narcissistic managers! But my day is spent in my own company with music and the jobs to do according to the deadlines given by the clients and to which I agree when I confirm the job order. Many people, including those who are not religious, have solitary jobs. Some look after a lighthouse or some area of land where people hardly ever go. I have a friend who is often alone on night shift at the port of Le Havre controlling ships entering and leaving for sea. We all need to earn a living – and offer what we have.

We are often brainwashed to confuse solitude and loneliness, to fear being alone, to perceive it as a punishment – a child being sent to his room or a prisoner being put in solitary confinement. Most people are addicted to social interaction to such an extent as any amount of solitude causes intense pain. A prisoner in the “hole” quickly goes mad, and loneliness can truly break the heart.

The glass is half-full or half-empty – or it is full of a quantity of liquid and a quantity of air. There is a difference between being alone against our will and finding ourselves alone because it is our way in life. Humans are social animals, but not always. I did have friends or playmates at school, but what I loved most was playing at camping in the garden or going fishing. It’s the way I was made and grew up. I enjoy being with friends, usually because a common interest brought us together and we empathised, but I can’t stand parties and small talk.

Solitude is a gift, and is reserved to those who have suffered and gained self-knowledge. The lonely person feels rejected and shunned, feels bitter towards the world. In solitude, a person has a relationship with himself, a kind of “two-in-one”. In my reading on psychology, I see this distinction in the comparison between borderline personality disorder (BPD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The borderline personality is empty within and needs the psychic energy provided by other persons. They feel alone and abandoned. Loneliness for them is a punishment, a judgement of their attitude and behaviour. The autistic person (high-functioning) is also alienated from the “world” because of the “bullshit factor”, the lack of integrity and constancy. After a period of acquiring self-knowledge and coming to terms, solitude becomes something positive and a bringer of happiness and peace. We can use solitude to discover our true self and therefore the immanent divinity within us, the “icon” of God given to us through our being human and illuminated by Baptism. The greatest human achievements come from men and women who worked alone in spirituality, art and technology. The music of Bach, Beethoven and Mendelssohn did not come from Germany, but from those individual persons. Genius comes from solitude. Solitude allows us to create and reach out authentically to other people, caring for their needs and desires.

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Two Worlds

I have been neglecting this blog for some time, partly due to personal issues and partly due to having had a major computer crash. My data is backed up and some recent stuff is being saved from the hard disk of the stricken computer presently in the care of a technician. I have been able to put a Windows 7 computer into good use, installing the various applications from my external hard drive, and will be glad to have two parallel “rigs” for my translating work and my Blue Flower related work. I am hoping that my crashed computer can support Windows 7 after my bad experiences with Windows 10 – mainly a question of drivers. We’ll see…

There is also the need to be detached from some of the hysteria whirling around about the issues surrounding the Pope. I am not a member of the RC Church, but associations tend to be made between organised institutional religion and the old sins of unredeemed humanity.

Some time ago, I visited a kindly Englishman who owns a small château in northern France and aspires to building up a humanist vision of a change of consciousness. The theme reminded me of some of the ideas expressed in Romantic authors like Wordsworth, a kind of secular eschatology in an age when institutional Christianity was too tired to provide a convincing answer to materialist rationalism and the pent-up hatred against the old institutions of the Church and the Aristocracy. The reality is that the gentleman is alone in this comely dwelling in the woods. He has occasional visitors and friends, and sometimes some odd characters. He sometimes hosts groups of business people or educational concerns, which help to finance the estate. The central theme is New Age, a term that is eschewed by conservative Christians, both Protestant and Catholic. His ideas need rethinking – from financing his house through grandiose projects to building a community of alternative living at a human dimension. The contradictions are easy to understand but difficult to solve. I have enough problems of my own!

My approach to New Age has been philosophical and comparative (I have no experience with New Age groups), seeking an expression in modern times of phenomena like Gnosticism and Romanticism as it manifested itself in the wake of the French Revolution and the mid nineteenth century up to World War I. Unfortunately, it is not the only understanding of New Age. There is also a plethora of cheap commercial “spiritualities” and their charlatan gurus. The story of Theosophy and some of the “mystical” underpinnings of Hitler’s ideology are extremely confusing. Sometimes mental illness and psychosis enter the picture, and the end result is extreme confusion and a temptation to reject the wholesome and noble with the cheap dross and ravings of the feeble-minded.

With these thoughts in my mind as I contemplate an article for the next Blue Flower (Christmas 2018) on nobility of spirit, I am brought to the concept developed by Origen on the various levels of interpreting the Scriptures. These levels go from the literal / historical reading of the texts to analogy and allegory, a mystical and hidden meaning. In institutional Christianity, the Church has always had room both for ordinary parish life and the monastic life, covering both community life and the solitary contemplative life. Take away the “ordinary” way, and our “higher” way can only evaporate away from the lack of roots. Christianity that is purely Gnostic cannot subsist in history and human life. It cannot last, but it has to be there for those who can “take it”. Take away the “higher” way, and all you have left is materialism and the hubbub of modern politics.

I am reading April De Conick’s The Gnostic New Age. How A Countercultural Spirituality Revolutionized Religion from Antiquity to Today, published by Columbia University Press 2016. See a review. I am not yet very far through this book, but I am reading it to understand the issues and the need in people’s minds to wander beyond the bounds of Judeo-Christian monotheism to seek inner knowledge and self-consciousness. The challenge presented by Gnosticism is tracing the evolution of religion from obeying a tyrannical deity who sets the standards of the law too high and punishes transgressors without mercy, to entering into a Covenant, to the discovery of the loving and transcendent God the Father of Jesus Christ above the spirits of this world. The first view of the dictator god is that used by temporal rulers to obtain control over the masses, and this has always been the drama of the Church – to this very day. The theme runs all the way through history and both through religions and “secular” philosophies like anarchism à la Tolstoy. I find this book both challenging and enlightening.

My brother in the priesthood Fr Gregory Wassen has been writing in his blog after a period of relative silence, and I would like to draw your attention to his reflections on Plato and a theory of two worlds.

There are many agendas and ideas flying about in this world, and we can’t heed them all. We need to work things out using our rational faculties, but also our imagination and intuition. As a priest in the ACC, I am greatly indebted to the breadth of mind of our Bishop with the kind of priests he is attracting – including Fr Gregory Wassen, Fr Jonathan Munn and Fr Andrew Scurr. We are coming together to build a new way forward, on the basis of orthodox Catholicism but also through the soaring of our minds and imaginations to that transcendent world beyond, our Sehnsucht for the ultimate in truth and beauty.

I would certainly like to work towards a meet-up of all those who have expressed interest in my Blue Flower project. Summer is nearly over, and there will be fewer distractions as we get back into the mood for work and reflection.

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The Challenge

I was pointed towards this lovely article J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lost Prophetic Message on Abuse in the Church. It is for the reader to discern whether he should remain in the institutional RC Church or do something else. I am a cradle Anglican and was wrong in my choice and immature in my decision to become a Roman Catholic back in 1981. I returned to Anglicanism via the Continuum. Clergy of all churches can be tempted to seek partners for sex and even use manipulation to these ends. As a fresh young schoolboy, I came across a twisted Anglican vicar or two, and was able to avoid their clutches by simply telling them that I was not interested. Even in those days, they could go to prison and lose everything! I even heard the expression in the 1970’s “Mr X likes chicken leg” from a cathedral organist, not referring to food but young boys. There is an odd kind of complicity about this sordid subject, even among those who were in contact with the predatory clergy but did not themselves engage in such behaviour.

A lot of people are going to be seriously scandalised over the coming weeks and months, whatever happens with the Pope and his collaborators. I have already read sneering comments on Facebook about “superstitions” about “sky fairies” and how atheism and Islam would be triumphant on the final discrediting of Christianity.

Tolkien wrote this beautiful text:

You speak of ‘sagging faith’, however, that is quite another matter. In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge). ‘Scandal’ at most is an occasion of temptation – as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but arouses. It is convenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scapegoat. But the act of will of faith is not a single moment of final decision: it is a permanent indefinitely repeated act > state which must go on – so we pray for ‘final perseverance’. The temptation to ‘unbelief’ (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His claims) is always there within us. Part of us longs to find an excuse for it outside us. The stronger the inner temptation the more readily and severely shall we be ‘scandalized’ by others. I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the scandals, both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe anymore, even if I had never met anyone in orders who was not both wise and saintly. I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call our Lord a fraud to His face.

If He is a fraud and the Gospels fraudulent – that is: garbled accounts of a demented megalomaniac (which is the only alternative), then of course the spectacle exhibited by the Church (in the sense of clergy) in history and today is simply evidence of a gigantic fraud. If not, however, then this spectacle is alas! only what was to be expected: it began before the first Easter, and it does not affect faith at all – except that we may and should be deeply grieved. But we should grieve on our Lord’s behalf and for Him, associating ourselves with the scandalized heirs not with the saints, not crying out that we cannot ‘take’ Judas Iscariot, or even the absurd & cowardly Simon Peter, or the silly women like James’ mother, trying to push her sons.

It takes a fantastic will to unbelief to suppose that Jesus never really ‘happened’, and more to suppose that he did not say the things recorded all of him – so incapable of being ‘invented’ by anyone in the world at that time: such as ‘before Abraham came to be I am’ (John viii). ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (John ix); or the promulgation of the Blessed Sacrament in John v: ‘He that he eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life.’ We must therefore either believe in Him and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences. I find it for myself difficult to believe that anyone who has ever been to Communion, even once, with at least a right intention, can ever again reject Him without grave blame. (However, He alone knows each unique soul and its circumstances.)

This scandal will not affect only Roman Catholics but all Christians and all believers and non-materialists. It may be a challenge to many of us, even when we were hardened by seminary life, the culture of secrecy and human manipulation even when no physical sex was involved. This challenge has to be faced, by a mature faith and an authentic spirituality based on contemplation of the absolutely transcendent God and His presence within each and every one of us.

The kind of religion that seeks power, money and unconditional obedience may well die, and there is no need of a devil or evil spirit to prevail. What cannot die is what is within each of us and what even death cannot vanquish, and that doesn’t depend on institutional Churches. Even the sacramental Church only represents the stages though which the soul passes from childhood to maturity and the transition from this world to another.

Solutions for the priesthood? I have bitter experience of the kind of culture that favours that unhealthy kind of complicity. It is important for the priest to “get his life”, to discern and isolate what his vocation really means. The solutions usually proposed by conservatives leave me unconvinced. The kind of men they would want remain laymen, get married, have a family and remain in their jobs until retirement. I have discussed the “wooden leg” factor which only concerns a minority. As a seminarian, there was a kind of pleasure in wearing the cassock and belonging to an admired elite – it does something for self-esteem, but it is shallow. The affected piety is often little more than a justification for this rush of pleasure we receive at such a young age. Does this justify the liberal line of abolishing any kind of priestly identity (hunting out seminarians possessing a Latin breviary and a cassock) and doing so by the use of repression?

One thing I appreciate greatly in our Church (ACC) is that we do wear cassocks and liturgical vestments. We are also able to abstain from their use when in strictly secular life, being able to wear a suit and tie like my Bishop does in secular circumstances or my usually casual style. It is usually like this with Orthodox priests, and as things were in the middle ages and up to the eighteenth century in the west. We wear the cassock on duty, and live in the world as ordinary guys. This reality will come home even more as the world sees a symbol of shame and contempt in the dog collar and other items of clerical dress.

The catacomb Church will have other priorities, even when we opt for sacred and uplifting liturgies and a contemplative outlook. We should take heart in Tolkien’s thoughts and grow in ourselves the strength and character to live through the mocking and sneering to come.

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Papal Bull

Some may wonder whether I would weigh in on the “big story” about Archbishop Viganò and his “whistle-blowing” on Pope Francis. It is far “above my pay grade” (I have no independent information) and I spent only fifteen years as a Roman Catholic. Father Zuhlsdorf (whatever you might think about him and his style) is writing a lot about this subject in his blog. If the subject interests you, go there. Personally, it sickens me to the core.

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New Brother in the Priesthood

I would like to congratulate my brother in the priesthood Fr Andrew Scurr on his reception today into our Diocese of the Anglican Catholic Church. Fr Andrew and I share an interest in the Use of Sarum and the English style, as will be seen in his choir dress. We will without doubt see the official news of this event on our Diocesan website.

Update: the official news is here.

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Destroy this Temple…

Strasbourg Cathedral as a Temple of Reason in 1793-94

I have read some opinions on this blog responding to my postings concerning the unhappier aspects of human nature and the downside of clericalism. Clericalism is not merely a problem in the Church but in every public organisation where an elite is created by education and complicity. You will find this in every institution of politics or business, education, law and even charitable organisations. How do you deal with it when it becomes corrupt and complicity extends to protecting the guilty? The natural reaction is to destroy the institution and then pick off the escaping rats one by one, like when the Nazis were defeated in 1945 at the end of World War II.

What do you replace the destroyed institution with? It turned out rather well for Germany. The smaller fry of the old Nazi regime were allowed to stay in the police, civil service, etc. and they died out as they got older. The present-day bands of neo-Nazis are marginal and present little in the way of a threat to stability in Germany and the European Union. Things were allowed to resolve themselves through compromise and picking off the worst rats through the various war crimes trials in 1945-46.

To what extent ridding the Church of paedophiles will restore the credibility of the whole is a matter of individual judgement. If Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus is to be the rule, then the priesthood and sacramental nature of the Church must be done away with to prevent any possibility of corruption and complicity arising in the future. We have only to look to the Reformation and the more radical reformers like Calvin and Zwingli. We can go further and seek to abolish all religion and make atheism the norm like in revolutionary France or the Soviet regime. Will this solve the problem of human nature? Richard Dawkins would say “Just the ticket”, whilst most of us know that nature abhors a vacuum.

We have the vision of all churches and monasteries being emptied of all “churchy” things. It happened during the French Revolution, with classical rationalism being turned into an ersatz religion through the Goddess Reason. The monasteries were sold off as stone quarries. We could now imagine the UN deciding to send troops and police units into the Vatican to evict all the bishops and monsignori, and then turn the buildings over to the Italian State, the EU or the highest private bidder. Is this what we would like to see? Perhaps we are so little different from the people who voted for Hitler in the 1930’s!

Whatever is done, if anything is done from the outside, it is sinful human nature combatting sinful human nature. Corruption in the Church is something that disgusts us all, but the solution can only come from within the Church, and to some extent by its being deprived of paying customers and their money.

If Christianity goes, so does all our culture, as T.S. Eliot once said (more or less). The motivation for humanism in the Renaissance time came from Christianity. No other philosophy or religious system promotes the intrinsic value and rights of the human person. All other systems advocate competition and the elimination of the weakest, which is the natural principle held by all species of animals.

I don’t know what others will propose to replace the priesthood and sacramental / liturgical life of the Church. Suppose that all that is gone, repressed, made illegal. Is all that we have left is DIY spirituality? What form would that take? Do we adapt eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism for western consumption, as was doubtlessly tried in the 1960’s by people returning to the west from India, Nepal and Tibet? That said, we do have things to learn from peaceful and humanist spiritual traditions, and I am myself curious to learn more about Dom Bede Griffiths who incorporated elements of Hinduism in his Benedictine monastic way of life.

I still haven’t read Dreyer’s Benedict Option, so I am still prevented from offering an informed opinion. There are Christian communities around, Protestant and Catholic, incorporating lay people with families, not only monks and nuns. To what extent are those communities hierarchical or democratic? Are those communities the only way?

I am attracted to the idea of the alternative community based on a democratic government and a reaction against modern consumer capitalism, ecology, a philosophy of life with much in common with Romanticism. Perhaps some culture of this kind can partially assimilate a notion of Christianity that is open to democracy and anarchism, small numbers in the community and, if there is a priesthood for the sake of a sacramental / liturgical life, they have to be “ordinary guys” in everyday life and not tin-god clerics. Perhaps this is suggestive of the “basic community” of Latino Americano Marxist communists. I think that Distributism would be more in order, and allowing people their own philosophies of life. We have to learn to live with diversity, just as long as it comes from nobility of spirit.

Any church of the future has to be a marginal community without political privileges or masses of real-estate and money. This is already a reality with Continuing Anglicans and independent Catholics like the Nordic Catholic Church, whose priests have to earn their own living through work or their old-age pension. In the light of everything that has been tried and found successful or a failure, we need to re-think the priesthood and not discard the precious things the donkey is carrying (referring to my older article with the Aesop fable).

Remember, if churches have to be suppressed by secular authorities, there would be bloodshed as in the past. The transition has to be slower and without constraint. If our little Churches can excel in virtue, beauty and nobility, then we will be lights in the darkness, a powerful and quiet witness in a world that already knows that money isn’t the end of history.

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