Hannah Hurnard was a much appreciated and admired writer in the 20th century within the evangelical tribe—her insights on the mystical journey as articulated in an allegorical way have birthed an impressive vision in her many published books. There has been a tendency within the evangelical clan to be hitched to Calvinism and confessional theology but such an approach often misses a more thought through reflection on the nuanced nature of the inner life and faith journey.
The publication of Hannah Hurnard’s first book in 1954, Hind’s Feet on High Places, positioned her well as a sensitive writer on the seasons and nature of the interior journey as lived forth in the material world. Hind’s Feet on High Places was followed a few years later with her sequel, Mountains of Spices—yet again, she spoke to a generation of evangelicals who had a thirst for the deeper pilgrimage.
Hurnard was neither as austere as Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Process nor as intellectually demanding as Lewis’ Pilgrim’s Regress—she did write, though, with disarming simplicity about the nature of the devotional way in a manner that resonated well with how many experienced and interpreted their faith journey.
We live at a period of time in which two types of spirituality are vying for the hearts and minds of many. The “I’m spiritual but not religious” slogan and cliché is but a symptom of such worldviews at odds. The differences between these outlooks have a 500-year-old history and such perspectives continue to play themselves out in a social way and manner. There is the Classical tradition as embodied in a catholic and Chaucerian heritage. There is the Protestant tradition as embodied in a modern, anarchist and Bunyanist heritage.
The classical, catholic and Chaucerian heritage of The Canterbury Tales portrays a vision of a complex community of good, bad, mediocre and questionable people and temperaments that are on pilgrimage together to Canterbury. Such a community is idealistic and realistic, tolerant of imperfection, critical of those who distort the highest ideals, yet loyal to the community. The fact that Chaucer had the ability to describe what Matthew Arnold called “God’s plenty” in all their complex aspirations and disarray makes The Canterbury Tales a work of layered genius. The fact that Chaucer was classical and catholic in his breadth and depth meant that when disappointments, betrayals and distortions occurred, forgiveness (again and again) and faithfulness to the higher goals of unity and destination kept the pilgrims together on their way to Canterbury. Thus, the journey to Canterbury is a metaphor of unity and oneness of goal—with imperfection—as a means towards such a destination. The classical vision was very much played out in the thinking of 16th century reformers such as Thomas More and Erasmus. Such men were loyal yet critical to the notion of communal unity and the commonwealth while recognizing that the path taken in community was fraught with imperfection. Such is the classical and catholic notion of spirituality as incarnated in the thinking, lives and writings of Chaucer, More and Erasmus.
The more modern and protestant notion of spirituality that we find in Luther, Calvin and, at a more extreme and anarchist level, in Bunyan/Milton is expressed in multiple fragments and schisms. Ideals are held so high that when such ideals are not realized, groups break off from one another (again and again) in the name of some higher purity, spirituality or being guided by the Divine Spirit—such is the genetic code and DNA of Protestantism. The reductio ad absurdum of Protestantism can be found in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress that, in the Chaucerian sense, is both an immature understanding of what it means to be a pilgrim (in community) and certainly not progress.
The lone pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress leaves one and all behind in his quest for God—we find the same perspective at work in Milton (in a more sophisticated sense). Those who see themselves as spiritual but not religious or reacting to perceptions of imperfect institutions are neither radical nor prophetic—they are merely uncritical children of Bunyan and Milton. In short, such a position is simply a form or reactionary anarchism and very trendy. The fact that many modern and postmodern Bunyan and Milton types see imperfections in church and society does not take a great deal of minimal thinking—such has always been the obvious case.
Chaucer described such the situation well and wisely. What is done when such insights come to the fore determines whether a deeper and more demanding communal response will emerge or a retreat into ever smaller enclaves and reactionary groups will dominate the day. The bourgeois Gnosticism (to use Voegelin’s term) of many self-congratulating radicals (so well dissected by Hooker in the 16th century in his critique of Puritanism) is as alive then as now.
The gnostic sees him/herself as having the true and higher insights, others as betrayers and compromisers of the noble vision and, as such, separation from such imperfect communities must ensue. Such an ideological stance is just a modern form of Pharisaism (thank God I am not as those imperfect Chaucer types). This merging of Gnosticism (idealism and purity) with Pharisaism is the opposite of the charitable, humble and thoughtful Publican who simply says, “Lord Have Mercy” and quietly serves an imperfect and historic community on the trail to Canterbury.
The position of Chaucer asks of those on pilgrimage to be tolerant, forgive and work with those who might irritate, vex and trouble the brittle idealist. Maturity and Divine Love are called for to remain in complex communities for the long journey. The simpler and more immature position is to desert such communities, retreat from the communal fray into ever smaller tribes who see themselves as radical, prophetic or on the ‘cutting edge.’
Such flattery, needless to say, breeds a sort of ever shrinking notion of what it means to engage in an imperfect church and world in a thoughtful manner over decades. Chaucer/More/Erasmus or Bunyan/Milton? The choice made embodies two types of spirituality—the former has depth, is grounded and rooted in imperfect communities on pilgrimage together. The latter perpetuates the protestant tendency towards fragmentation and isolation—the former know what it means to be a publican, the latter a judgmental Pharisee.
Amor Vincit Omnia
Alexandrian Christianity: Then and Now
New Camaldoli Hermitage: Big Sur
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the
--T.S. Eliot, “East Coker” Four Quartets
The earliest forms of Christianity emerged from the matrix of the Jewish Tradition, but Christianity, within a generation, encountered the Classical world. The much larger and more cosmopolitan ethos of Classical thought and culture was neither rooted nor grounded in Jewish religious thought, but such a civilization was deeply spiritual and religious. This meant that when Christians encountered the Classical world, they could not appeal to Jewish thought (which was largely foreign to such a civilization). The journey, then, of Christianity from Jerusalem and Palestine outside such an enclosed form of religion meant Christians had to speak their faith to a form of religion that was deeply contemplative, spiritual and religious but not Jewish.
Alexandria was, in the first few centuries of the Common Era, noted for its diverse cultures, pluralistic religions and crossroads where different forms of spirituality met one another. Alexandria had one of the largest libraries in the ancient world, one of the fullest diasporic Jewish communities (the Septuagint and Philo called this creative place home) and it was a vibrant centre in which Stoicism, mystery religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Judaism, Egyptian cults, middle Platonism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Yoga, Gnosticism, early forms of Christian desert spirituality and Christian thought and culture encountered one another on a daily basis.
In fact, Alexandria was one of the most vibrant centres and cities of Christianity from the 2nd to the 5th centuries of the Common Era. Pantaenus (120-200), Clement (150-215) and Origen (184-254) embodied, in their life and writings, a form of contemplative theology and philosophy that embraced the finest and most probing insights of the wisdom traditions of the East in their deeply meditative forms of Christianity. This was not a Tertullian’s “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem, What has the Academy to do with the Church?” form of Christianity. Alexandrian Christianity was much more about contemplative Christians finding those points of concord and dialogue between Christianity and the “logos spermatikos” in the best of all religions and spiritual philosophic traditions.
What has Easter to do with politics? What has the church to do with the state? What has the sacred to do with the secular? What has justice and peace to do with empires? What has Canada to do with the USA?
The Christian understanding of Easter has its roots in the Jewish tradition of Passover. There is, sadly so, a tendency to reduce the Jewish meaning of Passover to all sorts of rites and ceremonies, and, in the process, miss the deeper and more demanding meaning of Passover.
The Jewish tradition of Passover emerged from a clash, within Jewish history, between the Jews (an oppressed people) and the Egyptian empire. Pharaoh (the leader of the Egyptian empire) treated the Jews as cheap labour and mules. They were hewers of wood and drawers of water for the affluent Egyptian middle and upper class. The clash between Moses (who stood for the oppressed Jews) and Pharaoh is now part and parcel of western lore and legend, fact and feelings. Passover, at core and centre, was about an oppressed nation seeking and finding liberation from an imperial and unjust overlord.
Jesus, being Jewish, was steeped and saturated in such a memory. He lived at a time when the Jews were oppressed by the Romans. The script was the same. The actors were different. Once it was the Egyptians. For Jesus, it was the Romans. The Jews were still an oppressed people seeking national liberation. Jesus came preaching notions of the Kingdom and justice/peace.
The Beatitudes sum up his disturbing vision of the Kingdom quite well. Such a life and such insights did not please the power elites. Things did not bode well for Jesus. The Romans were not pleased. The Jewish leadership (Sanhedrin) was on the same page as the Romans. In fact, most had bent the dutiful knee to Roman power.
The Christian notion of Easter was formed and forged on the political anvil of the Jewish liberation from Egypt. Jesus sought to liberate both the Jews and Gentiles from Roman oppression. The Romans knew what Jesus was doing and why. They only put two types of people on the cross: common criminals and political subversives. Jesus, like Moses, was seen as a threat to the empire.
We, in the West, have tended to privatize, domesticate and sanitize the political meaning of Passover and Easter. It is now a rather quaint and nostalgic event with little political clout. In fact, both Passover and Easter have become rather harmless events in the liturgical life of the church. But, was this always so? Moses and Jesus would be rather shocked by the way such an event has been privatized and depoliticized.
Moses confronted the Egyptian empire. Jesus confronted the Roman Empire. Both men confronted the empires of their time. It is rather ironic that many Christians today bow and genuflect before an empire greater than Egypt and Rome. It is even more ironic that this is done in the name of being conservative.
The historic Canadian conservative tradition from Bishops Charles Inglis and John Strachan to Sir John A. Macdonald and John Diefenbaker to Suzanna Moody and Mazo de la Roche to Stephen Leacock and George Grant have been wary of the American empire. Such an empire is not much different from Egypt and Rome. Passover and Easter, in their beginnings, were political events. Can we imagine Canadians seeing Easter as an event about liberating Canada from the USA? Hardly!
This does speak volumes about how many Canadians have become tamed. The high point in the Christian calendar (Easter) has become, in many ways, a safe and innocuous event that has little to do with its political origins.
Is Easter ever likely to become a substantive political event? Not likely! The myth and ritual are now safe, domesticated and sanitized, But, for those with some memory, they know there is more to the event, and they cannot but feel the loss and lack.
Andrew Walker is one of the most remarkable scholars I have met across the years. – William J. Abraham
There are thinkers, to follow Berlin’s lead, like the fox—they cover a vast amount of terrain in their intellectual breadth. There are other thinkers, like the hedgehog—they burrow deep and narrow. Andrew Walker is both a fox and hedgehog in both his sheer breadth and pathway depths in Notes from a Wayward Son: a miscellany—we could certainly profit and mature from more wayward sons (and daughters) of Walker’s calibre.
Notes from a Wayward Son is divided into five probing and insightful chapters. Part I: “Journey into the Spirit: Pentecostalism, Charismatic, and Restorationist Christianity” is an informed and historic overview, from a sociological perspective, of various themes and strands of self-styled renewal Christianity. Walker never flinches from asking hard questions about such approaches to Christianity. The fact that Walker spent significant seasons of his life within such a Christian tribe means his burrowing reveals much that many are simply unaware of---almost 1/3 of Notes from a Wayward Son does the hedgehog deed into the complex ethos of those who claim to be journeying into the spirit (always a question, of course, about whose version of the spirit and which spirit).
Doesn't it often seem that people and ideas we most respect usually contain a certain amount of breadth? And to be clear, breadth is not merely a large dose of variety. Perhaps it is a deepness incorporated into breadth that makes breadth comprehensive. Truth has often been described as light; and, as most of us can appreciate, some people seem to see more of the spectrum as it were, and thus ascertain more “truth.”
Breadthy or comprehensive people seem to be the ones who can see that larger spectrum: they can see more of the colours. Thomas Merton, most of his readers would happily attest, was just one such of these breadthy individuals. But more than that, he was able to express what he saw in ways that allowed for his readers to share in this expanded – enlightened? – view. Thus, when imbibed of, Merton the prophet also provides us with more than the diagnosis, but also, in part a cure.
Thomas Merton and the Counterculture: A Golden String (St Macrina Press, 2016) is a collection of essays and illustrations by many of North America's top Merton scholars, including Leah Cameron, Stephanie Redekop, Russel Hulsey, Ross Labrie, Robert Inchausti, Lynn Szabo and of course, Ron S. Dart. The book also features sketches by North Van artist, Arnold Shives.
Two elements set this booklet (123 pages) apart. First, it not only speaks of the counterculture historically; it gives one a feel for the counterculture because a good number of the authors lived in the thick of it and arguably never 'sold out.' In some ways, the book then feels less like a retrospective and more like a time machine, enabling me to relive by proxy some of the highpoints of the counterculture ideals that I was insulated from as an elementary school child.
The other great strength of this book is that so many of the essays relate Merton to other major figures of that age. Some he knew or corresponded with personally, while others were parallel figures climbing and converging on common peaks by other trails and approaches. So we not only get more of Merton the monk, but Merton becomes a posture from which to view the likes of Mark Van Doren, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, William Everson, Denise Levertov and Henry Miller. Some of these names were familiar to me among the great 'Beat Poets,' but I did not know that many related to Merton directly. Others were unknown to me but the book provided an initial introduction.
For Merton and counterculture poetry aficionados alike, the book is well worth the read, not just as nostalgia, but to give a personal inside scoop on the abiding value of that important epic. Indeed, there's an urgent need to remember their wisdom in these dark days.
C.S. Lewis & Bede Griffiths: Chief Companions (St Macrina, 2016) is Ron Dart's own booklet (58 pages) on the interaction of thoughts and letters between Lewis and Griffiths. Ron has attended closely to this long-term friendship and gathered up sources, letters and articles to highlight and provide a very warm commentary on the importance of this connection.
The book begins with their 1. Faith Affinities, which might surprise those who know Lewis as the Oxford scholar and Griffiths as the contemplative theologian who led the 20th century in interfaith dialogue. But in fact, both men testified that the other was their chief companion at the stage of their conversion to Christianity through the early1930's.
In chapter 2, Ron describes the correspondence between Lewis and Arthur Greeves in which Griffiths is mentioned. Chapter 3 moves on to letters by Lewis to Griffiths himself. Chapter 4 switches perspectives and we're treated to a review of two articles that Griffiths writes about Lewis. In chapter 4, we follow the drama of how Griffiths (in The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal) enters the conversation over Christopher Derrick's C.S. Lewis and the Church of Rome -- esp. concerning Lewis' decision not to become Roman Catholic. In chapter 6, Dart publishes two letters he personally received from Griffiths (along with reflections). The final chapter is a summary, pointing out that virtually no work has been done on the Lewis-Griffiths connection in four decades. For my part, I'm glad Dart broke the silence!
As some of you might know, we are launching in mid-February a contemplative Order (drawing from the ancient wells of the time tried Anglican Tradition). I have sent, by attachment, a brief summary of the raison d’etre of the Order—if interested in discussing this further, let’s do a coffee. The Order is being birthed from a variety of parishes on the west coast, but it will be a North American Order—already more than 1000 women in the Daughters of the Holy Cross in North America—always a delight to be a midwife for a delivery. If interested, contact me.
Amor Vincit Omnia
Robert D. Crouse represents that paradigm of those catholic of scholars, whose investigations of the Christian tradition have consistently shown courageous sensitivity to its complex origins and trajectories from late antiquity to our present.
- Robert Dodaro (OCA) Instituto Patristico Augustinanum Divine Creation in Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Thought: Essays Presented to the Rev’d Dr. Robert Crouse (2007)
George Grant has been called Canada’s greatest political philosopher. To this day, his work continues to stimulate, challenge, and inspire Canadians to think more deeply about matters of social justice and individual responsibility.
- Athens and Jerusalem: George Grant’s Theology, Philosophy, and Politics (2006)
There can be little doubt that George Grant (1918-1988) and Robert Crouse (1930-2011), for different reasons, were two of the most significant Canadian Anglican intellectuals of the latter half of 20th and first decade of the 21st century. Grant was a public intellectual in a way Crouse never was, but Crouse had a depth to him (in his many probes into the Patristic-Medieval ethos) that Grant did not. Grant challenged the ideological nature of liberal modernity at a philosophical and political level in a way Crouse never did, but Crouse, in a detailed and meticulous manner, articulated and enucleated the complex nature of the Patristic-Medieval vision in a way Grant did not. Both men were deeply concerned about the passing away of a more classical vision of the soul, church and society and both attempted to retrieve the discarded image. Crouse was much more of an Anglican churchman than Grant, but Grant engaged the larger public square in a way Crouse never did.
I have been fortunate, over the last few decades, to do in depth work on George Grant and I have many a letter from Sheila Grant (George’s wife) on life at Dalhousie-King’s (where George began and ended his academic life). I also have many a letter from Robert Crouse, many a fond memory of visits with Robert (some fine photos also) when in Nova Scotia or when Robert visited the West Coast (Robert bunked in at our home). My interest, therefore, in the Anglican life and writings of George Grant and Robert Crouse is both of some academic interest but also of a personal nature. Hopefully, this essay will embody and reflect both these approaches.
John Baldwin and Linda Bily, Soul of Wilderness: Mountain Journeys in Western BC and Alaska (Harbour Publishing, 2015).
There has been an unfortunate yet understandable tendency within Canadian mountaineering literature and photography to frontstage the Rockies and subordinate BC Coastal Mountains to secondary status. There has also been the tendency to valourize rock jocks, first ascents (on ever more difficult and trying routes and pitches) and minimize a more artistic and contemplative yet equally competent approach to mountaineering. The sheer breakthrough beauty of Soul of Wilderness is that “mountain journeys in western BC and Alaska” are front staged and the “soul of the wilderness” rather than a simple literal approach to the mountains is the core of this burnished gold book—truly artists, mountaineers, contemplatives and photographers wed and knitted together in this A++ keeper of a mountaineering classic.
This wordsmith of a text and exquisite photographs evoke and draw the curious and keen reader into both the form and soul of the mountains. John and Linda should be heartily congratulated for a pure diamond of a book that, simply put, has no competitors and would be hard to surpass—it is truly the west coast mountaineering book of 2015 to purchase, read and inwardly and meditatively digest. The expansive photographs, for the most part, cover treks on glaciers, high alpine traverses and fine sloping snowfields. There are a few photographs that span the mountain seasons, but most of the visual delights in Soul of Wilderness have been on ski trips in western BC and Alaska.
There are 10 chapters in this must buy book: 1) Footsteps in the Wilderness, 2) Wilderness at our Doorstep, 3) Where the Ridges Run Wild, 4) Whales and Icefields, 5) Gentle Wilderness, 6) Ski Wild, 7) Thirty Years on Ice, 8) Both Sides of the Stikine, 9) Touch the Wild and 10) Soul of Wilderness. There is often a graphic and, at times, subtle transition from urban to rural to wilderness to a wildness ethos---John and Linda have tracked the trail well and made it abundantly clear why wilderness and wildness are essential for a sane and centred soul—the soul of the wilderness is, in essence, oxygen for the human soul—without such oxygen, our souls shrink, wither and, eventually, die.
The BC mountaineering community has a rich line and lineage. Dick Culbert took mountaineering to new levels in his creative years. John Clarke told yet a fuller tale and story. John Baldwin and Linda Bily very much stand on the solid and innovative shoulders of Dick Culbert and John Clarke and Soul of Wilderness: Mountain Journeys in Western BC and Alaska amply illustrate why this is the indisputable case.
There are those who labour long and hard in the world of Barthian scholarship (disputing and debating how Barth is to be read and interpreted) but never, in any substantive way, apply his exegesis and theology to practical and applied ethics (much less biomedical ethics).
There are others who, consistently informed by a secular approach to ethics, separate ethics from theology and, for the most part, substantive philosophy. This means, therefore, ethics lacks a deeper and more solid grounding. The strength and brilliance of Reading Karl Barth is the intricate and meticulous way that Ashley Moyse has integrated (in a way few do or can) an approach to Barth that interrogates and interrupts a questionable way of doing biomedical ethics (which tends to be more fixated on technique and skill manipulation). Needless to say, as the title of the books suggests, the task of Moyse is to transform biomedical ethics by taking the dialogue to a deeper and more demanding theological place—Barth is, for Moyse, the guide to such a destination.