I am becoming an Anglican. Starting this Advent I am joining a small group of fellow proto-Anglicans at Christ Church cathedral in Montreal, meeting for worship and conversation as we prepare to be received into the church during Easter. At this time in my life very few things so encourage me as the prospect of formally settling into the steadying rhythms of Anglican worship.
On the day I write this there arrives in my apartment mailbox the most recent print issue of the Christian Century (November 23, 2016) and in its pages I read this by the theologian (until recently unknown to me) Sarah Coakley: “I strategically dispossess myself to the Spirit’s blowing where it will into all truth; just as, in prayer each day, I try to practice that same dispossession to the Spirit’s calling me more deeply into the life of Christ, bracing myself for the bumps and lurches and surprises I have been led precisely by scripture to expect.” “Bumps and lurches and surprises”: yes.
The past several years have been a turbulence of catastrophes for me, in nearly every part of my life. Unexpected dizziness and exhaustion resulted in a drawn-out comedy of misdiagnoses of the cause of my anemia (blood samples were sent off to the Centers for Disease Control in fear of Ebola; a false positive test had my hematologist suggest to me that I get my affairs in order, given my chronic myeloid leukemia; neither ebola nor cancers of any kind turned out to be the issue), concluding at long last in a successful surgery. My failure to correctly assess institutional expectations and align my efforts with them (if my current understanding of the events is not again at an oblique with reality) cost me a job that was very dear to me, and plunged me into what has now been more than two years of underemployment and financial misadventure. And worst of all, a lifetime of responding with avoidance and accommodation to what I experience as emotional overwhelmment in my closer relationships reached its nadir in divorce.
Navigating this nasty turbulence has only been possible for me because of two constants: the kindness of people who care for me, and a daily (or near-daily) cardio-respiratory workout in what Ambrose of Milan called the gymnasium of the Psalms. The poetry of the Psalms sometimes offers me solace, sometimes provides me with a language for my grief, confusion, and disappointment, and sometimes draws my attention away from self-pity towards empathy with others different from me in their fears, hopes, and joys. Almost as important as the substance of this poetry, however, is the very cadence of daily prayer. The mere act of daily prayer established and sustains a slight but significant order in the midst of my disarray.
My experience of the daily praying of the Psalms as a life-vest is what alerted me to my need for a life-boat, a somewhat more encompassing array of steadying rhythms. I arrived in Montreal intent on becoming an Anglican, and worshipping at Christ Church cathedral since has confirmed that intention. I suppose I am discovering that I can echo Alan Jacobs’s confession: “I cannot possibly overstate what a gift the ancient liturgies and the ancient calendar of the Church have been to me. They have quite literally made it possible for me to be a follower of Jesus.”
The Sunday morning choral Eucharist at the cathedral is practiced in an unhurried manner and, as the preparation and convivial enjoyment of slow food does, it unhurries me, slows me down to a pace at which I can truly invest my attention and digest what I experience. The liturgy savours each of its many parts – songs, readings, a sermon, the eating of bread and drinking of wine. Each part is brought into high relief by being surrounded with bell-rung silences. Time is further slowed down by processions – at the beginning of the service, at the departure of the children, at the reading of the Gospel, at the conclusion of the service – at the pace of a flâneur’s promenade.
The weekly cadence of my Sunday morning participation in the Eucharist, in combination with the daily cadence of my praying of the Psalms, is bringing an articulation to my days that resonates in my imagination with the poetry at the very beginning of the Christian Scriptures, affording me an experience of my own time as being hosted within the hospitality of God, similarly to how the entire cosmos is portrayed as being hosted within that divine hospitality in Genesis. And then the grand annual rhythm of the Christian year, from the first Sunday of Advent through the Reign of Christ Sunday, further articulates my personal experience of time, not only as an individual, but in community with the cathedral congregation … and with followers of Jesus around the world and throughout history annis Domini.