The endless cycle of idea and action Endless invention, endless experiment, Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness; Knowledge of speech, but not of silence; Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be our strength; By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence; where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
My journey into the Anglican way was that of a ship struggling through tempestuous seas to reach a harbor. I was raised in an independent Baptist church that abhorred any notion of sacraments, liturgy, or spiritual authority. I was taught that salvation was achieved through my putting my trust completely and only in Christ’s work on the cross. I was responsible for endowing the Christian life with meaning – baptism was merely my declaration of belief, communion was merelymy attempt to remember Christ’s death, faith was my response to God. None of these were to be seen as God’s gracious gifts designed to bring me into closer communion with him. I was the arbiter of my fate and my eternal destiny rested in my hands.
Again and again, in the pulpit, on the radio, at summer camps, I was asked “are you sure you are going to heaven when you die? Have you trusted 100% in Christ?” Children I grew up with were “saved” again and again; they were then re-baptized since the previous occasions were meaningless. The message of “Christ Alone” was always combined with the necessity of making a “personal decision for Christ.” The Christian life became a Sisyphean endeavor of trying to find meaning in myself and my response to God.
Then I attended college and everything became much more difficult. My college strove to instill in its students both contemporary evangelical faith and the classical liberal arts; the tension was soon reflected in my soul. I read Plato and Aristotle, St. Augustine and St. Thomas, and that conflict grew. Plato taught me that, “Education, then, is a matter of correctly disciplined feelings of pleasure and pain. But in the course of a man’s life the effect wears off, and in many respects it is lost altogether.” There exists an external order to which I must submit my feelings and in which I find purpose. St. Augustine taught me that participating in that order is what it means to be virtuous, to be human. Formerly, I had seen myself as imposing meaning on the world around me. These writers educated me, led me out of myself, into the world outside of me – the world that gave me meaning.
But, as I did not yet know how to reconcile reason and the faith I had been taught, I began to turn away from faith and tried fill the void with learning. This continued for 2 years until God sent me two guides. The first was a fellow student who had been on much the same path; through quiet conversations and gentle leading, and through his example as a learned man of strong faith, he turned my search for reason back to the search for faith.
At the same time, I discovered the 1928 edition of The Book of Common Prayer at a school retreat led by one of my professors. I began using it morning and evening; two weeks later, on Easter Sunday, I worshiped at my local Anglican parish (Church of Our Savior at Oatlands) and have been there ever since.
The Anglican way is a way of education through submission. The word “education” has its roots in the Latin ex ducere – to lead out. The Anglican way leads a person from the cave that is himself to the Son of God. I heard the “comfortable words our Savior Christ saith…’Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.’” Meaning could be found, not by my will’s imposition on the world, but in the Word of God and his gifts of word, sacrament, and the Church. As an Anglican, I submit myself to, and acknowledge my dependence upon, those three gifts for the maintenance of my faith.
The chief jewel of the Anglican way is The Book of Common Prayer. It assists the Church, and even a person outside the Church in my case, in the education of the soul by leading it from itself to fuller communion with Christ. As sinners, we do not know how to pray as we ought; the apostles themselves asked Christ to teach them how to pray. If prayer informs belief, then surely modes of prayer do as well. Growing up in churches that practiced only private or extemporary prayer reinforced the idea that meaning springs from the autonomous individual. Plato writes that allowing free innovation in education (he is addressing the rules of children’s games) results in:
[N]o permanent agreed standard of what is becoming or unbecoming either in deportment or their possessions in general; they worship anyone who is always introducing some novelty or doing something unconventional to shapes and colors and all that sort of thing. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that this fellow is the biggest menace that can ever afflict a state, because he quietly changes the character of the young by making them despise old things and value novelty.
One need only look at the rise of heterodoxy and the cult of personality in contemporary evangelicalism to see Plato’s warning fulfilled.
The Book of Common Prayer, in its very title, points to the communion of believers in Christ stressed by the apostles and Church fathers. This communion is both historic and authoritative. I soon began to see that I could not truly become a person until I ceased being an individual and opened myself to that authority and teaching. Rather than endlessly inventing and experimenting in an attempt to bring meaning into my life, I could submit to the prayer book and find my soul oriented to God.
Through the Church, with its prayer book and sacraments, that orientation of the soul ceases to be a striving of the will and becomes, in stillness and quietness, an opening of the soul to the working of grace where faith and reason unite in contemplation of Love incarnate.
Matthew Maule is a Marketing and Member Services Associate at Christian Service Charities.