Chapter VII – Church and Change
A Rule of Life
The Reverend Canon Charles LaFond
Like silence, stillness is at once a choice, a luxury, an honored spiritual practice and a defiant action in a country and culture fueled by coffee, power and money. Stillness is a threat to the spiritually shallow and a comfort to the perpetually exhausted. Stillness is hard for me and stillness will be my salvation in such an anxious, molting church and culture of greed and noise. Stillness is the starting point of discernment and discernment can be dangerous to systems.
As I watch this final season of Downton Abbey, I see, reflected in the television screen, the Church I am trying so hard to love into its next phase of life. Every character in the television show seems to represent and characterize some aspect of the people in the average (and not so average) Episcopal Church . . . and perhaps many other churches too if they were courageous enough to be honest.
Jesus wanders our ecclesial version of Downton Abbey and I wonder what He thinks as he sits softly, un-noticed in the corner of a parlor, a breakfast room, a tea room, a solarium, the garden, the dining room, the bedroom, the scullery; observing people living their lives in the castle of stone constructed so many generations ago for such a different world – such a different church – opened occasionally, weekly, for an annual membership fee – a contribution to maintain its grandeur for occasional visitors using it to buttress flagging spiritual self-esteem not to mention the grandeur of those who live inside.
What is going through Jesus’ mind? If He is resurrected in body, and truly ascended into heaven, then he has a mind. What is Jesus thinking in His stillness? What does Jesus think of the dowager countess clinging to the past with such ferocity that she is pretending nothing has changed, seeming perpetually surprised -living a pretend existence – suspicious of the electric light and vaguely unsure of what a telephone is? What does Jesus think of the deeply kind mother trying to host love? What does Jesus think of the butler, fat, cranky, resolute in his desire not to let standards slip, holding his teacup precariously on a saucer as a culture shifts under him like a an 8.0 earthquake? What does Jesus think watching the sad Earl of Grantham, ulcerated in his anxiety about a life and a way which is simply slipping away like sand in hands?
What does Jesus think of the next generation with such diverse opinions ranging from a warrior-like determination to hold onto an expensive, out-dated way of life to the awareness that life might even be fun in this new way of poverty, intimacy and liberation from outdated rules? And what does Jesus think of the scullery maids and other servants, running up and down back stairs, unseen, with buckets of bath water up hundreds of steps, and then down again, in a castle without plumbing, wondering what is happening in Paris. Who is Madame Defarge anyways? Is one nearby? Is it you? Is it you? Is it you? Who is the threat and to what?
Stillness is not a delightful respite from work – some tv and a drink. Stillness is a volatile act of defiance in which time is taken to discern about my life, my guilt, my liberation, my way on this planet, this day – and yesterday. Stillness is both the chance to rest as well as the harbinger of revolution. What if they let us eat cake after all? What if we stop and see the great, kind, honest clergy and…and… the lazy or stupid or creepy clergy? What if we begin to notice things? What if the changing culture outside the castle is just enough to tip the scales against canon-law designed in favor of clergy and bishops? What does Jesus see in His stillness? And what might we see?
May God help me to employ stillness in my life so that I may stop long enough to see what I need to see- about myself, the Church and the world in which I live. May stillness offer discernment to any family – any person- in any crisis or any trouble or none at all. May God help us all to embrace stillness and then have the courage to act on what we discern within it. May my (our) penchant for relentless activity, stimulation and exhaustion no longer be used by the evil one as a drug to dull our minds and souls – and all without a paper-trail. May stillness be the chance for the Holy Spirit to speak truth and courage – for our support of goodness and the undoing of evils. And may Jesus, silently, gently come alongside me in my stillness, and quietly, slowly, gently take my hand so that as we both look, a sense of peace emerges, no matter what we see.