Archive for the ‘evolving Protestants’ Category

The mystery of each of us

In Christian mysticism, evolving Protestants, meaning of death/life on January 10, 2011 at 2:03 pm

It is the largest part of a man that is not inventoried. He has many enumerable parts: he is social, professional, political, sectarian, literary, & of this or that set & corporation. But after the most exhausting census has been made there remains as much more which no tongue can tell. And this remainder is what interests.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his Journal

Thanks to Michelle Van Loon…

In Catholic and Protestant, evolving Protestants, Making saints, Strange religious customs on November 3, 2010 at 1:50 pm

For this mini-review of my book, The Lure of Saints: A Protestant Experience of Catholic Tradition on the Christianity Today blog for women. Seems like I have a kindred spirit in Michelle!

Why saints are both strange and marvelous

In Catholic imagination, Christ-following, evolving Protestants, Making saints on November 3, 2010 at 1:45 pm

I sometimes feel a bit like Don Quixote, who read hundreds of books on chivalry and knighthood and then foolishly determined to wander the world imitating them by righting wrongs, helping ladies in distress, and bringing nobility back to the people along his path. Quixote often scolded Sancho Panza, his infinitely cleverer companion, for laughing at his expense, talking too much, and questioning his actions. A wickedly funny character created by Miguel de Cervantes for his famous novel by the same name, Don Quixote is perhaps the greatest idealist in history, fictional or true. He is at times a holy fool, a saint (according to W. H. Auden), and a mirror image of each person who tries hard to be something he or she has read about in books.

Don Quixote is considered foolish precisely because he wholeheartedly believes that what he has read in books about medieval knights actually happened. He is egotistical because he sincerely believes that he, too, can be a gallant knight. But irony is rich throughout the novel, as we are never quite sure if Don Quixote might actually be the sanest person around. He never seems to know that he is playing a role, as in a play—because a knight is very clearly not what Don Quixote is, deep down, with all of his bumbling and mistakes.

Perhaps such role-playing is what we all are doing who read the Lives of saints, at least those of us who are trying to imitate the explorers and exemplars who have gone before us.

The Sunday routine of Cornel West

In Christian mysticism, evolving Protestants on January 24, 2010 at 8:03 pm

I love this—from today’s New York Times—a short interview with Cornel West about his “Sunday routine.” Asked if he is religious, he proudly says:

“I am, indeed, indeed. I am a profoundly Jesus-loving free black man who bears witness to truth and justice until the day I die.”

Me too. Spiritual, yes; but religious, you betcha.

John Milton Died–November 8

In Catholic and Protestant, evolving Protestants on November 7, 2008 at 2:04 pm

I have an admiration-regret relationship with John Milton, who died on tomorrow’s date, November 8, 1674.

The great Protestant English poet of Paradise Lost, took up Augustine’s doctrine of concupiscence, by which Augustine taught that the sin of lust is equivalent to the pleasure of sex, even between husband and wife. I am such a great admirer of the beauty and majesty of Paradise Lost, but not always what was taught, there. As is the case with many of our ideas about the first parents and the events in the Garden of Eden, Milton’s descriptions soon became better known than the biblical narrative itself. Milton describes in Book IX what was happening immediately after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit:


As with new wine intoxicated both,

They swim in mirth, and fancy that they feel

Divinity within them breeding wings

Wherewith to scorn the Earth. But that false fruit

Far other operation first displayed,

Carnal desire inflaming. He on Eve

Began to cast lascivious eyes; she him

As wantonly repaid; in lust they burn…



In addition, Milton’s portrait of Christ can sometimes appear only fearsome. In the Book X of Paradise Lost, when God the Father is telling Adam and Eve, the angelic host, the other two members of the Trinity, and all of Creation what must happen as a result of Adam’s and Eve’s sin in the Garden, there is no mention of the love of Christ, or of Jesus the Good Shepherd. This narrative, told of humankind and the coming of the Son of God, is filled with anger and judgment, and only the slightest hint of mercy:


What rests, but that the mortal sentence pass

On his transgression . . .

Justice shall not return, as bounty, scorned.

But whom send I to judge them? Whom but thee,

Vicegerent Son? To thee I have transferred

All judgment, whether in Heaven, or Earth, or Hell.

Easy it may be seen that I intend

Mercy colleague with justice, sending thee,

Man’s friend, his Mediator, his designed

Both ransom and Redeemer voluntary,

And destined Man himself to judge Man fallen.

God bless St. John Milton, but these are two theological ideas that every evolving Protestant is trying to overcome.

Chartres and Notre-Dame

In evolving Protestants, Famous religious sites, Pilgrimage on May 10, 2008 at 9:16 am

During my pilgrimage just ended, there was one day–a Friday–when I attended early morning Mass at Chartres Cathedral and then later in the day, toured the great Notre-Dame in Paris.

The contrast between the two, was profound. Chartres fills you with awe. That’s really the word for it: awe. There is no glibness in the space of Chartres; it seems impossible. The massiveness of the building and the respectfulness of the side chapels, as well as those who seem to spend time there, cannot help but prod an agnostic believer into deeper recesses of potential faith.

But then, Notre-Dame, on the other hand…was like a carnival. No sense of decorum or respectfulness at all by the people milling about. One of the side chapels has actually been converted into some sort of computer room; and each side chapel is outfitted with a sturdy plastic printed sign that looks like you are at Starbucks. Even the gift shop–always present somewhere in a French cathedral–is located in the actual nave of the church.

Give me Chartres, anyday. A truly Catholic experience.

Mont St-Michel

In Catholic imagination, evolving Protestants, Pilgrimage, The Middle Ages on May 3, 2008 at 3:09 pm

Pray for me, please. I leave tonight on a pilgrimage to several sacred places in northern France: Rouen, Lisieux, Mont St-Michel, and Chartres. I anticipate that the medieval Mont will be the most meaningful.

I’m honored to be able to take this trip. What a privilege it is.

Pilgrimage, of course, doesn’t have to take one to foreign countries; sometimes I’m a pilgrim en route to a Trappist abbey near where I live in New England. But this sort of bigger trip is a real delight. It is part of my evolution as a Protestant–discovering what fired the imagination of Catholics in the Middle Ages–the passion that led to the building and worshiping in the amazing sacred spaces of Rouen Cathedral, the fortress-like abbey of Mont St-Michel, and the most remarkable Gothic cathedral in the world: Chartres.

Evolving Protestants Studying the Saints

In Catholic and Protestant, Catholic imagination, evolving Protestants, Making saints, Robertson Davies on March 24, 2008 at 2:40 am

I am an evolving Protestant–one who is discovering the practices, history, and mystery that were largely unknown to me growing up in Protestant churches.

I want to be more Catholic.

I study the saints, and I ask for their prayers. That cloud of witnesses is a resource for me and for you.

I’m reading a terrific novel by Robertson Davies this week while traveling to the Catholic Library Association meetings in Indianapolis: World of Wonders. The narrator is the author of two books on the saints, and occasionally talk of them sneaks into the telling of the story. I love this characterization from chapter 5:

“I had sought God in my lifelong, unlikely preoccupation with that fantastic collection of wise men, virtuous women, thinkers, doers, organizers, contemplatives, crack-brained simpletons, and mad mullahs that are called Saints.”

I wish I had put it that well in my book, The Lure of Saints.

A Protestant Experience of Catholic Tradition

An Evolving Protestant

In evolving Protestants on February 2, 2008 at 9:55 am

evolving — def. from the noun, evolution, “a gradual process in which something changes into a different and more complex form”

Protestant — def. “adherence to the religion and beliefs fostered by the Protestant movement”

An evolving Protestant, that’s me.

Check out my new book coming this month from Jossey-Bass, Almost Catholic: An Appreciation of the History, Practice, and Mystery of Ancient Faith.

And let me know what you think.

Using Rosary Beads

In evolving Protestants, Spiritual practice on February 2, 2008 at 9:40 am

Evolving Protestants–that’s what I am–sometimes use rosary beads. Beads (or pebbles) as an aid in prayer have an ancient Christian tradition stemming back to the Desert Fathers and Mothers. Eastern Orthodox monks traditionally use knots on a prayer robe instead of beads. But both Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic traditions use prayer beads.

Rosary literally means rose garden, referring to devotion to the Virgin Mary in prayer. The prayers of the traditional Catholic rosary focus on Mary, and I often pray with my Catholic rosary in this way. The Anglo-Catholic (although we’re not supposed to use that term anymore; we’re supposed to call ourselves Anglican Catholics now) prayer beads, in contrast, focus prayers on the Trinity, and Christ, more than on Mary. The latter is my primary daily practice.

Rosary beads keep me focused. I carry them with me. Obviously, one can pray in any time and place and a tool is unnecessary. But it helps both in reminding me to do it, getting me going, and the tactile always has an unspeakable benefit to spiritual practice.


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