Wayne Smith's occasional blog of pilgrimages and journeys

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thursday, July 17. In Canterbury on retreat.

The day began with the Eucharist, simply and joyfully celebrated, in the Big Top. The music we made there and at Canterbury Cathedral, later in the day, was almost worth the trip for me.

Following that came the first session of Bible study, with the group of eight bishops. The first principle the Design Team used in shaping the groups was a common language. Thus everyone in my group is a either native English speaker or else a bishop fluent in the language. There are bishops from the USA, Canada, Australia, England, Ireland, and West Africa. We began our Bible study with the beginning, John 1:1-18, the prologue to the gospel and the prologue to getting to know one another.

Then to Canterbury Cathedral, where the bishops met in retreat, which will continue through Saturday. The cathedral and its precincts were closed to everyone except the bishops and the conference staff, and Archbishop Rowan offered two meditations on the nature of episcopal ministry, basing his reflections on the Pauline epistles. Suffice it to say that he describes the sort of bishop that I would like to grow up to be. He began to detail a life in which every Christian is able to say, with Paul in Galatians 1:16, that "the Son of God has been revealed in me," and that bishops have a special responsibility to that awareness in their own life, and an eye to see the presence of Jesus in others.

In the second meditation the Archbishop went on to elucidate 2 Corinthians 11:28-28, suggesting that bishops have a special responsibility to the new humanity revealed in Christ, in which all humankind is being drawn into a life together. That is, whenever one person is held back in such a life, then all are held back; when one person is hurt, then all are hurt. In a world where it is more and more possible for people to shield themselves from the pain of others, both far off and near, he challenged the bishops to speak a contrary vision of hope. There is no room for defensive boundaries within such a life, and bishops are to be apostolic witnesses to the hope for such a radical life together. Again, that is the sort of bishop I hope to grow into.

This is a bare synopsis of his rich meditations, the content of which I trust will become available in other reports on the web.

We had a lot of time for silent reflection, in and around the Cathedral, and it is a place that is in a deep sense home for every Anglican, with its roots in the Benedictine foundation established by Augustine of Canterbury and his monks in 597. Although Henry VIII oversaw the obliteration of St. Thomas Becket's shrine and his bones, the place of his martyrdom remains as a a holy place. It was to this shrine that Canterbury emerged in the middle ages as a place of pilgrimage, and the blood of the martyrs, for me, remains as a powerful witness. Not only is it a place of Thomas' death, but it is a place made holy by the prayers of Christians and pilgrims for centuries. My emotional and spiritual sense tweaked in the presence of the place of his death, and no less so in the chapel set aside for pilgrims to pray for those suffering persecution and martyrdom in our own time.

Another place of spiritual awareness for me came on the approach to the Chair of St. Augustine, the ancient cathedra (bishop's chair) in the Church, remembered as the episcopal chair for all the Archbishops of Canterbury (though probably not quite that old). It is massive in size and simple in design. I held my hand on its cool marble for a good long time, offering thanks to God for the legacy that this chair represents to all Episcopalians, and for all Anglicans around the world.

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