Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lambeth Conference celebrates conclusion

It is only Sunday morning, and the conference doesn’t end ‘til tonight, but already people are leaving. Like the Liturgy, it is very much “the Mass has ended, go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” There is a strong sense of having walked together, having learned much about each other. But now begins the harder work of taking the story back home to the people who were not part of the “process” and want results. Bishops must find a way to get people to talk to each other, and to engage with all the bishops who were not at Lambeth.

One bishop (unnamed) was quoted on the TV news as characterizing the conference as a “talkfest,” as if that were nothing. Watching the majority of the bishops engage in the process and listening to the way they interacted outside their group sessions, I would say something incredibly important happened. Again to cite my friendly author Alain de Botton, writing “On the Sublime” in his book The Art of Travel (he is paraphrasing the words and attitude of God speaking in Job): “Do not be surprised that things have not gone your way…the universe is greater than you. Do not be surprised that you do not understand why they have not gone your way, for you cannot fathom the logic of the universe. See how small you are next to the mountains. Accept what is bigger than you and what you do not understand. The world may appear illogical to you, but it does not follow that it is illogical per se. Our lives are not the measure of all things: consider sublime places for a reminder of human insignificance and frailty.” We have all been part of something much larger than our orders, parishes, dioceses or church provinces. All of us have had to develop a larger perspective than we came with. It has been bewildering at times, annoying (if not enraging) at times, and there have been times of incomparable sweetness in prayer, conversation, (and for me) long lovely runs through the English countryside. It amounts to a great deal.

Last night we had a plenary session with four stewards of the conference telling the bishops what they thought of Lambeth. They seemed to have had a good time. One of the bishops asked the representative stewards on stage what they hoped the Anglican Church would be like in thirty years (when some of the stewards might be sitting in the bishops’ places). I don’t know how I would have answered on the spot like that, but as I thought about it, I would hope that in thirty years a bishop’s sexual orientation will not be the cause of huge uproar. That the leadership of the Anglican Communion will be gay and straight, black and white, male and female from all across the globe, and we will be engaged in imaginative ministries, sharing the Good News in Word and deed, (and in thirty years time) able to celebrate a new global consciousness of how to live on the earth in harmony (an end to war), and as people in solidarity with the earth, having developed sustainable technologies and strategies and attitudes that heal and help the earth. I hope that people everywhere will have enough to eat, and able to live with dignity and joy; that children can grow up without fear.

Yesterday, I dog-eared a hymn we sang from our hymn book Lambeth Praise because it says much of what I carry away in my heart:

We cannot measure how you heal
or answer every sufferer’s prayer,
yet we believe your grace responds
where faith and doubt unite to care.
Your hands, though bloodied on the cross,
survive to hold and heal and warn,
to carry all through death to life
and cradle children yet unborn.

The pain that will not go away,
The guilt that clings from things long past,
The fear of what the future holds,
are present as if meant to last.
But present too is love which tends
The hurt we never hoped to find,
The private agonies inside,
The memories that haunt the mind.

So some have come who need your help
And some have come to make amends
As hands which shaped and saved the world
Are present in the touch of friends.
Lord, let your Spirit meet us here
To mend the body, mind, and soul,
To disentangle peace from pain
And make your broken people whole.

Words: John L. Bell (b. 1949) and Graham Maule (b. 1958)

Tune The Banks o’Doon (Ye Banks and Braes) Scottish folk melody harmonized by John L. Bell.


Michael said...

Thanks for such a beautiful piece and for including the hymn which I also loved.
Have tried to email you but it bounced back and said your mailbox is full - when it has some space, let me know and I will email you.
Michael ssm

Bill said...

Clark, your thoughtful and prayerful descriptions of Lambeth leave me with a lot more hope for the future of the Communion. As long as all sides can still talk with each other and, dare I say it, pray with each other, the middle way can hold.