Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Visit to Walsingham

I have been curious about Walsingham for a long time. In 1982 I was introduced to Our Lady of Walsingham in a New York City parish. Urban decline had robbed her of her fleur-de-lys staff and she had a sheen of city grime, and I felt the whole business of an English Nazareth pretty far away and irrelevant. In those days, the parish was championing the cause of those opposed to the ordination of women so I rather lumped Our Lady of Walsingham into that camp, never kissing her image as some enthusiasts did.

But then I met some people who were as liberal as me (!) and held deep affection for all that Walsingham is about. So I have had a desire to get there and see for myself. A year or so ago SSF established a tiny friary there, and this year, during my visit to the European Province I made a point of going to Walsingham. Below are Brothers Paschal and Maximilian in front of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

It is picture perfect, and early summer is the best time to see the beautiful gardens. I stayed in the bedroom used by the founder of the modern Shrine Fr. Hope Patten (upstairs in this house).

Yes, there are lots of people opposed to the ordination of women in Walsingham. But there were some women priests there, though not celebrating Mass. There were lots of school children and people of various races and social backgrounds. I had a chance to talk with the Warden, Bishop Lindsey, and he was quite emphatic in refuting my prejudices about Walsingham.

So, yet again I had to re-consider things. My spiritual journey has a well established pattern of adamantly held opinions gradually eroded away through exposure and prayer. I have an Anglican fault in that I make snap aesthetic judgments, and I can get quite worked up about "good taste." I didn't like the paintings in the Shrine so was ready to dismiss the whole thing. But then a small voice advised me to pray not criticize.

Sometimes I got a bit of a headache from all the prayer as thing after thing bothered me. Until I decided to live and let live. "Don't let it bother you, so!" I could friends' voices in my head.

In spite of myself I enjoyed the procession around the Shrine gardens during the evening, carrying candles aloft. Everytime we sang "Hail Mary" we hoisted the candles above our heads. I remembered our torchlit labyrinth walks at Little Portion Friary, and all the people from every faith and background who joined us on those pilgrimages round and round the labyrinth.

One of the themes that kept getting emphasized: "What has Our Lady given you in your pilgrimage visit?"

I wanted to disclaim: "I'm just here to visit the brothers! Not a pilgrimage!" But my journal is full of notes from a book I was reading at the time called "Reshaping Ecumenical Theology." I was especially intrigued with the idea of "reception." And the magazine on top of the shifting mound of papers in the brothers' common room in the friary had a long and helpful article about reception by Dame Mary Tanner--a theologian I respect. So I decided that this is what Our Lady had to teach me. Reception is the process by which the church welcomes change: slowly, and marked by integrity, humility and spiritual maturity. I read about the hundreds of years it took the Church to accept the Nicene Creed. Obviously it is about not jumping to conclusions, making snap judgments, adopting either/or, black/white positions. I thank God I am not an ecumencial officer of any denomination; but I am every day asked to give an account of the faith that is in me. If I hurt others, or diminish them, or write them off I am only demonstrating the insufficiency of my love and intellectual and spiritual stamina. To give up on other people is a sin.

Thank you Mary.


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