On Wednesday I presided at the induction of my successor at St. John's Roslyn. Eric Kyte is an Englishman, born in the same town as Clemency, but a decade later. He arrived to face the worst weather we have had for a good long while, and there were a few local foibles to come to terms with, such as the peculiar little coal burner in the family room of the vicarage and a different way we work hot water systems over here, but by and large he seems to have settled in well and the service was wonderful. The church was full, and the optimism and good humour were palpable. It was good to again be amongst people with whom I have shared so much, but there was for me a definite sense of closure as I gave Eric his license, and placed, quite literally, all my responsibility for that beloved congregation into his capable hands.
On Thursday, with considerably less formality I inducted Gillian Townsley, the new chaplain at St. Hilda's Collegiate, our local Anglican Girl's secondary school. The school in a phase of robustly high morale due in no small part to having an extremely able young principal, Melissa Bell, who will now be teamed with an extremely able young chaplain. The girls listened to the bishop banging on, and read some prayers and sang the school hymn, John Keble's 1866 masterpiece Blest Are The Pure In Heart. The hymn, in a nice little piece of personal synchronicity, voiced something of what had been going on just below the surface for me.
I have been reading the American Episcopal Priest and Spiritual writer Cynthia Bourgeault lately, and, while driving, listening to MP3s of her talking. As I drove to Invercargill and back on Thursday afternoon, she talked about the Beatitudes and, particularly about the 6th one, the one included in John Keble's hymn. She said that the concept of heart in the first century was not quite what we mean by the term today. We speak of heart, as opposed to mind meaning the emotions; so when we read Jesus' words we tend to think he is enjoining us to have pure emotions or good intentions or a lack of guile. In the first century, says Cynthia Bourgeault, it was the liver that was thought to be the seat of emotions. The heart was the seat of intuition and spiritual perception, so, the heart's perception back then meant more like what we would mean when we speak of gut reactions. That means that the beatitude should be paraphrased as Blessed are you when your intuitions are clear, for you shall see God; which suddenly made a lot more sense than the namby pamby puritanical sense in which I had always read the verse.
Cynthia Bourgeault's interpretation was particularly apposite for me because of the way my spiritual practice has been developing over the last month or so. Spiritual growth happens in a pattern like a flight of stairs: steep and sudden climbs are followed by long flat periods of consolidation before the next step upwards, and I have made one of those vertical ascents of late. The silence which brackets each day has become longer and fuller and richer, and the practice of Centering Prayer, taught by Cynthia and her teacher Thomas Keating is helping me get my intuitions just a little more ordered.
So I sang the Victorian words and followed the principal and her new chaplain out of the chapel and into the wintry sunshine. Someone took some photos and I headed off to the next appointment. Things are solid and hopeful, or so my heart tells me.