In exploring asceticism, or spiritual theology, for 21st-century Christians, I’ve been using Martin Thornton’s English Spirituality, a journey through the common Christian elements of the English tradition and the distinctive components that make it unique. Thornton points out three ways English spirituality shares space with other Christian spiritualities: “It is elementary.” By this, Thornton means us to understand that Christian spirituality deals with the ordinary, the rhythms and practices of life that Christians take up everywhere in their response to… Read more

I recently spent a few hours in a couple of New York museums where at least twice I met Saint Lawrence in a painting. Each time, the artist put a gridiron (the grating kind for grilling, not the field kind for football) in his portrait, sometimes with flames licking his body. This third-century deacon of Rome was the one who, according to church tradition, succeeded in infuriating Emperor Valerian to the point that he was roasted alive as punishment. St…. Read more

As is to be expected in this vitriolic age, no one is safe. Not even the saints. Especially when they’ve passed. Billy Graham has gone on to his rewards, and here on earth we’ve begun the dismantling of his life. For some, he was a hero. For others, a monster. For some, his unrelenting dedication to marital fidelity was a model of integrity and respect for Ruth. For others, it was a pernicious denigration of the value of women. For… Read more

  “Everything depends upon God, all Christian life begins with grace, all prayer is inspired by the Holy Spirit, but we can learn to respond to, or cooperate with, this divine action upon us.” So wrote Martin Thornton, an Anglican priest and author, writing on what he dubs the English school of spirituality. He shows his chutzpah by actually using the word “ascetical” in the title of his book: English Spirituality: An Outline of Ascetical Theology according to the English… Read more

Today I read 1 Chronicles 2, which is nothing more than a list of names and names and names: fathers and wives and concubines and sons and daughters, one Egyptian slave, clans and kin and houses. Some might choose to roll over dead before reading such a thing; others might get to sleep long before reading the names of the sons born to Caleb and his wife Azubah. For whatever weird reason, I rather enjoy the biblical genealogies. All these… Read more

It is a mystery, unsolved and unsolvable, why some people believe and others do not, why some hear an odd echo of a forgotten voice within and some do not, why some see Jesus and others do not. “Why do you reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” asked one of his disciples. Yes, indeed, why? Jesus rarely answers questions with “Because ….” In fact, does he ever give a because? Does he ever make clear such mysteries?… Read more

The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene, Rembrandt Oh Jesus! To collapse in grief, in the sense of utter hopelessness that the death of any beloved—but oh, your death, you who have given us the light of a new life, the hope of the unquenchable love of God, the vision of something beyond the horizons of this world—to fall flat in the effort to breathe because of sorrow. Oh Jesus! To long to touch you one more time, to wipe your… Read more

  Perhaps it is too soon to let go of Lenten longings, but it is never too soon to remember that they “accomplish” nothing. We make the great and terrible efforts, but they are just efforts, and they have no real merit. “There is no calamity but Sin alone,” Thomas Traherne writes. To embrace that truth, to recognize sin as the great disrupter and abyss in our lives, means relentlessly refusing peace with it. And yet, in the midst of… Read more

  We all recognize that our social media feeds these days are a frenzy of outrage, disgust, frustration, and vitriol. Christians actually seem the most frenzied. It is inconceivable, we think, that certain people resist what are obviously decent and moral policies, practices, or perspectives. Yet how lovely would it be if we could give up for Lent our outrage, disgust, frustration, and vitriol. Are we afraid that if we lay them down, we will fail Jesus somehow? that following Jesus demands… Read more

We need to get creative about our Lenten disciplines. The annual giving-up-chocolate-for-Lent is a fairly hackneyed practice, and it’s hard to know just what it is meant to accomplish. I’ve given up Lenten practices that really don’t change the way I think or pray or see the world. I just came from practicing the Lenten discipline I took up last year. Once again, it seems to be just the ticket for this year’s season. It’s not for everyone. It’s not… Read more

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