The Eucharist Is the End of Marriage: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Advice to His Son

David Russell Mosley

Christmastide
Tolkien’s Birthday
3 January 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is the birthday for one of my favourite authors, J. R. R. Tolkien. He was born on this day in 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. His works have been guiding lights for most of my life. I have done numerous posts about Tolkien and his works on this blog. Today, I want to look at one of his letters to his middle son, Michael. It is Letter 43 in the Collected Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien collected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter.

The letter begins by treating whether men and women can be friends. Ultimately, Tolkien thinks it a rare occurrence, too often coloured by one or the other of them ‘falling in love’. Though he does note that it can and does happen, two people are so made and have the same interests as to become friends and their gender, in relation to their friendship, is purely incidental (it is not accidental, not in the Aristotelian sense, anyway). This leads Tolkien then to talk of one slightly purer relationship between men and women, that chivalric or courtly love so prevalent in the Middle Ages. It puts women and pedestals as guiding stars or divinities for men to follow after. Courtly love engenders fidelity (even if one of the parties involved are not being faithful themselves). But Tolkien reminds his son, ‘The woman is another fallen human-being with a soul in peril. But combined and harmonized with religion (as long ago it was, producing much of the beautiful devotion to Our Lady that has been God’s way of refining so much our gross manly natures and emotions, and also of warming and colouring our hard, bitter, religion) it can be very noble. Then it produces what I suppose is still felt, among those who retain even vestigiary Christianity, to be the highest ideal of love between man and woman…it is not perfectly ‘theocentric” (49).

The only way to fully enjoy this love between men snd women is through marriage. But marriage is not self-evident: ‘Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of ‘revealed’ ethic, according to faith and not to the flesh’ (51). And therefore an asceticism, a self-denial is necessary to attain the fulness of marriage and love. Tolkien writes:

‘However, the essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called ‘self-realization’ (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify & direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him – as hunger may be kept off by regular meals…. No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial’ (51).

Tolkien goes on to say that even with all of this in place are not exactly as they could or should be. He writes: ‘Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to’ (51). He goes on to write about his own relationship with his wife, how they met, the love they shared, the hardships they endured. Tolkien finishes his picture of domestic bliss and hardship in a rather strange place.

He writes, ‘Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament …. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires (53-54). Perhaps, however, this isn’t so strange. The Eucharist is, after all, the font of all our feasts and celebrations. It blesses every table where food is served, above all perhaps, the family table. If we begin from marriage, we will end in that great Eucharistic wedding feast of the Lamb. If we begin from the Eucharist, we spread out to all tables, the primary of which is the family dinner table. Thus marriage and the Eucharist are wed, inextricably and joyfully tied. This is the picture of marriage Tolkien paints for us, one who’s source and end are found in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sincerely yours,
David

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A River of Blood, a River of Life: The Vision of Ezekiel 47.1-12

David Russell Mosley

Advent
St Andrews
1 December 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is the transferred Feast of St Andrew (transferred from yesterday since yesterday was the first day of Advent, which if you want to see my most recent devotion on Advent check it out here). I was doing Morning Prayer (from Common Worship for those interested) this morning and I got to the Old Testament reading. Now I use the Revised Common Lectionary––I intend a passage on the benefits and problems with using a lectionary. I like it because it includes Apocryphal readings. The Apocrypha is not Scripture in the way the texts of the Old Testament or New Testament are, but it has been found useful by the Early and Medieval Churches and shouldn’t be ignored by non-Catholics/Orthodox. However, by an oversight today, I didn’t read the provided Apocryphal text, Ecclesiasticus 14.20-end. I didn’t see it listed and so read the Old Testament reading instead, and today, I’m glad I did.

The passage from the Old Testament for today was Ezekiel 47.1-12:

‘Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple towards the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me round on the outside to the outer gate that faces towards the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side.

Going on eastwards with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?”

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on one side and on the other. And he said to me, “This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”’

The beauty of this passage was not made evident to me until I took my Hebrew History and Literature II course in undergrad. It was there that my Old Testament professor pointed out that an ever-widening river is flowing out from the Temple. For whatever reason, it had not dawned on me that this river had its source in a building and flowed out from there. Today, I had a new realisation about this text, one I’m sure many before me have seen. This river is a river of blood. I don’t mean this in some kind of macabre sense, rather I mean it is a river of life. It provides sustenance to the world. It makes the sea fresh and fills it with fresh water fish for eating. It is surrounded by fruit trees whose fruit is good to eat and whose leaves are healing. But more than simply giving life to these trees as any water would, this river gives unending life, ‘Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month.’ And why? ‘because the water for them flows from the sanctuary.’ For us, today, it is clear what this river is, it is the blood of Christ. What else is so life-giving? What else can give the world unending life? What else picks up such momentum as it spreads out as the blood of our Lord and Saviour.

When we partake of the Eucharist, we are drinking from this river. We are given life, unending life by drinking it. Yet, what is even more astounding to me is the holistic dimension of this passage. While its true that humanity is definitely the focus here, the trees are meant for our use, nevertheless, this river transfigures the whole of Creation. It changes the sea into fresh water, except for certain places so salt can be had; it changes the dry land into fertile land; it changes fruit trees, with their cycles of blossom, bloom, fruiting, and harvest, into perpetual harvest; it imparts healing power to the leaves of the fruit trees. The whole of Creation is changed by this river which flows from the heart of the sanctuary, which is the Eucharist.

What a passage to read in Advent! Christ’s coming into Creation has transfigured Creation. If we are being deified, conforming to the image of God incarnate, so too is the rest of Creation, each part as is fitting. And yet, we do not see the fulfillment of this. We can see patches of the world that have been so transfigured, in part anyway, but the world as a whole is still broken, is still parched desert. This is why we wait. We wait for the return of Christ, for the free-flowing of this river that gives life and deifies the Cosmos. In the mean time we must do our part to spread it, to do the will of God in transfiguring his Creation, to make his name holy, to bring about his Kingdom here on Earth as it already exists in Heaven.

 

Sincerely yours,
David

The Sacramental Imagination of Smith of Wooton Major

David Russell Mosley

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Ordinary Time
19 November 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today I venture into the books I didn’t read as a child. I think this is important because I came to many of these books both as a Christian and often as a theologian. This means that what I see in these books is in no way coloured by my childhood experiences of them. So, the first book I want to write to you about is one of my favourites, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Smith of Wooton Major.

The story behind Smith of Wooton Major is actually really funny. Tolkien had been asked to write an introduction for a new edition of George MacDonald’s ‘The Golden Key’, another excellent story that I will likely feature in this series. The problems are twofold, however. For starters, Tolkien was a perfectionist. The Hobbit first came out in 1937 and he was soon asked for a sequel. The Fellowship of the Ring came out in 1954, seventeen years later. The other problem is that Tolkien isn’t always very good at explaining things. Dr Corey Olsen, the Tolkien Professor himself, were discussing this aspect of Tolkien just last week. What Tolkien is rather much better at is telling stories. So, in the process of writing this introduction to ‘The Golden Key’, Tolkien decides to undertake to define what a fairy tale is. In order to do this, he decides to construct an example. This example became the story Smith of Wooton Major and the introduction was left unfinished.

The story, Smith of Wooton Major, tells us the story of a person called Smith who lives in a town called Wooton Major. Wooton Major has a rather prestigious position of Head Cook. The Cook is expected to cook various meals throughout the year, but every twenty-four years he is expected to cook for the Twenty-Four Feast. At this feast, twenty-four children are in attendance. The pièce de résistance at this feast is the cake. It is on this cake that the cook’s reputation is made or falls. One particularly year, when Smith is a child and in attendance something strange happens at the feast. The Head Cook, a man called Nokes, who had taken over from Smith’s grandfather, rather than the apprentice Alf decides to put treasures inside the cake for the children to find, including a star which Alf tells him comes from Faërie. Smith finds, or rather, doesn’t realise he finds this star in his piece. One day he coughs, the star pops out and he claps to it his head. From this day on Smith is transformed. He sings as he works. He works of ironmongery are beautiful, he makes no weapons, and best of all, he has gained access to Faërie.

Smith makes many adventures to Faërie, trying to scout out the whole of the land and experience everything he can. He eventually meets both the King and Queen of Faërie, as well as many of its inhabitants (all of whom are human in shape and size, though they are Fairies). He is frightened at times and goes places he shouldn’t. Perhaps what is most interesting, however, is that eventually, Smith must give up his star. Alf, the apprentice, had become Head Cook some time before and was preparing for his second Twenty-Four Feast and asks Smith for the star. With the star, Smith gives up some of the light it gave to his eyes and has, it would seem, lost his passport into Faërie. We feel the hardness of this for Smith for we are like him, most of us. We are ordinary people and yet we have gained access into Faërie as we have followed Smith into it. Yet it is not all bad, and I think this an important aspect.

When Smith returns from his final visit to Faërie, after he has returned the star, he meets with his son. His son, it would seem, has taken on the lion’s share of the work as of late, what with his father taking frequent trips into Faërie and all. His son tells him he hasn’t been able to go to a family party for all the work and wouldn’t go to the Feast the next day. Smith, however, tells him to make it a holiday, for there would now be four hands at the work. I have always argued that one of the key things fantasy does is render the world around us strange so we can see it for what it really is, so we can see it with fresh eyes. I think there is a relationship here to the function of the church (the building as well as the gatherings) and the celebration of the Eucharist. Smith still has work to do once his time in Faërie is done. Life isn’t over now that his time in Faërie. In fact, it almost seems that Faërie was a preparation for the rest of life. Similarly, our celebration of Eucharist is, in part, a preparation for the rest of life. Sunday is the first and eighth day of the week, both the beginning and the end and out from it flows the rest of the week. Now, unlike Smith and Faërie, Sunday sends out into Monday through Saturday only to return us to Sunday. Smith, it would seem, is not intended to return to Faërie, but we are intended to return to Sunday and one day to that Eternal Sunday that we practice in worship, the Son of God come down in glory. Faërie enabled Smith to be a better blacksmith, to be better in general. The Eucharist similarly enables us to go about our lives, taking Christ with us and reclaiming the rebellious and false kingdom of this world for the Kingdom of God.

Sincerely yours,

David

The (Not So) Shocking Beliefs of C. S. Lewis

David Russell Mosley

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Ordinary Time
13 November 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

This morning as I was reading through my Facebook feed I came across a link about one of my favourite authors: C. S. Lewis. So many things are written about Lewis daily that I don’t have time to read them all, so most of them I tend to skip. This one, however, caught my eye because of the title: The Shocking Beliefs of C. S. Lewis. The author, Frank Viola, was encouraged by a minister friend of his to point out to people the “shocking” beliefs of those they might hold in high esteem. The worthwhile point is not to downgrade these heroes in the eyes of others, but to show others that even those we account great have flaws and are, like us all, works in progress. I laud Viola for these worthy intentions, however, his selection of shocking beliefs were, to me at least, not shocking. Not only did they fail to shock me, but on most, if not all points, I agree with Lewis on these views. Furthermore, Viola casts these views in the light of things an evangelical might want to discredit all of Lewis’s work for, but shouldn’t. I want to write this response to Viola’s post to point out two things: the first is, as I have said, the unshocking nature of Lewis’s beliefs; the second, is to serve as a reminder that Lewis does not (rightly so, in my opinion) conform to many American, conservative, evangelical descriptions.

Purgatory

The first shocking belief Viola ascribes to Lewis is a belief in purgatory. Now, this may very well shock his protestant audiences, I concede. But it is not so shocking that someone steeped in the Tradition and history of the Church might agree with one of the teachings of that Church. Protestants, and even some Catholics, have a lot of misconceptions about what Purgatory is. Somehow, we’ve come to view as an antechamber to Hell, a place of retributive punishment for our sins. However, as both Lewis, Dante, and Tolkien conceive of Purgatory it is a place of purgation. True, in Dante’s Purgatory there is a continuation of the kinds of reversal punishments seen in Hell. That is, the proud are brought low by having large stones set on their shoulders, the sexually immoral, chasing after lust, are now set to run in circles, away from their desires. In Tolkien’s ‘Leaf By Niggle’, Niggle must work, and work hard. Even in Lewis’s The Great Divorce, there is pain for those who choose to remain in Heaven. However, for all, the goal is not punishment, or at least not retributive punishment, it is purgation, a burning away of our imperfections (like dross from silver). The Scriptures are replete with imagery that suggests we must be cleansed before we are fit for eternal life. This is why, for me, Lewis’s belief in Purgatory is unshocking.

Praying for the Dead

The next shocking belief is that Lewis believed we ought to pray for the dead. This again is rather unshocking. Again, the Scriptures make it clear that we ought to be mindful of the dead, there is even that enigmatic passage in Paul concerning being baptised for the dead. Hebrews reminds us that we are surrounded by the dead, that great cloud of witnesses. The early churches often met in cemeteries or catacombs and it wasn’t long after that they used to set up their altars above the bodies (or relics) of the martyrs and saints. We are, as one rather Goth church I once attended was called, a Church of the Living Dead and ought not only to be mindful of them but pray to God for them, just as we did in life.

Those in Hell Might Journey towards Heaven

This one, I will grant, will be very shocking for many. After all, the parable in Luke 16 suggests that there is an unbridgeable chasm between the abode of the righteous and the abode of the wicked (in death, anyway). Lewis was influenced on this point by George MacDonald who was, in turn, influenced by Origen (as well as Plato). The key here, however, is that this is through Christ. It is noteworthy, that the bus driver in The Great Divorce is Christ himself, the only one who could make himself small enough to enter Hell. However, this view becomes even less shocking when we realise that for many in the early and medieval Church, Christ, in his death, descended into Hell. Some will seek to counter this by noting that even in the Apostle’s Creed, the word used is Hades, a general word, they argue, for the abode of the dead. However, both Luke 16 and interpretation of this statement throughout the centuries are against this narrow understanding of Hades. There is, therefore, nowhere where Christ’s redeeming work is absent, whether this may continue after death or even after the return of Christ is not really for me to say. But I hope.

Christians Do Not Have to Be Teetotalers

Drunkenness is evil, no two ways about it, but abstinence for the sake of abstinence is not the solution (this goes, by the way, for sex as well). Rather, just as for sex there is an appropriate context, namely marriage, so too is there an appropriate place for alcohol, and even the early effects alcohol has on your brain and body before drunkenness occurs. The Scriptures are, it is true, replete with condemnations of overindulgence (of alcohol and other things), but they also contain many passages praising the benefits of it. Think of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to take wine for his stomach problems. It should also be noted that Lewis was a smoker. He primarily smoked pipes and cigarettes, and thought tobacco (though not necessarily the additives put in cigarettes) was beneficial as well. Consider the works of J. R. R. Tolkien where nearly every good character smokes a pipe (Bilbo, all thirteen dwarves in The Hobbit, Gandalf, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gimli, Aragorn). Even Trumpkin the dwarf smokes a pipe in Prince Caspian, as well as Mr Beaver in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Not to mention that Mrs Beaver hands round a flask that likely contains either brandy or whiskey.

A High View of the Eucharist Is Valid

Viola frames this as Lewis saying that a Zwinglian (that is, purely symbolic remembrance) view of the Eucharist is just as valid as the Catholic View (of transubstantiation). Actually, he says the reverse, giving the priority to the Zwinglian view, and then he cites Letters to Malcolm. In fact, I agree, largely, with the Catholic view and think the Zwinglian view incorrect. Lewis is not so obvious. What he says, rather, is that both views are inconceivable, that is, he has trouble believing either of them. His emphasis of disbelief, however, resides more with the purely symbolic remembrance than it does with transubstantiation. Lewis wants to take seriously Christ’s words, this is my body, this is my blood. However, he ends, rather unshockingly, with this notion: the command is to take and eat, not take and understand (Letters to Malcolm Chapter 19). Whatever happens in the Eucharist transcends our knowledge of it.

It is also worth noting that Lewis, as a member of the Church of England, would have received the Eucharist in the form of wafers of bread and one large cup of wine shared by all. This is likely to shock many evangelicals who use small crackers or bits of pie crust and small cups of grape juice. Equally problematic would be that Lewis would have received these elements at the hands of another, not taken them from a passing tray. This should not shock, however, since the modern practice is an innovation, and certainly not how Christ and the Apostles would have celebrated this meal.

Job Is a Work of Fiction, and the Bible Has Errors

Viola gives little support to this, but simply recommends readers look at Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms. He also misleads his readers a bit. While Lewis may well have thought Job to be fictional, it was a work of theological fiction and no less a part of the Scriptures because of it. Equally, while Lewis may have thought the Bible contained errors, these were not errors (I.e. He would not say the Bible is inerrant), this more has to do with occasional historical errors (who was king and for how long and after whom, etc.) and other small errors. This did not, however, mean that the Scriptures did not have one divine author as well as many human authors, or that the Scriptures are not God-breathed. Again, this is the position of much of the Church over history.

In the end, perhaps these facts are shocking to Evangelicals, but they shouldn’t be. Equally, these should not be little foibles Lewis had that ought to be criticised alongside the aspects of Lewis that ought to be lauded. Instead, we ought to consider how these supposedly “shocking” views informed and were informed by his “acceptable” views. Perhaps if we do that, we will see that we cannot have “Evangelical” Lewis without also having “Catholic” Lewis, that Catholic and Evangelical ought and do go together.

Sincerely yours,
David

The Eucharist Option: A Response to Problems with the Benedict Option for Living in Modernity

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
10 October 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family

Recently, there has been an influx of work concerning a way of living in Modernity called The Benedict Option. This notion derives from Alistair MacIntyre’s seminal work After Virtue. The idea is rather simple, in the fall of Rome and Western Civilisation as it was then known, the Benedictines served as pockets of resistance. These communities who had withdrawn from society held on to what was best from civilisation. It is because of the Benedictines, and other monastic communities, that we still have many of great works of classical literature as well as the great works of ancient Christianity. So, following MacIntyre’s work, we now have the Benedict Option, a call for a withdrawal from this new, and rather slow, fall of the new Rome, in order to safeguard our faith and the great things of the past. The question then becomes, is this withdrawal the right response.

Over at Mere Fidelity, a primarily reformed theology podcast associated with the website Mere Orthodoxy, the gentlemen discuss the pros and cons of such an approach. There is first the concern about Modernity. Is it the same as the barbarism that invaded Rome? Is it a unique situation in which the Church has found itself? There are certainly similarities, and like all new times that face the Church, it is, in its own way unique, but does this mean that withdrawal, that the Benedict Option, is the appropriate response? The gentlemen at Mere Fidelity are uncertain. Withdrawal seems somewhat anti-Gospel, or at least anti-Evangelical (in the sense of spreading the Gospel). Yet a kind of withdrawal is necessary, we cannot simply mirror the culture in which we live. So the Benedict Option seems a poor or at least incomplete vision of how we ought to live, but what then is the appropriate response?

Chad Pecknold, associate professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America, has suggested an alternate approach, not the Benedict Option, but the Dominican Option. The Benedictines were monks who formed communities and sequestered themselves off from the rest of society, in order to serve that society; the Dominicans, on the other hand, sequester themselves as a community (in the way the live, dress, etc.) that exists within society, not outside it or on its outskirts. They are mendicants and itinerants. That is, they go in amongst society, begging and preaching. They wear their habits, standing out like sore thumbs (if you’ll excuse the cliché), and serve, as Pecknold terms it, as ‘a “contrast society” that is very much engaged with the world—an evangelistic witness which is joyful, intellectually serious, expansive, and charitable.’ If Benedictines serve as a physical, moral, and spiritual withdrawal, Dominicans serve as a moral and spiritual withdrawal, but a physical presence (which includes its own kind of withdrawal). Pecknold sees this as the better option because it involves both separation and engagement, it draws out the truth of the Benedictine but draws out more clearly for us of the non-optional evangelistic witness. We stand apart, but as a presence in the world.

I think, however, what both the gentlemen at Mere Fidelity and Dr Pecknold, leave out, (Pecknold because of the misconceptions of what the Benedictines actually do) to a certain extent, is the need for various forms of being in, but not of the world. The Dominicans did not replace the Benedictines, they simply had a different mission. Pecknold acknowledges that not all Christians should be Dominicans, but doesn’t acknowledge (though I’m sure he would agree with me) that some who ought not to be Dominicans ought to be Benedictines. That is, all Christians are called to different ways of relating to the societies and cultures around us. Some ought to be Benedictines, fully withdrawing in order to guard and protect the faith, to be outposts of Christianity fully separate, but still not disengaged, with the society around them. Some ought to be Dominicans, different in the physical presence within society, but engaging with it directly as a subversive, contrasting society within society. Still others might be called to a Franciscan Option of full poverty, or an Anchorite Option of total, individual withdrawal. And other options which I cannot give a name to. What ought to tie all of this together, what joins the various ways of living in the midst of Modernity and its ills (and goods), is the Liturgy, whose heart is the Eucharist itself. This is what I would call Christians to: a dedication to the Eucharist, which will lead to a dedication to the Liturgy (in its main and varied expressions), which will lead to various ways of dealing with Modern society. The Body and Blood of Christ is the font from which all ways of living the Christian life flow. This is how we first live both differently and within the society around us, by a transformative and participatory meal in which the Divine and the Human meet, in which Time and Eternity are intermingled. Begin here, and many ways of living will follow.

Sincerely yours,
David

Essay Extract: ‘The Liturgy of the Week’

David Russell Mosley

Simon Ushakov's icon of the Mystical Supper.

Simon Ushakov’s icon of the Mystical Supper. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Second Sunday of Advent
8 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Since today is Sunday, the Lord’s Day, I thought I would post a section from my essay ‘Reclamation of Time’ here that deals with how we ought to view the whole week in light of Sunday. Please read and let me know what you think.

The Liturgy of the Week

From the year, then, with its seasons and major festivals, we move to the week, the unabated cycle followed no matter what the season or what celebrations or solemnities are found within it. The week centres around one specific day, called both the Lord’s Day and the First and Eighth Day. Here I wish to look at those two designations and how they affect the Christian approach to the rest of the week. Of course, central to both concepts is the celebration of the Paschal Feast, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Communion. Known by many names, and having many different theological interpretations, it is this celebration that is at the core of the liturgy of the week, both with understanding Sunday as the Lord’s Day and as the First and Eighth day.

The Lord’s Day

Sunday is the key to the liturgy of the week. It is the day of the Lord, the day on which Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ. While this can be celebrated, and often was celebrated––depending on how one reads Acts 2.46-47, ‘And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people’––everyday. Nevertheless, a week day could be a feast day or a fasting day, but Sunday can only be a feast day. It is a day of celebration, always. This is why in the West, Sundays are not included in the forty days of Lent. The Eucharist, then, along with the celebration of the resurrection, is what it at the core of Sunday as the Lord’s Day.

In one sense, the Eucharist transcends notions of feast days and fast days. As Schmemann writes, ‘No matter when the Liturgy is celebrated, on Sunday, a Feast Day, or on any day, in the day-time of at night, it is essentially independent of the day or hour; it is not determined by them. From this standpoint the time of its cele- bration is unimportant, since what is being accomplished in the service introduces and incorporates us into a reality which is no way subject to time.’1 Nevertheless, while the Eucharist can, and should, be celebrated on other days of the week and other kinds of days within the liturgy, it belongs to Sunday, or better, Sunday belongs to it. Again, Schmemann writes, ‘The celebration of the Eucharist is placed within the framework of the liturgy of time, so that being neither bound essentially to time nor determined by it, it is ‘correlative’ of time. This is seen even more clearly in the weekly cycle, where the Eucharist has its own day––the Lord’s Day or Sunday.’2 In one sense, it is the celebration of the Eucharist which gives the Day of the Lord its meaning within the week. It is the Lord’s Day for it is the day on which we always celebrate the Eucharist. On the other hand, however, Sunday as the Lord’s Day de- fines it as the appropriate day for the Eucharist since it is the day of the week on which the Lord rose from the dead. It seemingly must be both, for as noted above, the Eucharist is not bound to time, or even to Sundays, it can be celebrated at any time on any day, and yet it is precisely Sundays that are most appropriate because the connection to the resurrection.

The First and Eighth Day

For this reason, Sunday also can be called the First and Eighth Day. It is because of the Lord’s resurrection that we can look forward, to the return of Christ, which signifies that day outside the weekly cycle, that day which is eternal present. Sunday represents the day which Amos looks forward to ‘“when the ploughman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it” (Amos 9.13).’ Ploughing happens before planting, and certainly before harvesting, just treading grapes comes after, not before, the sowing of seed. Amos shows us a picture of eternal planting and harvest. This is a picture of what Sunday is as First and Eighth Day.

Sunday also serves us within time as the first day of week. Within time, it is Sunday that begins the weekly cycle. This means that every week begins with a cele- bration of the Eucharist, the resurrection of the Lord, and the awaiting of his return. It is interesting that as the Liturgy has developed over the years, every Sunday has either a name of its own, or a name in relation to a previous celebration. The Sundays in Advent are all named after Advent; Palm Sunday is its own day; even in the large expanse of Ordinary Time after Pentecost, every Sunday is either called Proper, or related to the previous celebration of Trinity Sunday (again its own day). Sundays do not have numbers within the month, rather, when they have numbers, it is numbers associated with a Season or specific Feast or Festival. To begin each week with a name, rather than a number (even if one only thinks of it only in terms of its more eternal perspective as the Lord’s Day) must affect how the rest of the week is then viewed. Even more, Sunday as the first day of the week, as compared to Monday, could have profound implications when the week begins not with work but with wor- ship. This, according to Josef Pieper, is the foundation for celebrations at all:

And similarly in divine worship a certain definite space is set aside from working hours and days, a limited time, specially marked off––and like the space allotted to the temple, is not used, is withdrawn from all merely utilitar- ian ends. Every seventh day is a period of time of that kind: that is what a feast is, and such is its only origin and justification.3

For Pieper, celebration, even leisure, have their source in divine worship, ‘The cele- bration of divine worship, then, is the deepest of the springs by which leisure is fed and continues to be vital––though it must be remembered that leisure embraces eve- rything which, without being merely useful, is an essential part of full human existence.’4 This leads him to the conclusion that a purely utilitarian life cannot have celebrations, cannot have feasts, cannot have leisure, for it lacks the foundation for this, worship. This is what Sunday both as the Lord’s Day and the First and Eighth Day, does for us, it grounds the weekly life cycle in worship, providing us with the opportunities for work and leisure.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

1 Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology trans by Asheleigh Moorhouse (London: The Faith Press, 1966), 35.

2 Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology trans by Asheleigh Moorhouse (London: The Faith Press, 1966), 36.

3 Josef Pieper, Leisure The Basis of Culture, trans. by Alexander Dru (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), 73.

4 Josef Pieper, Leisure The Basis of Culture, trans. by Alexander Dru (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), 76.

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Baking Bread and the Body of Christ

David Russell Mosley

 

30 October 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today I want to talk to you about something very theological; something so very theological that it often goes right over our heads. Today, I want to talk to you about baking bread.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a letter about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the River Cottage Fruit-share project. In that post I focused on the necessity of having a better connection with where our food comes from because this is a better connection with Creation, of which we are a part. Baking bread, in some ways, takes this a step further. While currently I do not bake bread from wheat I’ve grown and ground myself (nor always from organic or locally sourced wheat, though I hope to someday), baking bread is perhaps an essential part of the Christian life.

Bread makes up half of one of the most important events in Christianity. It represents the oneness (as well as diversity) of the Church, which is also to say it represents and becomes for us the body of Christ in the Eucharist. Now, whatever theology of the Eucharist to which you ascribe––I’m personally somewhere between consubstantiation and transubstantiation (that is, I believe Christ is really present, but don’t want to get enmeshed in talking about how)––the Bread still stands for the body of Christ. This means, to some extent, every loaf of bread participates in the Eucharistic bread. Every loaf of bread we eat should remind us of the Loaf in the Lord’s Supper (just as every glass of wine we drink participates in the Cup of the Blood of Christ). To this end, then, baking bread can remind us of the Eucharist which is our thanksgiving for the body and blood of Christ.

Baking bread is a relatively cheap and easy enterprise. The recipe I’m going to give you is from James Morton’s book Brilliant Bread. 17612890 This is a great recipe for beginners, such as myself, and results is delicious and healthy bread. This is just a plain white loaf, so it could be a bit healthier, but believe me, it is infinitely better for you than most store-bought sliced loaves.

Bake Time: 3-3 ½ hours; Time in Kitchen 10-15 minutes.

Ingredients:
500g Strong White Flour (Bread flour)
10g of Salt
7g or 1 sachet of yeast
350g (a little over 11 ounces) of tepid water

In a large bowl add your dry ingredients. Morton recommends rubbing in your salt on one side and your yeast on the other as yeast deactivates salt.

Then add your water and mix until a cohesive dough is formed. I recommend holding on to the bowl with one hand and mixing with the other. It goes quickly and leaves you a clean hand.

Cover with a damp tea towel and rest for 30-40 minutes.

After its rested, wet the fingers of one hand and slide them between the bowl and the dough. Take a portion of the dough and fold it back in on itself. Turn slightly and continue this until you’ve knocked all the air out.

Cover with a damp tea towel and rest for a full hour or until doubled in size.

On a lightly floured surface turn out your dough to begin shaping. Begin by pressing your hand firmly on half the dough while stretching the other half out with the other hand and then folding it back in on it self. Turn slightly and continue until the dough feels tighter. Then turn the dough over and begin shaping into a ball. Do this by cupping each hand and bringing them together under your loaf turning slightly. This helps remove the seam on the bottom. Do this until the seam is gone and the dough is in a nice ball.

Put the dough on a well floured surface to rest for an hour. Also, using a serrated knife or razor blade make a few deep slashes in the bread to allow to expand while baking. During this time prep your oven. Put a baking sheet or rock in the oven and make sure your bread will have plenty of room to rise.

At about forty minutes into your dough’s final rest, pre-heat your oven and baking sheet to 210˚C.

After the oven has had about 20 minutes to pre-heat, put in your dough to bake for about forty minutes or until a nice golden brown.

Once its done, take your loaf out of the oven and let cool before digging in.

IMG_0793

A whole-meal bread I made last week.

And now you have a perfectly good loaf of bread. I find a loaf lasts my wife and I around 4-7 days. The flour costs around 80 pence and, if you just make plain white bread with it, should get you three loaves (considerably cheaper than store-bought). All you need is a few cheap ingredients, and about 3 hours at home (not all of which must be spent in the kitchen) in order to make your own loaf. Give it a try, and reflect on the one Loaf that is, for us, the body of Christ.

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley