Category Archives: Church Life

Searching for Sunday on the Wilderness Road

I have been a fan of Rachel Held Evans since I read her first book Evolving in Monkey Town (2010). Soon I was following her blog and when the opportunity arose this winter, I was able to get an advance copy of her newest book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church.

Even though I don’t have experience in the Evangelical tradition, Evans has the ability to relate her experiences to others from many traditions – even someone raised Catholic like me. Searching for Sunday is a memoir but not a chronological diary. Reflective of her search for rooted authenticity, she organized this book into sections on the seven sacraments.

Each section begins with a sumptuous, earthy meditation on each sacrament that  recalls their physicality. Sacraments are done not just assented to.  She next shares something of her own experience of the sacrament and stories she has gathered around the country in  a way that makes it relatable to many others. This book is for all of Christendom, or at least American Christianity, rather than one fraction or denomination. In each section we are reminded how many traditions mark these sacraments in different ways, whether they care to recognize it in each other’s traditions or not.

anointingHealing may be  implicitly named in only one of the sacraments but there is healing found in every one of them and in every section of this book.  In this sense each of these sacraments fulfills a vital need for a full Christian life by providing acceptance (baptism), forgiveness (confession), sustenance (communion), validation (confirmation), purpose (holy orders), healing (anointing of the sick), and companionship (marriage) all held together with grace and love.

Receiving the sacrament for the first time is only the beginning. They are meant to be re-experienced for a lifetime. When the church withholds anyone of them them by no longer accepting or sustaining, denying the need for healing, purpose, or companionship, the pain can be intense, leaving scars that last a lifetime. If the church is a peek into the kingdom of heaven on earth, then rejection by the church is a glimpse at hell. What is hell if not the absence of God? We are Christ’s body, if we turn our back on each other is it not inflicting a glimpse at hell on the isolated? Jesus does not abandon or exclude, especially when his church does. How great his disappointment must be.  While the LGBT community has been the most visibly discriminated group, many women still struggle to be heard as well as seen in churches that wield the bible like a weapon to enforce their laundry list for conditional acceptance. Searching for Sunday is a balm to sooth the pain, to let you know that you are not alone, validate your pain and begin the healing process.

When we have been hurt, our instinct is to avoid the pain at all costs. Christianity can not be done alone. Even the most holy anchorite who spent their time solely devoted to 11083615_10206463705340882_7433903619505391052_nprayer, needed the church, depending on their brothers and sisters for spiritual support, physical and sacramental sustenance, a slender line to life. We are no different. Going it alone is just not an option. But, this doesn’t mean that we have to stay where we are rejected, whether that is a parish, denomination or tradition. Perhaps one of the most important messages of this book is that the death of a church (or your relationship to it) is not the end; Jesus is in the business of resurrection. New life in Christ will come, perhaps in unexpected places. The journey will not be easy but Jesus never promised an easy road.

Do you think it was a coincidence that I was offered to read this book early, over a Lent that I had chosen to step away from my parish over? I don’t. Its now the Easter season and I am glad to be back at my parish, but if I ever do need to step away for longer it won’t be the end of the world either.


Holy Women, Holy Men

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of the Episcopal Church now has a blog “to invite feedback about some of our current projects”. The two primary projects they have on the blog are Holy Women, Holy Men and resources for same-sex blessings.

For Holy Women, Holy Men they appear to be posting for each feast day so that comments can be made on individual changes. I believe the 2012 General Convention will be asked to give final approval to the proposed calendar changes.

The Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music’s blog can be found here.

Linked in Facebook

I’ve started a facebook page for all of my blogs. I’ll post a link for all my posts to all three of my blogs and there may be an occasional post only to facebook. It is also another place for discussion.

My three blogs are

  • Selah on the psalms and their use, and other church related topics
  • Heavenfield on early medieval history, primarily of northern England
  • Contagions on historic infectious disease.

Join me on my new facebook page at Michelle’s Blogs.

The Sacred Hearts

sacredheart sacred-heart-of-mary For some reason I’ve been thinking about pictures of Jesus and Mary that I can remember from my childhood lately. The style I remember most from the homes of the older members of my family are all of the sacred heart of Jesus and the sacred heart of Mary, usually 8 x10 or larger hung or displayed next to each other. The illustrations here are not exactly like a remember but very similar. The prints in my memory are all very pastel, because they were all faded with age.

It struck me today how long its been since I’ve seen these once ubiquidous images. The reason is simple. I belong to a protestant church now and neither of these images are used. While protestant churches avoid pictures of Mary, they don’t use images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus either. I don’t know why as the sacred heart of Jesus is a symbol of the love of God. Anyone know why Protestants avoid the image of the sacred heart?

O’Loughlin’s Celtic Theology

[cross posted from Heavenfield]

Thomas O’Loughlin’s Celtic Theology: Humanity, World, and God in Early Irish Writings, Continuum, 2000.

Going through my backlog of drafts and I just realized that I never came back and finished this book review. Better late than never!

This really is quite a valuable book that dispels some common myths and gives you a real sense for what we know of the Irish church. I know my book will be used until it is dog-eared. This book should be a must read for anyone interested in early medieval theology.

This book covers such a wide range of topics that the only way I can think to review is fully is chapter by chapter.


  1. Celtic Theology?: Discusses the concept of Celtic theology and more importantly what it is not. O’Loughlin’s attitude is that Celtic theology is a type of local theology.

  2. Patrick the Missionary: Analyzes Patrick’s work through the two documents that are genuinely accepted as being written by Patrick, notably his Confessio and the Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. His discussion of Patrick’s world view and personal theology is very interesting. Patrick’s theology of his fulfilling the commandment to preach at the ‘ends of the Earth’ is especially telling.

  3. The Penitentials: The Human Dilemma: He discusses the development and rationale behind the penitentials, and pays special attention to the Penitential of Finnian (Uinniau) and the penitential of Cummean,

  4. Adomnan: A Theologian at Work: O’Loughlin is best known for his work on Adomnan and this chapter does not disappoint. Adomnan was very much on par with Bede as an influential churchman and this chapter highlights all of Adomnan’s other accomplishments other than writing the Life of Columba. I think you would be hard pressed to find a more influential churchman anywhere in the British Isles in the 7-8th century than Adomnan, Abbot of Iona. His three main works, the Cain Adomnan / Law of the Innocents, On the Holy Places, and the Life of Columba are just now really becoming appreciated for the theology, skill and depth of knowledge they reflect.

  5. Muirchu: Dramatist or Theologian? Muirchu is the author of the First Life of Patrick. He notes that Muirchu was skilled at narrative theology, and this is what the Life of Patrick really is. Narrative theology, teaching theology through a story, is fairly rare today but this is the form taken by Scripture itself. The different narrative theologies of the four evangelists accounts for much of the differences between the four gospels. O’Loughlin also discusses Muirchu’s biblical models for Patrick, such as Daniel.

  6. The Collectio canonum hibernensis: Marriage and Sexuality Ireland had a well developed legal system that was independent of Roman law and this legal system influenced the Irish canons. He shows that contrary to popular opinion that Ireland was a female friendly, Augustine-free zone, the canons were quite the opposite and influenced by the theology of Augustine. (Just to back this up, read the 9th century treatise on Cain Adomnan and you’ll see how anti-female it could be!) These canons are one areas where there is plenty of detail in early medieval practices.

  7. The Stowe Missal: The Eucharist as Refreshment: The Stowe Missal is one of the only liturgical sources we have for the rites of the Celtic church dating to c. 800, probably at Tallaght. While the Eucharistic rite was Roman, other aspects of the celebration differed more modern practices. Attitudes toward community and communion of the saints was more intense that any we experience today. They really felt strongly in communion with the saints how have already departed this life, especially those of their community, and this is reflected in their liturgy. For example, they stressed that all present must share one loaf of bread at the Eucharist and in the prayers chanted by the congregation while the priest breaks the loaf into as many as 65 pieces arranging them in special patterns on the patten.

  8. The Litanies: Petition, Procession, Protection: This is a specialized section on the differences between early medieval litanies and modern litanies in text, form and function. He particularly focuses on how medieval litanies were processions, such as the litany Augustine of Canterbury led as he approached Æthelberht, King of Kent, for the first time. I would add that we also see these processional litanies occurring in times of pestilence when processions would snake through large communities in an effort to end the plague. Gregory the Great led such a procession in Rome to end the Plague of Justinian. Although not often mentioned in insular sources, we must imagine that frequent processional litanies must have occurred during the plague of 664 and other plagues.

  9. The Cycles of Prayer: This chapter focuses the calendar and daily office among the Irish. He spends some time talking about alternative perceptions of time and how ordinary and festal time was viewed. There is a short discussion of how the daily office is reflected in Adomnan’s Life of Columba and in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani, and on the Teachings of Mael Ruain.

  10. Jerusalem: Our Mother and Home Above This last chapter is a part of a departure from the rest of the book because this chapter focuses on eschatology. O’Loughlin takes Jerusalem as his theme as a “taster” of Irish eschatology. What did Jerusalem mean to the Irish and what symbolism did they invest in it? O’Loughlin focuses on the presentation of Jerusalem in three different works: Jerusalem in Adomnan’s De Locus Sanctus (On the Holy Places), Barrand’s Island in the Navigiatio Sancti Brendani, and the plan of New Jerusalem in the Book of Armagh.

  11. Conclusions

One of the areas that O’Loughlin left out was a discussion of the literature on St Bridget and is generally light on female topics. Likewise he did not really treat Irish Marian theology which is surely present. It has been suggested that Adomnan’s attitudes toward the the Virgin Mary influenced Cain Adomnan, the first law for the protection of women from violence in Ireland. Marian theology has also influenced the literature and traditions about St Bridget. While Bridget is a fairly common topic in Irish scholarship, we still await a systematic survey and Marian scholarship for this period, is even further behind. Given the breadth of topics he did cover, this is not a major detraction.

Do not look to this book for a history of monastic families or even of monastic movements. O’Loughlin’s purpose here is the study of theology more than history. He chooses examples that fit his topic, but makes no attempt to be systematic surveying all possible examples. Hagiography is also not a major topic outside of chapter 5. Here, as in the chapter on Adomnan, he is more concerned with examining the author than his work. His basic question is how was theology done in early medieval Ireland? What was the personal theology of Patrick, Adomnan and Muirchu? How was theology put into practice? I believe that you will find his answers fascinating.