Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mary’s Challenge

            As a Scottish Protestant boy I had found understanding Mary to be a challenge.  Long ago, too long ago, a fine oil painting of Madonna and Child was donated to my very Scottish Presbyterian Church creating a dilemma for the elders.  After some deliberation the painting was placed upright on the floor of the boiler room, facing the wall.

            The problem of course was the Roman Catholic adulation of Mary.  We instinctively felt that was out of balance, but it would never occur to us that there was some middle ground. 

            That there was some middle ground wouldn’t occur to most Episcopalians either.  With the revision of our last Book of Common Prayer all the saint’s days and the days commemorating Mary were shuffled from our consciousness.

            Who is Mary? Who are the saints?  We hardly know.

            The Anglican Charles Williams, a friend of C. S. Lewis, and one of the Inklings, writes,

'We begin then with the Birth and with the Mother of God...  

To her, for example, may be decently applied all the titles of the Litany of Loretto...  She is     the Mother of Love, purissima most pure, inviolata inviolate, admirablilis admirable; she is the Maid, virgo veneranda venerable virgin,  potens powerful, Clemens merciful, she is the mirror of all mystical titles—speculum iustitiae mirror of justice, sedes sapientiae seat of wisdom, causa nostrae laetitiae cause of our joy, domus aurea house of gold, stella matutina morning star, salus infirmorum health of the sick: Unless the identification of marriage love with Christ be accepted, to press the similarity farther would seem profane.  

But any lover to whom the application of the titles we have quoted seems natural and right may ... may so dare to apply in a very real sense the titles which remain—Mater divinae gratiae Mother of divine grace, Mater Salvatoris Mother of our Savior, Rosa Mystica mystical Rose, Refugium peccatorum refuge of sinners, Regina Prophetarum Queen of Prophets.  Not certainly in herself is she anything but as being glorious in the delight taken in her by the Divine Presence that accompanies her, and yet is born of her; which created her and is helpless as a child in her power.  

However in all other ways she may be full of error or deliberate evil, in the eyes of the lover, were it but for a moment, she recovers her glory, which is the glory that Love had with the Father before the world was.  Immaculate she appears, Theotokos God-bearer, the Mother of God.”[i]

That is a mouthful for an old Protestant boy, but Williams' understanding is orthodox; so I go to the boiler room of my memory, take the picture from its dusty corner and gently blow away the cobwebs of my Scottish antipathy and hang the painting on the wall of the sanctuary of my mind.

[i] Charles Williams, Outlines of Romantic Theology, (Berkeley: The Apocryphile Press, 2005), p. 14

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Invisible Knight: The Assassin in the Church

In the realm of King Arthur there was a knight called Garlon; a dangerous and murderous man who rode invisible. Many a knight he slew as he rode with the thunder of unseen hooves approaching furiously, his invisible lance piercing the body of his victim, and occasionally leaving the broken spear, now fully visible, behind, as he rides away unseen. The stories of Garlon appear briefly in Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur.

The knight Sir Balin rides from King Arthur’s court in the company of a fair damosel whose only love has been slain by Garlon, this despicable knight who rides invisibly. As they journey they are joined by another knight. “As they came by an hermitage even by a churchyard, there came this knight Garlon invisible, and smote this knight, Perin de Mountbeliard, through the body with a spear. Alas, said the knight, I am slain by this traitor knight that rideth invisible.”

Garlon rides off seeking another victim. He is an example of deadly, arrogant and cowardly power. Some in churches sit in the saddle in place of Garlon, riding invisibly, piercing their victims with the lance of their tongue and thundering off unseen into the knight seeking another victim; or perhaps, in repeated heinous acts they circle around the same victim piercing them again and again. One of the characteristics of Garlon is that he is oblivious of the pain that follows in his wake. He is a law unto himself. Everything in his world circles around himself and he takes pleasure in being the arbiter of life and death. He is quick to take offense. His deadly invisible attacks are a manifestation of the lie. He is the worst kind of backstabber in the most graphic kind of way. Garlon has a severe form of narcissistic personality disorder, or to be quite blunt, he is evil. Some who sit in the seat of Garlon ride side-saddle. Garlon, and those like him, will continue to ride invisibly until they are clearly seen in the cold light of day.

The death of Garlon is instructive. Sir Balin encounters him at a great feast provided by King Pellam. Garlon, and others like him, can always be found quite visible in the midst of our celebrations. Where else are they going to select their victims? Garlon is arrogant and seeing Balin’s sudden interest in him he smites Balin on the face with the back of his hand and tells Balin to do what he came for and eat his free meal. Balin replies, “this is not the first despite that thou hast done me, and therefore I will do what I came for, and rose up fiercely and clave Garlon’s head to his shoulders.”

Garlon was found enjoying himself at a banquet and even though others know who he is, and what he does, no-one has the courage to intervene until Balin comes on the scene. There are those who are in thrall to Garlon and vicariously enjoy his exploits; and there are others who participate in his evil by not resisting it. Those who support Garlon actively or passively have made “self” the center of their lives and are afraid of anything that will threaten the needs of the self. Give Garlon a chance and he will continue to ride unseen, circling round again and again thrusting his hapless victims through. For Garlon, each unconfronted secret attack is a power trip that feeds his ego and reaffirms for him that he is the center of the universe. He lives to control, and enjoys it best when he can do it unseen.

Why is Sir Balin successful? Balin has not made self the center of his life. In fact his whole quest is a quest to gain King Arthur’s favor. His power is drawn from his desire to please his king. The most noble of the Knights of the Round Table live for another.

The lesson here is obvious. Once Garlon is uncovered he is vulnerable. Thinking himself invulnerable he is even arrogant enough to launch an attack on Balin in public. There is only one way to deal with Garlon. If you fail to meet his attack when he is seen, he will attempt to slay you when he is invisible. Turn your back and there will be the thunder of unseen hooves approaching from the distance. Garlon cannot be reasoned with and the only solution is a power encounter. Garlon must be publicly identified, confronted, and vanquished, before he has a chance to disappear and do his deadly work again.