Episcopal way of life
Anglican prayer life has both an order and rhythm to it, finding its form and content in the daily offices of The Book of Common Prayer and finding its rhythm in the natural patterns of our daily life. While grounded and practiced in the discipline of praying together, the Anglican prayer life aims to increase our capacity to pray without ceasing in the midst of our daily lives.
Though an active prayer life assumes we will often pray on our own, it is never intended to become ‘privatized’ prayer. Rather, we always pray as part of a Body, a community, of faithful believers who offer both personal and collective prayers of praise, thanksgiving, and intercession. We are also bound to one another in the collective work of discerning our faithful response to the nature and will of God.
Anglicans understand the sacraments as ‘outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace,’ which is to say that, in life, there’s more than meets the eye. The core practices of Baptism and Eucharist remind us that God is always actively reaching out to us in the basic acts of daily living — washing and eating. As we come to develop a ‘sacramental eye,’ we come to more readily perceive God at work in the world around us and, thus, come to more readily participate in God’s purposes.
Our love for God necessarily translates into a love for what God loves — in ourselves, in others, and in the world around us. For this reason, Anglican spirituality very often manifests in works of advocacy and justice, as our participation in God’s purposes necessarily expresses itself in thought, word, and deed.
Anglicans live in an enchanted world in which the stuff of creation is a avenue, rather than an obstacle, to a deeper relationship with God. We believe God’s good creation is a gift to us and we honor that gift by giving thanks for it and caring for it. We, therefore, live with a high degree of liberty, knowing that we needn’t fear the world in which we find ourselves.
Anglican spirituality has an inclination toward ‘mysticism,’ which is to say that we experience our relationship with God to be as full of confusion as of clarity, as full of darkness as of light, as full of sorrow as of joy. While this may sound somewhat pessimistic, we believe it simply honors the truth that God is with us through thick and thin, whatever our own experience of the moment may be. Our mystical disposition simply recognizes that God is at least as faithful as we believe ourselves to be.
Anglicans live in the ‘Via Media’ (the middle way), discerning God’s Truth in the creative tension between apparent opposites. At a time when public discourse is increasingly polarized, Anglicans are able to bring an appreciative posture toward diverse beliefs and opinions without becoming beholden to any of them.
Far from promoting intellectual laziness or a lack of personal conviction, Anglican ambiguity actually affirms our comfort with uncertainty and our capacity to live with unresolved conflict and disagreement. This disposition allows us to risk seeking after God’s Truth, despite apparent contradictions with inherited beliefs and practices.
Anglicans encourage a searching, questioning, reasonable mind always open to new insights and change. We listen carefully to everyone, search for wisdom everywhere, take seriously the secular world and its work, and recognize that contemporary knowledge is not necessarily in conflict with faith and, indeed, may offer additional wisdom to our inherited understanding.
In addition to cognitive ways of ‘knowing,’ Anglicans also affirm intuitive ways of ‘knowing,’ which is the kind of knowing that arises from evocative sources such as the visual arts, music, poetry, myth, music, or movement. Thus, the experience of God’s presence and activity in our lives is affirmed, despite our frequent inability to articulate that experience in clear, systematic language.
While Anglicans affirm that all of creation lends itself to revealing the nature and will of God, we are particularly connected to beauty – in all its forms – as a uniquely powerful vehicle by which we are drawn into the heart of God. As such, the aesthetics of our liturgical life, while always a potential superficiality, are actually a fundamental expression of our belief in the beauty and holiness of God.
Anglican moderation is apt to manifest itself in our temperate, balanced, and reasonable approach to life. We generally avoid the extremes of either shameless extravagance or strict asceticism. We aim to enjoy and to appreciate the richness and pleasures of life, without over-indulging or under-valuing any of it.
Anglicans affirm that nature’s designs and rhythms are a potential source of knowledge about the will and ways of God. As a product of the Reformation era, our Tradition generally affirms the advances and insights of the natural sciences as a key contributor to our evolving understanding of God and our world. In addition, nature’s annual rhythms inform our liturgical calendar and shape our ecological ethic.
Anglicans recognize that life has both depth (spiritual) and breadth (historical). At its best, this means that we honor the past by incorporating its cumulative wisdom into the church’s present faith and practice. We aim to learn the lessons of the past so as to provide mature, thoughtful, and faithful witness in the present. This practical commitment to discerning our deep historical continuity actually frees the present church from any superficial captivity to the expectations of its own past.
Anglicans value civic virtue and affirm free, peaceful, and public debate as a basis for political unity. We believe in the fundamental value of civil public discourse and we believe the church is well-suited to inform and to facilitate such vital conversation. We believe that the church has an obligation to attempt to influence social, political, and economic life as shapers of our culture’s moral conscience.
A People Called Episcopalians: A Brief Introduction to Our Peculiar Way of Life, The Rev. Dr. John H. Westerhoff (Morehouse Publishing, New York: 1998)