It’s interesting how we humans often have things happen that we barely even remember, but then years later, seemingly at random, realize the significance of them. In my case, it was something said at the funeral of my great-grandmother. She passed away on September 1, 2005, just two weeks shy of her 90th birthday (and two weeks shy of my 18th). She was a person of an extremely quiet demeanor, preferring to do things behind the scenes. She was known for cooking for people, as well as sending cards to just about everyone for birthdays and even just for general encouragement. She faithfully attended church her entire life, as well as Wednesday night prayer meeting, up until the last year or two when she simply became too frail. Because of her introversion, she was not widely known, especially by the younger generations. Unfortunately, it was not until her funeral at the very beginning of my senior year of high school that I became keenly aware of this fact. Nonetheless, I am grateful to have been a part of her family. At her funeral, I remember the pastor saying something along the lines of the following: “Lucille was never the center of attention. She wasn’t athletic, or charismatic, never did anything flashy. But she was a servant who simply plodded along in a straight line towards Jesus.”
For some reason, it hit me the other day how meaningful that statement in fact was. All these were true of her, based on what I observed of her throughout her 70s and 80s, as well as by the accounts given by people who knew her when she was much younger. Yet this is in many ways so contrary to the frequent ideal of an American Christian. The ideal American Christian is supposed to be outgoing, charismatic, and constantly having amazing feelings indicating that God is “speaking” to them. That American Christians tend to value this is all too evident in the types of men (and a few women) who run America’s megachurches, and have the most books published. They are magnetic, flashy, and gregarious. The idea of the Christian life as a perpetually exciting thing also sells quite well. There is often very little discussion of people like my great grandmother, and the role they serve.
I find myself identifying with this in many ways. While my pursuits in life are in many ways very different from hers (she was the wife of a crusty truck driver and did a lot of work related to farming), I am like in my introversion. I have almost no personal charisma, and the truth is I’m not much of a life of the party. I go to a great church with great people, and I enjoy the various lay roles I’ve picked up there, but I would not consider myself a “move and shaker” at all.
It is against this backdrop that I have come to see the Anglican tradition, with its liturgical, creedal, and sacramental style as highly beneficial to those of us with the aforementioned temperament. First, because it makes you participate in the worship of God whether you “feel like it” or not. There are some days in which we simply will not be feeling close to God. The divine liturgy forces you to worship God in spite of this, reminding you that God is unchanging and immutable. To quote Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “one day you’ll see him (Aslan), another you won’t.” Secondly, it is a highly historic practice that forces you to remember how small your time and place is in the grand scheme of history, and it connects with your fellow believers of the past, present, and future, reminding you that you are a mere blip on the radar of time. And thirdly, the corporate nature forces you to put aside your own individual, emotional preferences and instead worship as a community of believers. Of course, these reasons are not comprehensive; a more thorough list can be found here.
My great-grandmother exemplified these things in her own life. She was not emotional, instead espousing a highly stoical outlook on life, having come of age at the height the Depression, and having a German Reformed (a highly respectable liturgical tradition) upbringing doubtless helped foster this outlook. And she lived with a strong sense of connection to her family, and a sense of service to her community, always putting others’ needs ahead of her own. She spent several years taking care of her own mother (who lived past 100), getting up several times each night to tend to her needs. She did not care about “making her mark” or being remembered; instead she served others and ultimately served Christ through her actions. Moreover, I see her life as exemplifying one who serves Christ with all their heart while understanding their place in the body of believers past, present, and future.
If we are honest with ourselves, it is highly improbable that most of us will be much remembered after death. Most of our lives will disappear into the ash heap of history. A few of us may be more fortunate, but not likely. In light of this, I truly believe that Anglicanism provides a healthy approach to Christianity that takes into account our place in the cosmos and in the body of Christ. I look forward to seeing Great Grandma Burr in the world to come, and to hear of the work of God in her time. And I sincerely hope that I will follow her example, by serving God and my fellow humans for the very short time allotted to me in this life before I pass on. Ultimately, it does not matter what I am remembered for, but that I maintain an active faith in Christ, and that I plod along in a straight line towards Jesus. I hope that American evangelicalism eventually has this attitude restored to it.