Lex orandi, lex credendi
One of the books I’ve returned to over and over again throughout the years is the small yet dense little powerhouse Earthen Vessels by the ex Catholic turned Orthodox Hieromonk Gabriel Bunge. In it he shows just how closely the inner disposition of your heart somehow is greatly affected by the way you pray–both posture and gesture as well as content. He lays this out with devastating clarity in the concluding chapter of his little book.
The traditions of the Church, of Scripture, and of the Fathers have left us an abundant treasure, not only of texts, but also of customs , forms, gestures, and so on, associated with prayer. In the modern age— especially in Western Christianity—little of it remains. Earthen Vessels page 187.
He goes on to mention that for many this loss of Tradition means we need to move on, taking up things like Zen and the like, but he says ( and rightly in my experience) that it’s false to say that ” faith” and ” discipline” are separate and stand independently. In essence, many moderns believe that one can just as easily pick and choose how to pray even if it’s from a different religion or none and still remain safely within ones own faith.
In another passage he says ( of traditions):
…those “practices” that were discussed on the preceding pages constitute the formation of biblical-Christian prayer, as this process was realized in the course of salvation history. They are in no way “time-bound externals”, but rather the ” earthen vessels” in which the imperishable ” treasure ” has come down to us. Page 192
He’s saying that things like facing east, scripture and various ecclesiastical traditions that have been handed on are part and parcel of the Faith. Inner and Outer are related. Like the Old Believers who rightly saw the same thing, one cannot just willy nilly change things or practice Buddhism or some other religion in the context of some form of Christianity and remain safely Christian or within the received tradition. I have experienced this myself.
The Traditions are part of the language of our Faith, the guideposts, signs and symbols pointing us Heavenward along our path, a path I might add that we are receiving from our ancestors, not creating for ourselves.
Therefore the loss of this ” language” unquestioningly leads to speechlessness , that is, the inability to communicate to others that ” meaning” which we ourselves no longer have experienced existentially. Today this is called a ” break in the tradition” : the inability to understand the ” language” of our Fathers in Faith, and our mute helplessness before our own children.
Nevertheless, nature abhors a vacuum. The parents might be content to have lost the “way”, but their children will not be reconciled so easily to the idea. They search for new “ways”, unaware that they thereby “introduce things that are foreign to our path”, thus exposing themselves to the danger of becoming, themselves “strangers to the ways of our Saviour”(Evagrius).
The fact is, whether you like it or not, that the choice of the “means” determines the result. Anyone who devotes himself to “practices” and “methods” that are not home grown in the soil of his own faith will imperceptibly be led toward that ” faith” which developed these practices as a genuine expression of itself. Page 193-194
I could organize this better and delve deeper into it but I’ve not got the patience for such an academic exercise, although I sometimes wish I did. In my opinion this book and these conclusions are rock solid and ought to be read and pondered deeply by any would be serious Tradition minded Christian.
One thing that led me to really seriously consider leaving Catholicism ( among other things) was really engaging with this book. If how you pray determines how you believe, than what you see in modern Catholicism today perhaps stems from this papally sanctioned tinkering and abandoning the traditions of the Western Patrimony. I sometimes wonder if writing this book was one major catalyst in Father Bunge’s own turn to abandon Roman Catholicism.
In my own experience what Bunge says holds true, as I have been through a lot of struggles in my own prayer life, vacillating between the Benedictine Office, the various Eastern Prayer styles and even if I’m honest Zen Buddhism and mystical Islam. While I never seriously wanted to become a Zennist or a Muslim on a certain level whenever I read deeply from either Muslim or Buddhist texts, or in the case of Buddhism tried to sit meditation I felt drawn somehow by the power of those traditions. There is great danger in not sticking to something, as you will be drawn almost in spite of yourself even if you can pull away intellectually. This is just me being brutally honest.
In terms of Christian styles I’ve been drawn back into some sort of relationship with Rome every time I’ve seriously engaged with the Office, even re taking up western stuff like the rosary, although with no traditional Latin monasteries or parishes near by the church cognitive dissonance of trying to live a tradition minded Latin Christian existence in a church and a parish that has all but abandoned it is very difficult.
In praying the Old Rite Horologion and Old Orthodox Prayerbook and the Jesus Prayer I’m led deeper into the East. This is really the practice I’ve stuck with for a long time and the one I will ( God willing) stick to.
So, to my readers, what’s been your experience of this business of Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, most especially in your private prayer life? Does what Bunge say resonate on any level? Do you disagree with him or me? Why? I’m interested in discussing this.