Paul writes - The title of today’s post is also the title of a brilliant 2004 paper by Wendy Dackson – William Stringfellow’s Sacramental Vision. I highly recommend it. Stringfellow continues to gift many of us the vocabulary to name both our experiences and concerns. Dackson’s abstract reads:
“William Stringfellow (1929–85) was an Episcopal layman, attorney and social activist. Although much has been written about him since his death, most of it is in the form of personal testimony. Examinations of various doctrinal areas of his theological writings are unusual. Therefore, this article examines Stringfellow's idea of sacramental reality and grounds it in the worship of the Church and Christian engagement with the world. The concluding comments offer a justification for seeing this vision as one of enduring importance for faith and action in a post-Christian society.”
While on the subject of Stringfellow’s sacramental vision, I’d like to draw you attention to a four-part (so far) post by Jason Goroncy. He’s reviewing Stringfellow’s Imposters of God.In particular Jason opens his series by highlighting a section of Stringfellow’s preface to the aforementioned book:
“…William Stringfellow’s Imposters of God begins with this insight:
Nothing seems more bewildering to a person outside the Church about those inside the Church than the contrast between how Christians behave in society and what Christians do in the sanctuary.
This contrast is not, I suspect, just taken for granted by outsiders as evidence of the hypocrisy of professed Christians. It is not simply that Christians do not practice what is preached and neglect to authenticate worship by witness. The non-churchmen is, I suggest, much more bewildered by the difficulty of discerning either connection or consistency between social action and liturgical event. The two apparently represent not only distinguishable but altogether separate realms: the former deals with ethics, the latter with aesthetics; the first is empirical, the second theatrical; the one is mundane, the other quaint. For the stranger to the Church, to whom the churchman appears to act in the marketplace much the same as everybody else, the straightforward and cogent explanation is that these peculiar sanctuary activities are sentimentally significant—as habit, tradition or superstition—but otherwise irrelevant, superfluous and ineffectual.
More or less secretly, or at least quietly, legions of church people suffer this same sort of bewilderment. If these people sense any relationship between practical life and sacramental experience, it is tenuous, illusive and visceral: a felt connection, a matter not readily elucidated, a spooky thing. On occasion, when a priest or preacher goes forth from the sanctuary to affirm in the world what is celebrated at the altar, he is usually ridiculed for meddling in affairs outside his vocation. Or when, in the midst of worship, a pastor ventures to be articulate about the relationship between ethics and sacraments, his effort is apt to be regarded as an intrusion defiling the congregation’s ears. (pp. xxi–xxii)…” (highlights, mine – Paul)
Stringfellow well names a reality anyone with any degree of discernment and the perspective of a so-called “outsider” would pick up if they sat in the back row of a church gathering over the course of 4-consecutive Sunday’s. There is a massive disconnect between sanctuary and the world outside the sanctuary; between the gathered experience of the people of God and their dispersed and diverse everyday contexts.