‘Wisdom! Be Mindful’ – Anglican Journal

Learn from ancient Christians

Daniel Tatarnic

I learned from the school of hard knocks that there are things you learn best on your knees. Wisdom is one of those things. I have spent the past 28 years working in the church, in various ministry settings and in lay and ordained orders. Many things have changed during this period. Pandemic ministry brings its own set of challenges and affirmations. It is easy, when stability is not guaranteed, to feel alone and discouraged. When the sand keeps moving underfoot, some days are better than others.

To maintain and enhance my devotional life during the lockdowns, I enrolled in the Elder Wisdom Course at Huron College, taught by the Reverend Lisa Wang of the Faculty of Theology at Trinity College, University of Toronto. For eight weeks, the evening class (offered by Huron’s Bachelor of Divinity program) brought together students from across the country, from Kingston, Ontario. in Whitehorse: clergy and laity, ordination candidates and lay readers, lifelong learners and a young mother with a baby in her arms. What they all had in common, besides their Anglican identity, was a desire to study the writings of ancient Christians, the “fathers and mothers” of the Church.

Why did I share this desire? First, I felt that I needed the structure of an intellectual challenge, a structure that was not necessarily present in the daily work of a pastor. Second, I knew I needed an adult learning community in which to address these issues. Third, the subject is one that fascinates me, namely the wisdom of the unbroken ancient Christian tradition. I write to you to provide words of encouragement and witness why a return to ancient sources is timely for mission in our Anglican Church today.

I write this, not only as a priest, but as a father of two teenagers, because life with teenagers says there is much to learn on your knees. The 20th century Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar says that “only love is credible”. The Wisdom of the Ancients was an invitation to enter into this life-transforming event of falling in love with Wisdom and the life informed by prayer and study. In the frenetic and anxious world in which we minister, there is that distant cry from the time of the undivided Church: “Wisdom! To pay attention.”

My children live a secular pedagogy based on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). The Internet provides a constant source of good and bad information, quickly and without discernment mechanisms. The information highway is cluttered with data, but it lacks wisdom.

I have nothing against STEM programming. I think it’s wonderful. My children will benefit from a solid STEM education and they will have opportunities that I never dreamed of. But my children also love music, painting and imaginative play; they love going to church and they love animals. Their natural curiosity for the meaning of things amazes me; they’re full of questions, and they’ll push hard (and I mean hard) against things that don’t make sense. Gone are the days of providing mediocre, mediocre answers to meaningful questions. “Wisdom! Be mindful.”

As a priest and father of a family, I am very aware of this phenomenon. If I am not prepared to answer the thoughtful questions of my children with penetrating answers, of a wisdom born of the ages, prayed on my knees and nurtured in the fields of martyrdom, I will lose them. The same goes for my parishioners and aspirants; The golden age of mundane, evangelistic cartoon vegetables is over!

Just this morning, a major news outlet headlined, “Gone by 2040.” We all know what that means. But the decline of the Church is not the death of the Church. It’s easy to lose sight of – and lose faith in – our history, just when Christian authenticity is most needed. The Wisdom of the Ancients of Huron got me excited again. It reminded me of why I felt called and why I continue to be a priest in a declining church. There is no denomination better suited to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western traditions than Anglicanism; it is a great gift we have to offer the world. Answering the questions of this time forces us to sink our roots deeper into the fertile soil of a vast and rich tradition; up, down, out. Aristotle says, “All people by nature strive to know.” So lie down, lean towards the wisdom that formed us; lean into the sacraments, into the Holy Eucharist, into the Holy Scriptures, into the Liturgy of the Hours of the Church — be authentic!

I knew taking this course was the right thing to do when I felt my devotional life was improving. My soul began to settle. Think outside the box, that’s what I’ve always been told. But praying alongside our ancient tradition, journeying daily with the Communion of Saints, challenges me to stay inside the box and find an endless stream of wisdom there. Questions around meaning and authenticity, about God, nature, ethics, science, art and existence do not just belong to the past, but are asked in each generation by each generation. Either we meet them with 2,000 years of wisdom or we risk losing those who need it most. Because there is movement in the world today, especially among a younger population, which possesses an openness, a receptivity, a willingness to explore the ancient tradition of the Church and to stop and ‘to listen. Wisdom! To pay attention.

Daniel Tatarnic is a priest of the Diocese of Niagara, stationed at St. Alban’s, Beamsville. He regularly contributes to Niagara Anglicana friend of the Anglican Center in Rome and an avid student of homecoming theology.

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