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Evensong, by John Melhuish StrudwickHallo again to all.

Philosophers of religion and professional theologians have long used their powerful mental and linguistic gifts to adduce arguments for the existence of God.

The cosmological argument is helpful for some, positing a necessary First Cause, an Uncaused Cause. Others find the teleological argument best; G.K. Chesterton, for example, made his way to confident knowledge of theistic being through a characteristic quip. 'So one elephant having a trunk was odd; but all elephants having trunks looked like a plot.'

There are of course more profound ways of getting there, too: St Anselm made an ontological argument from logical premises. St Thomas Aquinas was the champion of a philosophical argument that posited human understanding of the Best of the best as a helpful way for understanding God's being. Anthropic thinkers see humanity itself as a good argument for God's existence, and this seems to be most attractive to modern proponents of the Intelligent Design movement.

As people for whom belief has never been a profoundly difficult thing, these arguments don't play a big role in our spiritual life. We fly from arguments when we can. When internal crises come—as they do—they go, as they do. And it's not intellectual argumentation that brings us around to a better place of faithfulness or contentment. Usually, it's actually just Evensong.

Tonight, we attended a service of sung Evening Prayer that was flawless in every respect. The building was full; there were perhaps 300 people in attendance, and it was hard to find a seat when we arrived about five minutes before the beginning of the service. The music was clearly well-rehearsed with a guest organist, the choir stalls filled with men and women whose voices would have been beautiful in any setting. The congregation was attentive, familiar with the order of the service, serious about participating. It included people who were so elderly as to need walkers as well as those who were so young as to need prams. (Our friends in North America call them baby-strollers.) There were women and men, girls and boys, people of colour and people of quite a lot less colour, and when we turned around to survey the congregation it looked a little bit like we hope heaven will look.

There was gentleness, civility, deliberation of movement, beauty in vision and sound, attractiveness of scent in billows of fragrant incense, sweetness in the piercing power of candlelight shining from the altar, and evening sunlight poking through the stained glass windows. Tonight's service was a perfect time for forgetfulness of self, forgetfulness of sorrow, forgetfulness of worry, and thankfulness for God's faithfulness in regarding the lowliness of those who worship at such a service. We came away with gratitude to the God who shows us salvation when we watch for it patiently like Simeon.

Without a bit of glibness or dismissiveness, we hope above other good hopes that Evensong will always be, even when or if the Anglican Consultative Council is not, and the many acronymious bodies that have constructed membership and belonging so carefully in the last two decades have been long forgotten. We are unable to keep up with all the various meetings and documents through which some seek to delineate the boundaries of Christ's love in the Church. We are very able indeed to repeat the words of the Mag and the Nunc, to latch on to the Psalter sung before them, and to memorise the time-honoured collects that have always been part of Evening Prayer.

When Anglicans are at our best, it is in worship, preaching, music, teaching, gathering for prayer and service. (A portion of the overflow congregation tonight repaired to a soup kitchen where they prepared meals for the urban homeless of the parish.) We're really quite awful at drafting common statements or forming effective committees for the articulation of anything in particular. When we gather for fellowship, for singing, for intentional and mutual calm shared over God's word and expressed through liturgical canticles, the blogosphere and its ordinariates and covenants seems far, far behind. We go in our hearts and voices to that

sweet and blessèd country,
the home of God's elect!
Oh, sweet and blessèd country,
that eager hearts expect!

We know you've been there, or are going there, or at the very least want to go there. The destination is, we pray, in the articulated desire, and this is for us often the best proof of the existence of a God who shares with us occasional glimpses at Evensong of a heavenly Jerusalem—golden and peaceful, 'within whose foursquare walls shall come no night, nor need, nor pain; And where the tears are wiped from eyes that shall not weep again'.

Jesus, in mercy bring us
to that dear land of rest,
who art, with God the Father,
and the Spirit, ever blest.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 17 October 2010

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