The Prayer Book in an Age of Nintendo

The Prayer Book in an Age of Nintendo

by Anthony H. Bassett


“O Lord, you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.”
~ Augustine’s Confessions 1.1

The Problem: Nintendo Psychology

Recently I met a young man in his twenties. He wants to become an Anglican. He was a member of another denomination, and now wants a deeper understanding of the faith. He discovered the Anglican tradition and says that he feels like he has come home. Why? Because it has so much for the soul. Where do we find this tradition which draws this young man to our branch of the church? It is found set out in the Prayer Book. The Prayer Book is our ‘Guidebook for the Soul’. If we want to rediscover our Anglican heritage, then we must make the human soul, the human personality and spirit our area of special knowledge again. How do we begin? Let us think about what characterizes our age.

We live in an age of Nintendo. Nintendo games let people manipulate imaginary creatures on a screen. The secular culture often makes us feel like these creatures. We feel manipulated from without by banks, market forces, government regulations etc.. We do not feel in control of our own souls from within. We have a Nintendo psychology. The word psychology means study of the soul. However, secular psychology talks mostly about modification of behaviour by manipulation. While there is a lot of psychobabble, there is little discussion of the soul itself. Yet there is an older knowledge of the soul rooted in the Bible and faithfully taught in the Prayer Book, and we must become masters of this knowledge again. We must start to rediscover this knowledge of our inner life.

Ironically, God has made it very easy for us. At the same time as there is a great confusion in the fields of psychology and psychiatry, there is also a new awakening of interest in the spiritual life. The New Age movement shows that there is a great yearning for knowledge about our inner lives. The cover story of Newsweek for January 6, 1992 was entitled “Talking to God: An Intimate Look at the Way We Pray”. In churches spirituality seminars are in vogue. Even in the secular culture there is a renewed interest in discovering the roots of our personality. Gloria Steinem’s new book, Revolution From Within, is about self-esteem as the inner source of personality. Everyone wants to know about what we are supposed to know about, namely, the soul.


The Elements of the Soul

What does the Bible tell us about the inner structure of the soul? Jesus Christ taught that it is not what happens to us that destroys us, but what comes out of our souls (Matt. 15.11-20). Evil is not primarily in external structures, or what happens to us, or circumstances, but in the thoughts of our hearts. Evil begins in the thoughts of the mind and the deeds of the will. It lives in the passions of the heart which refuse to be ruled by reason and will. Many want to have an experience of God, and by this they usually mean some kind of great emotional experience. But the primary spiritual elements of the soul are reason and will, not the emotions. The spiritual life is the harmonious activity of reason and will ordering the passions. The spiritual battle is fought primarily in the mind and the heart. This is the way in which we have been created.

Even the secular culture is starting to know this again. People are starting to recognize that secular psychology does not have all the answers. The Oscar for Best Picture of 1991 was awarded to Silence of the Lambs. In this film at one point, Clarissa, the clever policewoman trying to track down a brutal psychopathic killer, asks Dr Hannibal Lecter for help. Dr Lector is a psychiatrist and a killer himself. He says to Clarissa:

“First principles, Clarissa. Simplicity….
Of each particular thing ask what it is in itself.
What is its nature? What does he do this man you seek?”
Clarissa says: “He kills women.”
Dr Lecter says: “No. That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does? What needs does he serve by killing?”
Clarissa says: “Anger, social acceptance, sexual frustration.”
Dr Lecter says: “No. He covets. That is his nature. How do we begin to covet? Do we seek out things to covet… . No. We begin by coveting what we see every day.”

And with this lesson about the dark passions of the soul, Clarissa is able to catch the killer. You see, until she received this lesson, Clarissa had a shallow view of the killer’s soul. She thought of his personality in terms of the tenth rate psychobabble which we all hear every day. She said that the killer needed social acceptance etc. But Dr. Lecter went to the root of the evil in the killer in one word by saying: “He covets”. Covetousness is clearly a word belonging to deeper knowledge of the soul. Even anils desire social acceptance, but only man can covet, because only man has a power to know and choose what is right and wrong. It is a wonderful thing for Hollywood to be rediscovering an older and deeper knowledge of the soul through the tenth commandment.

In general, people everywhere are starting to realize that a psychology which examines only our feelings and emotions is superficial. Because behavioural psychology seeks only to modify behaviour so as to satisfy emotional needs of social acceptance and feelings of self-esteem, it is inadequate. These emotions and passions must be ruled by the soul’s spiritual elements of reason and will. We must learn again Christ’s teachings about knowing and willing what is good, not what is merely emotionally satisfying.

The Prayer Book is an excellent tool for teaching us about our souls. Here are some points for consideration.

  1. The Prayer Book teaches that the soul consists of various activities of mind and will ordering the emotions and passions, and everywhere encourages inward self-knowledge (eg. “Cleanse the thoughts of our heearts…” BCP p.67; “keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God….” BCP p.86). By contrast, the BAS makes little mention of the soul. It is hard to find the word ‘soul’ in it. It has a primitive sense of the human personality. At most man’s spirit is something gnostic, something to catch a divine spark, a jolt. The BAS does not encourage inward self-knowledge.
  2. The BAS wants to encourage communal experience of God, and does not emphasize the inward working of Christ in the believer. By contrast, the Prayer Book teaches both an inward private piety, and a corporate public piety. Our souls need both to be held in a balanced liturgy. While the BAS has awakened in us the need to dramatize our liturgies, we also need to let the drama instruct us about our souls.
  3. Perhaps the most important point to recognize is this. The Prayer Book encourages everywhere an inner dialogue of the soul with God essentially by setting out a systematic reading of the whole Bible each year. The Prayer Book provides a way in which we can come to know our inner selves by a faithful meditation on God’s Word, so that this Word becomes engraven on our memory, the substance of our understanding, and the impetus of our will. Through the prayers and services the Word is worked into our souls.


The Search for Wholeness: The Soul’s Need for Reconciliation

Besides telling us about the elements of the soul – the elements of reason and will – what else does the Bible tell us about the soul? After the Fall the spiritual elements of reason and will are disordered. Mind and will are at war. St Paul speaks for all of us when he says: “The good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.” (Rom. 7.19). Mind and will have lost the good order with which they were created. Redemption is fundamentally about reconciling and re-ordering these elements. Mind and will can be reconciled and re-ordered so that we may both know and will what is right and good. If we are inwardly stable and at home with ourselves and God, then our actions in relation to others can be good. Before we can hope to do much good in the world out there, we must first cleanse the thoughts of our own hearts. How is this inward reconciliation achieved?

All the current discussions about human relationships focus on achieving a kind of inner reconciliation. We hear about people’s ‘broken-ness’ and their desire for ‘wholeness’. We hear about needs for self-esteem, self-worth, self-realization, becoming who we want to be, and allowing others the right to be who they want to be. But this language of self-esteem and self-realization suggests that we can simply will our human worth. Can we simply will our human worth in the face of our feeings of brokenness? I suggest that the power of positive thinking is inadequate. It does not get to the root of our problems.

Inward reconciliation involves sacrifice, then knowing and willing what Christ teaches is good. It involves sacrificing or giving up the things in our souls which tend toward what is bad. These are our bad habits, the vices of pride, envy, covetousness, grudges, anger, bitterness etc.. This requires repentance, that is, knowing these vices as wrong when judged by Christ’s standards; making restitution to those whom we have wronged; and making amendment of life. It also involves learning the Christian virtues, especially the virtues of faith, hope, personal sacrifice, charity, and forgiveness. Where do we begin? I suggest that we begin by learning Christ’s lessons about forgiveness from the beginning.


Beginning With Forgiveness

Forgiveness is the beginning of all inner reconciliation. We must understand how Christ has won forgiveness for us. Then we must learn about the requirements for forgiveness with respect to one another. It is not all feeling. To be forgiven requires repentance, which involves self-examination and self-judgment, and it involves restitution, and amendment of life. In the whole area of human relationships, we are only beginning to see the importance of forgiveness. For example, problems associated with divorce, family violence, abuse etc. are rooted in failed love. Failed love is rooted in the~inability of individuals to love themselves and others properly. They cannot love properly because they do not know how to forgive or be forgiven. They see no way out of being the way they are. They feel pain and sorrow, but see no cure. Perhaps what is most tragic is that they cannot forgive themselves and find a way of making a fresh start.

The story of King David’s family is a tragedy about failed love. Although David repented of his passion for Bathsheba, somehow he could not get his sons to contain their passions. Amnon defiled Tamar. David neglected to punish Amnon, so Absalom murdered Amnon. David neglected to control him, so Absalom led a revolt and was murdered eventually. David neglected his sons. He neither punished them properly, nor did he attempt to encourage forgiveness and achieve reconciliation amongst them. None could control his inner feelings of anger and bitterness because none practised forgiveness.

The Prayer Book is an excellent tool for teaching us about forgiveness. Here are some points on which to compare it with the BAS:

  1. The Prayer Book requires the 10 Commandments to be read at least once in each month at the chief Sunday service (BCP p.67). By contrast, the 10 Commandments and 2 Great Commandments are optional in the BAS (BAS p.52,231).
    Can there be proper teaching about forgiveness without teaching about Christ’s standards for our conduct as set out in the Commandments?
  2. The Prayer Book lays out the requirements for forgiveness clearly. In the Invitation we are told that we must make true and earnest repentance, that we must be in love and charity with those whom we have wronged, and that we must intend to lead new lives (BCP p.76) Repentance, restitution, amendment are all there. By contrast, the requirements for forgiveness are less clearly taught in the BAS.
  3. Most importantly, the Prayer Book teaches that the soul’s conversion, its turning toward God, does not take place in one moment. Our soul’s cure begins in repentance and forgiveness, but there is also a progressive growth and inward renewal. Scriptural images tell us that grace is like a seed planted deep in cold darkness underground, but by patience and comfort of God’s Word the seed grows and our hearts bring forth the fruit of good living (BCP p.97, 87). Does the BAS teach this?


Co-operating With Providence

We have thought about the spiritual elements of reason and will in our souls, and about forgiveness as the way of beginning to find reconciliation within ourselves and with one another. But there is one final point. We must trust in God’s help in all of this. There has been a great shaking up of beliefs and customs in all denominations of the church. I suggest that behind this is the hand of God. God is not stupid. There is something negative and something positive in what has happened.

The negative side is that the unified mirror of faith is now shattered. Collectively we no longer have one view of our faith. For example, some believe in the Divinity of Christ, but others do not; some believe that Christ’s death accomplished something which we cannot accomplish ourselves, but others believe only that he was a great moral example. Our faith lacks authoritative unity. Things are all fragmented. Christians do not agree about basics. That is the negative side. But the positive side is that now we are forced to get back to basics, to know this faith again, “to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time” (T.S. Eliot Little Guiding). Our problems are our opportunities, so let us cooperate with providence.

Let us all resolve to crack the covers of our Bibles. Let us hear the Divine Word calling to us from it, asking us to know and love His truth, and to return to it. Let us all be transformed by the renewing of our minds and hearts. For God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in the knowledge and love of him.


This article is based on addresses given by Mr. Bassett during a speaking tour for the Society in the dioceses of New Westminster, Cariboo, Kootenay, Edmonton, Athabasca and Calgary, May 1992.