Br Sam OP

Dominicans are not called, like other orders, to solitude or complete silence, but rather to make the pilgrimage into silence and then return to the world, ready to serve the Church, particularly in the Anglican Dominican order, the local parish, in practical ways.

Br Sam OP

Who are Anglican Order of Preachers?

Br Sam OP is a life-professed brother of the Anglican Order of Preachers, which is a dispersed apostolic community offering an expression of Dominican Spirituality across the Anglican communion. They are inspired by the spiritual tradition of Saint Dominic de Guzman.

Br Sam says “We offer a form of ‘Dominicanism’ (to coin a neologism) which is both compatible with the broadly reformed tradition of the Anglican Church (we make no distinction between celibate and married members, for example) and equipped to serve the parish system rather than forming a separate system of convents and friaries. We are most numerous in the United States and Canada but perhaps growing fastest in Latin America.”

What initially attracted you to the Dominican charism?

My initial attraction to the Dominican charism came from an appreciation of the spiritual writings of Meister Eckhardt. Eckhardt was then and remains still perhaps the single largest influence on my spirituality, perhaps with the exception of the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing. As I learned about the charism of the Order, my appreciation of its relevance to both my own spirituality and contemporary culture deepened. 

How would you describe Dominican spirituality?

Specifically, I would describe Dominican spirituality as being the spirituality of a contemplative preacher, that is, the spirituality of someone shaped by the apophatic and iconoclastic mystical tradition as epitomised by figures like Eckhardt, but at the same time accepting the necessity and indeed value of explicit and indeed definitive cataphatic religious discourse. Being suspended, as it were, in the tension between these two poles; speaking and remaining silent; defining and resisting definition; creating and destroying images, is for me an intrinsic part of Dominican spirituality.

Learning to speak, in a sermon, something borne out of but in many ways failing to do justice to the experience of contemplation, and learning to live with and rejoice in that necessary failure, is part of the Dominican life. This necessary failure, as I have called it, is not merely a constant reminder of our finitude, though it is that, it is also an expansion and elevation of our personal capacities by grace: even as a kind of failure to capture the true depth of prayer, preaching rooted in the fruits of contemplation nevertheless exceeds in richness preaching offered solely under our own auspices. As we fail, we are also exalted.

This kind of preaching is preaching as prayer, in which we repeat, however feebly, in our own words a description of the place that God has led us wordlessly in prayer; where we try to listen again to God, knowing that real learning often requires the repetition, nuance, and inflection of an initial lesson. It is therefore preaching as a form of both apophatic and cataphatic engagement, preaching aimed at both the self and others- the spirituality of a preacher suspended between these diverse poles. This appropriation of preaching as a kind of spirituality in itself is made possible by the rule of the order, which focuses on study and prayer. All of this may seem somewhat abstract and bloodless, particularly for those for whom, to paraphrase Tolkien, ‘the world is not found in books and maps, it’s out there’. And yet this very difference of perspective highlights the necessity and inevitability of the development of specific charisms within the Christian life. This charism speaks to me because, for whatever reason, ideas are both an integral part of my inner life and a kind of crutch which I know I must only lean on lightly. Thus, a spirituality which both channels and challenges my ideas and my sense of myself as an expositor and possessor of ideas is one which attracts me, but it may not fit others.

How does this fit within other aspects of Dominican life?

To speak only of ideas and sermons would be to do a disservice to the Dominican way of life, for it does involve a third aspect which inflects the somewhat introverted picture above, and that is its insistence on community life. Dominicans are not called, like other orders, to solitude or complete silence, but rather to make the pilgrimage into silence and then return to the world, ready to serve the Church, particularly in the Anglican Dominican order, the local parish, in practical ways. Thus, the charism offers a secondary set of challenges and opportunities to the Dominican, which come in the form of asking how contemplation and the fruits thereof shared in preaching withstand the scrutiny of, and occasional opposition of, others, and how they allow us to serve and love others better. In other words, it continually poses the question ‘do you practice what you preach, and if not, what ought to change, your practice or your preaching?’.  One way of expressing this is that it is to subject oneself to God understood precisely as ‘veritas’; the truth. This truth is polyvalent and multi-layered; it is not merely theological truth but the truth about ourselves, others, and the situations we share.

For me this is an ongoing work, one which is the greatest spur to growth I have found in discipleship, and of which I have not yet tired!

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