“MAY GOD REFRESH YOU WITH AN INCREASING CONSCIOUSNESS OF HIS PRESENCE AND HIS LOVE.”
Edward King was not so much an evangelist or a teacher; he was a Spiritual Director. The Spiritual reality of God and the possibility of a personal relationship with God through Jesus were the absolute essence of his character. His family background in the vicarage and particularly the influence of his mother, who shared in his ministry of befriending and hospitality even until his time at Oxford, were a profound influence on him. The reality of God – a consciousness of God – was second nature to him. Contemporaries at Oxford noted his easy piety and his ready response to the call to worship and prayer. One friend remembered how he would cut short an afternoon walk to attend Evening Prayer in the college chapel. Private prayer and the beauty of holiness in worship were the foundations of his life.
When he brought back into use the chapel at the Old Palace, his former students and friends gave generously to furnish it and equip it to the highest possible standards. The daily Eucharist was his daily bread; the Prayer Book and the Bible his map and compass – his was a very straightforward and practical approach to life in the Spirit; it was much understated, built into what he called ‘the natural pattern of things’. His was a very English very Anglican spirituality. Because of this he could communicate it with the integrity and it was received with understanding. His sermons never flew above anybody’s head.
Bishop King understood that humanity made in the image of the divine had a faculty to engage the spiritual and the eternal. This faculty like the faculty to think or to move, to listen or speak was a capacity that could be developed until an individual was more able to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit; it was possible to increase the consciousness of His presence.
King was always the most gracious of people, because he was the most thankful and appreciative of people. He saw everything as a gift – a sign of the goodness of God. To our minds his sense of God’s goodness could seem a bit strange. He thought that the British Empire and the Church of England were a sign of God’s grace. But this was not so much jingoism as the result of his overwhelming sense of the goodness of God filling all things everywhere.
In this sense his Spirituality was very Catholic; he could discern the spirit of God in the work of a shepherd, in the ringing of a bell, in a romantic novel, in the way a mother cared for a child, in the advance of science and in the folk songs of Lincolnshire. His obituary in the Guardian remembered, ‘The undergraduates were much amused at the range of books which he recommended to them to read in their study of moral theology. These ranged from the Baptist Yearbook to the Ignatian Exercises, from the Catena of Chinese Buddhism to the best sporting novels.’ In this way Edward King lived out the maxim of Ignatius Loyola, ‘Seek and find God in all things.’
He had great joy in creation. This was at the heart of his Spirtuality. In April 1894 he wrote, “I love sitting in my chair by the window; it is too delicious! I must try to be more restful, and spend all my time giving thanks for all the great goodness which God has given me.” In November 1902 he remarked, “I still go in my simple, superficial way, loving flowers and birds and the sunlight on the apples, the sunset, and like to think more and more of the verse – ‘With thee is the well of life and in thy light shall we see light.’ And so again – ‘Thou openest thine hand and fillest all things living with plenteousness: the flowers and the birds, and the angels and men, all things that are.’ I feel more and more how utterly superficial one’s knowledge is, but it seems to be in the right direction and to be more and more attractive, and I hope, please God, is leading one nearer to the one Beginning and End of all.”
This joy in creation and the experience of God in all things were no more evident than in his annual holiday when he took most of August to travel on the continent. He would begin planning it after Easter looking at maps and timetables, reading around the places he would visit. He loved Switzerland for the mountains and the flowers enjoying long walks and climbs, he also loved Italy for its art and architecture and for its religion. He was always keen to stay in villages and get to know the parish priest. He himself was fluent in Italian, French and German. Rest and holidays were part of what King called a ‘regulated life’.
He taught the practice of and by his own life revealed the value of living by a ‘Rule of Life’. He taught there were three different degrees of rule:
1 A regular life: this is life lived without wickedness. (He never did anything wrong to anyone and he was always kind to animals.)
2 The religious life a life lived by a particular rule, often within a religious community or congregation. This is a life that some Christians are called to.
3 A regulated life: – something between the two – a thought over planned life, a life with a personal rule.
The purpose of the discipline of the rule Bishop King taught was not to confine people but to give them mastery over themselves.
Bishop King thought it helpful to think of three areas of human life and let that experience influence our spiritual faculty. The first of these was the Body. He thought it important to have a rule for sleep – particularly a rule for a time to go to bed. He said that fatigue makes us suffer a loss of ‘power of our nerve’. And it is important in Christian life and witness to have ‘power in reserve’. The essence of a regulated life lies in the care of health and the occasional practice of self-denial to keep the Christian from a state of ‘easy luxury’. Bishop King was careful to adjust his own rule of life as his grew older, for example, he always gave strict instructions as to the temperature of his bedroom (60 F).
In this and in all these things King thought it vital to use and develop the mind – the second area for any rule. He was an early advocate of life-long learning. “We should always be brave in making plans. Why don’t you try to get hold of some language or history, or work on morals or ethics, try and understand some of these great subjects?”
He was particularly keen that a rule of life should include serious study of the Bible. He said, “If you tried to get a real knowledge of your Bible, you would not only find it a great help and comfort to yourselves, but it might also be of incalculable good to your friends and family.”
Bishop King thought fifteen minutes of private prayers and devotions at a fixed time essential. But even more essential was the practice of self-examination. This he seems to have borrowed completely wholesale from the directions of St Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises, even to the extent of using some of Igantius’ phrases when he sets out his ‘Examination of Consciousness’. This practice is founded on the assumption that each individual has the capacity to have a consciousness of the presence of Christ in their lives – to discern his Spirit. He taught that there should be two periods of self-examination one in the morning and one in the evening.
In the morning he said, “Take time to consider what ‘special dangers’ you are likely to encounter and pray for God’s blessing in what you expect to be the most difficult part of the day.” He also advised that self examination ought to be positive as well as negative. He taught that for not more than five minutes people should prayerfully examine the day. He said, “Let the whole day pass before you, showing the people you have met and talked with. Ask God to pardon and correct anything you may have said wrong before them, and ask that he might lead you on a right path.”
Bishop King also made clear the benefits of a personal examination in preparation for sacramental confession.
In every way Bishop King’s life was a Eucharistic life. It was full of thanksgiving and intercession and the presence of Christ. His own life and ministry shadowed the wider rediscovery of the Eucharist in the Church of England and it would be interesting to trace his own part in the development of the Parish Communion movement which grew out of new thinking about Liturgy and Society. His influence was considerable through his time at Cuddeson and the years at Oxford. He certainly did everything he could to encourage frequency of communion in his own Diocese. He said, in an address to the Lincoln Clergy, “Where, brethren, shall we learn what God thinks of sin, but at the Cross of Calvary, where we see the Son of God dying for the sins of the world? And might it not be one effect of the constant weekly celebration of the Holy Communion if they knew they were pleading that one perfect sacrifice for the remission of sins that they might learn to look on sin more in the light that God sees it, and no longer rest satisfied with the low standard of morality we have so often to deplore?”
Bishop King was very conscious that in Holy Communion the Lord feeds in unseen ways the life of individuals who in unseen ways bring God’s love to the world. He encouraged the clergy to celebrate for the faithful few even in the smallest parishes. He said, “It is vital for those whose hearts God has touched, who only want to be drawn out and sustained in those aspirations which we cannot see, and which we are not worthy to know, but which may by our divinely-assisted ministry assist.” He also urged frequent celebration of the Eucharist as the powerful form of intercession. He urged frequent celebrations for the sake of the whole church, “For God answers prayer beyond all that we ask or think, and for the praise and glory of the Lord whose death we thus show forth until he comes.”
Confirmations were important to Bishop King for many reasons but one was the opportunity for him to teach adults and children about the power and strength of Holy Communion. In my early ministry in the beginning of the 1980s there were older communicants who remembered Bishop King confirming them and they remembered what he taught in his sermon. One who was confirmed at Pinchbeck remembered his holding out his hands as if to receive communion and telling them, “When you hold out your hands like this you are making a manger to carry Christ who was born for you.” Another, confirmed at Alford, told me that the Bishop said, “When we hold the bread of Holy Communion we must think to ourselves – I am holding all the love that made our wonderful world.”
Bishop King did not like the more Catholic trend of Eucharistic devotion of Benediction and the like. He said it was not Church of England to think of God as ‘out there, or up there’. He said that Holy Communion was ‘interior and personal, hidden and within’.
In all these things Bishop King had a light touch. He once responded to a Parson who was upset that a newly confirmed ploughboy thought that preparing for Holy Communion meant, ‘Shining me boots and putting them under the bed.’ Bishop King asked, “Don’t you think the angels were delighted to see them there!”
But let us return to our first thoughts. Bishop King said this about the consciousness of God’s presence: “There are many different ways in which the Lord opens the heart to himself. Sometimes it is a great sorrow, sometimes a memory of a sin forgiven. Sometimes God opens the heart by the gift of human love, and sometimes He vouchsafes to open the heart by the blessed knowledge which comes from Christ himself, that joy of all joys, the consciousness of His Own Love for the individual soul. Oh, I know it, I know it, I can feel it, I can see it; it is the central joy of my life, the Love of Jesus for me, for my soul. He died for me. He gave his very life for me.”