The Strange and Wonderful Witness of Bishop James Pike
Forty years ago, come September, Bishop James A. Pike died in the Judean desert. It happened while The Episcopal Church was in the midst of the Special Convention being held in South Bend, Indiana. At that meeting the House of Bishops would have taken formal notice to certify that Bishop Pike had abandoned "the communion of this Church." By the time he died Bishop Pike had become a confounding presence for everyone liberal and conservative. (photo to right from Wikipedia article on James Pike.)
William Stringfellow and Anthony Towne, in "The Death and Life of Bishop Pike," noted that "The day when Bishop Pike was missing in the Holy Land coincided with a general convention of the Episcopal Church held at Notre Dame University. A newspaperman tells me that he noted no prayer was said at the convention when the report of Pike being lost first reached South Bend. The journalist asked a dignitary -- "Can't you guys even pray for Pike?" "We haven't had a chance to consult about it," was the reply. At the next session, my informant reports, there was a prayer - a "composite" prayer, he called it, mentioning in the same breath Bishop Pike and Ho Chi Minh. As the reporter concluded: "They prayed for all their enemies, all together." (p.435)
When his death was finally confirmed, the House of Bishops unanimously adopted the following resolution,
"Whereas, Many in the Church were and are hurt and bewildered at the seeming inability of our normally inclusive community to accept and understand James Pike in his pilgrimage, so that at the end he felt forced to renounce our brotherhood; now therefore, be it
Resolved, that the House of Bishops give thanks to God for the life and prophetic ministry of James Albert Pike, and recognize the depth of our loss in the dying of this creative and compassionate man." (p.400)
Stringfellow and Towne wrote the definitive story of Bishop Pike published in 1976. By then it was clear that Pike, who had absorbed the wisdom of others and found provocative ways to weave the continuing challenges of faithful living both for himself and for others, had finally moved from being a knowledge machine to a faithful and compassionate "earthen vessel."
Stringfellow and Towne wrote,
"The death to self in Christ was neither doctrinal abstraction or theological jargon for James Pike. He died in such a way before his death in Judea. He died to authority, celebrity, the opinions of others, publicity, status, dependence upon Mama, indulgences in alcohol and tobacco, family and children, marriage and marriages, promiscuity, scholarly ambition, the lawyer's profession, political opportunity, Olympian discourses, forensic agility, controversy, denigration, injustice, religion, the need to justify himself.
By the time Bishop Pike reached the wilderness in Judea, he had died in Christ. What, then, happened there was not so much a death as a birth."
In the past few weeks I have been reading a trilogy of novels by Philip K. Dick, the so called VALIS trilogy - Consisting of VALIS, The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. The last of these, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is closely based on the life of Bishop Pike and reaches much the same conclusion regarding what really happened to him. Philip Dick writes, (remember Tim is Bishop Pike) "It was Tim who came back out of compassion." "That's right...He sought wisdom, the Holy Wisdom of God.. and when he got there and the Presence entered him, he realized that it was not wisdom that he wanted, but compassion....he already had wisdom but it hadn't done him or anyone else any good." (p. 241, Vintage Book edition)
It turns out that Philip Dick knew Bishop Pike. According to the Wikipedia article on Pike, he officiated at Dick's wedding to Nancy Hackett in 1966, so the wheel goes round and round.
I was put on to this trilogy by Matthew, our son, who I in turn provoked to reading Philip Dick's other novels. He sent me the trilogy in particular because of "The Divine Invasion." a book by Dick that grew from his having a cluster of profoundly psychological and spiritual visions.
So here we are in Episcopal / Anglican land, forty years after Bishop Pike's death and we are still struggling with all the same issues. The struggle to be inclusive continues, the push back with charges of heresy is always there, the pilgrimages we are all on continue.
Bishop Pike at the end believed he had to give up the church in order to keep up the struggle to be authentic to his pilgrimage. His needs for autonomy in his pilgrimage were met by other means. He died still a bishop in the church.