Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and an author of many books about Christian spirituality, has recently published Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another, and I want to jot down a few notes about what I think is a nice book.
The book is about the desert fathers and mothers, and it ruminates (which is his style of writing) on four exceptionally interesting themes in desert spirituality: (1) Life, death, and neighbors; (2) Silence; (3) Flight, and (4) Staying.
It is not possible to be any more than suggestive in a brief review like this.
First, in life and death and neighbors, he sees the choice to love others as learning to create opportunities where others can “meet God” or “where God happens” for others. This sounds edgy, but really isn’t: he neither questions the classical sense of God nor is he panentheistic here. He simply sees the huge challenge of the Christian life to be an agent of grace. Healing, he suggests, comes by solidarity with rather than condemnation of the other. He asks “what if?” questions if the Church were to be a genuine place where God can “happen” for others. There is a theme of anti-competition here.
Second, he has a nice chapter on silence: really a good chapter on proper talking with one another, that we are designed to be creative expressions of God’s Word (he relies here on Lossky and Orthodox thinking). “If we can get to the true depth of the heart, what we find there is the echo of God’s creative word.” The mature Christian is the one with the fewest of choices because that person does what that person is instead of fighting to become what one wants to be.
Third, the chp on fleeing (flight) is always a bug-bear for many of us: did not the desert fathers and mothers flee the world and forsake their calling to love others. Williams has lots of sympathic imagination here for the essential other-ness of the desert flight theme. The flight is in reality a flight from conformity (an emerging movement theme) and the creation of an alternative, more God-like reality.
Fourth, in the chap on staying he considers the words of the desert fathers and mothers to “stay in your cell” and explores this a form of learning to live where we are and accepting where we are as that to which we are called. There is an embrace of reality and our own world and the earthy, material reality of this world.
Here’s my favorite quote:
“I cannot become holy by copying another’s path…. And then I have to take my own steps and create a life that has never been lived before…. The journey is always one that leads into more, not less, uniqueness. It’s all to do once again with the call to be persons, not individuals” (116).
All in all, a good read. Sometimes Williams is hard to read; opaque prose. This is among the best things of his I’ve read.