Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Theology Hero


Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another
by Rowan Williams

Rowan Williams is just great. Not only do I admire his thoughtful, measured leadership of the Anglican Communion, but he is a wonderful writer. Where God Happens is a quick read, but it is packed with spiritual wisdom. On a personal level, I am making an effort right now to pay more attention to the contemplative side of life, so perhaps I am especially receptive to what Williams has to offer in this book.

Where God Happens is a look at the desert mystics and their approach to relationship with God and with each other. I especially like Williams' comparison and contrasting of the spiritual conditions of "staying" and "leaving." Both have their moments when they are the necessary and spiritually healthy thing to do, and both can be done internally whether or not external conditions correspond.

It is difficult to do Archbishop Williams' work justice, so let me just share a couple of my favorite quotes from the book. The following is the first sentence of the first chapter, and is a great response to those out there who think we can live a spiritual life all by ourselves:

"One thing that comes out very clearly from any reading of the great desert monastic writers of the fourth and fifth centuries is the impossibility of thinking about contemplation or meditation or 'spiritual life' in abstraction from the actual business of living in the body of Christ, living in concrete community. The life of intimacy with God in contemplation is both the fruit and the course of a renewed style of living together." Those words make a lot of sense to me. Since reading them, I find myself doing a little bit better about being patient and compassionate. Maybe it is an age/maturity thing, but I am better at "zenning" (my own made up verb) my way through moments of irritation with my fellow travelers than I was 10 or 5 or even 2 years ago.

And here is another thought from the chapter "Silence and Honey Cakes" that felt like Williams was speaking directly to me:

"Deep down we are attuned to God, but we have jarred the harmonies in various ways. We are out of tune. The trouble then is that we often listen to this out-of-tuneness, the habits of self-protection and self-regard. If that is what listening to the heart means, forget it. That is just canonizing what we think is going on in us. We have a lot of self-knowledge to acquire before we can truly listen to the heart."

I've been considering this idea of "jarring the harmonies" and wondering what habits and practices I have gotten into that are actually counter-productive to my hope of hearing God's voice in the midst of the chaos. A recent article that I read (I think it was in The New Yorker, but can't remember for sure) talked about how proud we all are of our multi-tasking. We think it is great if we can "listen" to music, read, have the TV on, send or receive a text message, check our email, and talk on the phone all at the same time. The article that I read talked about how this kind of mixing is actually bad for the brain's ability to process information and retain it long term. Williams' book makes me wonder if multitasking also is detrimental to our processes of discernment and meditation. All of these things that we do with the help of our electronic devices, are good things - or at least they are not inherently bad. I think, though, that we need to slow down and only do them one at a time. When we are wading through a jumble of messages from such a variety of input, it only makes sense that the disharmony to which Williams refers would occur.

My only complaint with Where God Happens is the weak ending. The last chapter is just a compilation of sayings from the desert mothers and fathers. Most of the quotes are a little opaque for my taste, and I would have preferred that Williams choose a few of his favorites and share his own thoughts on them, instead of just a listing. Still, there is good stuff to be mined here, and Where God Happens is a good addition to the library of any fan of Williams.

Reverent Reader

2 Comments:

At 6/24/09, 7:18 PM , Blogger Saying Grace said...

Leslie

I have the tapes of this presentation that led to the book. If you want to hear him speaking let me know and I'll give them to you.

 
At 6/26/09, 12:47 PM , Blogger LeAnn said...

Thanks for the recommendation! I enjoy Williams, and this speaks a great deal to where I am longing to be in my own discernment and journey. Maybe a good discipline is more hoops with the boys?

 

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