Tag Archives: Rowan Williams

19 December, Simon Says I: No Conditions

pieta.wf

God is the example of unconditional love.

In Jesus he took on the human condition, not on condition that we love him, but because his love has no conditions.

We hope to be publishing occasional sayings of the late Father Simon Denton OFM Cap under the title ‘Simon says’. Simon loved a paradox, but so does the Lord! And Mary, who cradled her baby is often shown with the weight of her dead Son’s body in her arms, as in this picture from the Missionaries of Africa. The true meaning of Christmas was a life-long passion, in Rowan Williams’ words. May we learn to drop the conditions we set when we love someone. 

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16 November: The ruined chapel

ruined chapel

This derelict chapel is lost in the Herefordshire countryside. The church at nearby Richard’s Castle is no longer in regular use for worship. Has God abandoned the Marches (the Welsh/English border country) or have the Marches abandoned God?

It’s more complex than that. People have gone. Farm work is done mechanically; the railways that employed thousands have closed or greatly reduced the number of workers, and so on. But also people have indeed turned away from Sunday worship.

This chapel was built around 1810 by local people who responded to the Methodist Revival led by the Wesleys. They wanted to live the Christian life more fully and when they were cold-shouldered by the established Church of England, they erected chapels that look as much like dwelling places as churches. Other  groups were also building ‘dissenting’ chapels, like the Baptists and Congregationalists. One of my ancestors is believed to have ministered at Bethel Chapel in nearby Evenjobb, across the border in Wales.

It is a shame to see the building abandoned, the lawn gone to nettles, brambles, and buttercups – we can welcome the buttercups, but the others will soon be preventing people from entering. It is unloved. Perhaps no descendants of the worshippers live nearby, or they don’t know about the chapel, perhaps they don’t care.

So do we Christians pack up and go home? Or do we try to tune ourselves to Christ, live as he would do, in season or out of season?

In a final plug for Rowan WIlliams’s  Luminaries, a few words from his reflection on Archbishop Michael Ramsey.

You’re free to offer God’s love quite independently of your own security or success. Sometimes the world may be in tune and sometimes not; sometimes there is a real symbiosis, sometimes a violent collision. But the labour continues, simply because the rightness of the service does not depend on what the world thinks it wants and whether the world believes it has got what it needs from the Church. (p116).

 

 

 

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15 November: Light on the Christian Way.

Luminaries: Rowan Williams (author)

Luminaries: twenty lives that illuminate the Christian way.

by Rowan Williams

Published by SPCK 2, London 2019

ISBN 10: 0281082952

A review.

 

 

How do you choose just twenty shining saints for a little book like this? Dr Williams offers us four of his predecessors as Archbishop of Canterbury – Augustine, Anselm, Cranmer and Michael Ramsey – in this selection of sermons and other extracts.

Williams is especially compassionate regarding his first predecessor, the reluctant and blundering Augustine in whom fear and humility grind together painfully. He never wanted to come to Kent, he tried to turn back; he was ‘almost endearingly nervous and  anxious’ (p23), but he stuck at it and made a difference. 

Doctor Williams himself is remembered in Canterbury with great affection too: ad multos annos!

An interesting juxtaposition occurs because the subjects are listed in chronological order, William Tyndale, whom we met yesterday, rubs shoulders with Saint Teresa of Avila. a man and a woman from very different backgrounds, both determined to bring about church reform.

it is possible to draw out similarities between them. Here is Tyndale: ‘Look, what thou owest to Christ, that thou owest to thy neighbour’s need. To thy neighbour owest thou thy heart, thyself and al that thou hast and canst do. The love that springest out of Christ, excludeth  no man, neither putteth difference between one and another.’ (p56-57)

Teresa was conscious that her Jewish ancestry put a difference between her and some others, but in the convent where she lived there were differences between sisters due to wealth and social standing of their families. This made her more and more uneasy: it was not true community life! True community life excluded no woman, but was based on friendship in shared poverty, which allowed Jesus to be present in friendship with each one. Friendship with Jesus is a big claim, but that friendship is to be cultivated in prayer; and Williams sketches out Teresa’s experience of the prayer of friendship with Jesus. A chapter to read and re-read.

Every subject is interesting and human, so the whole book is to be read and re-read. And since it is that time of year, a book to buy for a friend, since it may be some time before you get it back if you lend it out. Not that it will be gathering dust and forgotten: it will be read and re-read.

 

 

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14 November: Can a man be profitable to God?

In the Book of Job, 22, his friend, Eliphaz the Temanite says:

“Can a man be profitable to God?
Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.
Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right,
or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless? “

Job’s comforters have a bad press, indeed Blake, who engraved our image calls them ‘tormentors’. But even if it’s the wrong time and place for it, Eliphaz has a point for us, if not for Job! As Rowan Williams puts it in his discussion on William Tyndale:

Any system of religious activity and thinking that tries to give us some leverage over God – I’ve never denied God a moment of my time, I hope he remembers that – such an attitude is poisonous to our faith. 

And

We create religious institutions that are designed to preserve that divine indebtedness to us, and while we are doing that, we largely ignore the concrete forms of indebtedness toward other human beings to which we should be attending.*

ALL IS GIFT!

Accept the gift of your life, accept that it is a gift, be thankful for every breath! God did not have to bring you into being, and if you suffer, remember that so too did Jesus, his Son. Suffering is shared by God.

Alfred Joyce Kilmer put it this way in his Prayer of a Soldier in France:

My shoulders ache beneath my pack 

(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back). 

Please follow this link to our post from July last year for the whole poem, written shortly before Kilmer’s death in battle. He concludes:

So let me render back again 

This millionth of Thy gift. Amen. 

The gift is the redemptive suffering of Jesus; allying our suffering to his is to set ourselves in sympathy with Jesus; so if personal suffering is a gift, that is because of how we receive it, endure it, live it: through him, with him and in him. Him being the one who prayed: O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:29)

Image from William Blake’s Illustrations for the Book of Job, via Wikipedia
* Rowan Williams:  Luminaries: Twenty lives that illuminate the Christian Way, London SPCK 2019. p54

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September 20: Guests of the house.

footwash

I took advantage of a family holiday in North Wales to read ‘The Summer of the Danes’ by Ellis Peters in the area where the action takes place. Here Brothers Cadfael and Mark arrive at Saint Asaph to be greeted and shown to a room.

‘I’ll send someone with water,’ said their guide … and he was gone.

‘Water?’ said Mark, pondering this first and apparently essential courtesy. ‘Is that by way of taking salt, here in Wales?’

‘No, lad. A people that goes mostly afoot knows the value of feet and the dust and aches of travel. They bring water for us to bathe our feet. It is a graceful way of asking: Are you meaning to bide overnight? If we refuse it, we intend only a brief visit in courtesy. If we accept it, we are guests of the house from that moment.’

Helleth, who comes to do this service, is almost the only woman but a central character in the story of power and piracy, secular and ecclesiastical. Ellis Peters uses 13th Century Wales to explore the role of women in society, love and marriage; war- and peace-making; marriage of the clergy; feudal authority and loyalty; and Welsh identity, all within a page-turning mystery. As so often the book is better than the TV programme. You’ll find it for sale on-line.

The Welsh did not initiate this rite, of course, but I believe it was a Welshman, Archbishop Rowan Williams, who reintroduced the Maundy Thursday ceremony to Canterbury Cathedral. You can read about a participant’s experience of the washing of feet in Canterbury here. and about an updated response to this tradition here. This is Rev Jo Richards’ reflection on Holy Week. This reflection links the Station of Veronica to Jesus washing Peter’s feet.

One evening on holiday I ended up giving Abel a bit more than a foot wash after he slipped on slimy mud at the seashore, a service gladly given! There are many such little occasions to provide for each others needs.

 

 

 

 

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April 7: Stations of the Cross for Saint Peter. Introduction.

winchester crucifix

Introduction

Over the coming fortnight our posts will follow the Stations of the Cross from the point of view of Peter. You are invited to sit with him in prison in Rome under Nero’s persecution of the Christian church. He has time to reflect on his life with Jesus, and especially on the events of those few nights and days at the end of his Lord’s earthly life.

When someone is hurt, those around feel it too. All the more if they have let their loved one down, betrayed them, in big things or in small. Jesus suffers and dies with his brothers and sisters every day – near at hand and in lands far away. Do we walk away – like the disciples on the way to Emmaus? Do we harden our hearts, as Malchus and his companions must have done, to carry on arresting Jesus after he’d cured that severed ear?

Do we run off and weep as Peter did? Despair, as Judas did?

Do we let Jesus seek us out and help us back onto our feet, as Peter did?

These stations link the Via Dolorosa to other events in the lives of Jesus and Peter. If we could see the whole picture we would know that the life and death of Jesus are one story: as Rowan Williams said, he lived a lifelong Passion. We are his body and our lives make sense in his.

As we walk with Peter, yards behind Jesus, almost out of sight, let us pray that we may see more clearly our own sufferings and our own betrayals alongside our joys. May we see more clearly how our sisters and brothers are betrayed and abandoned by us. may we then be ready to let Jesus come and find us, put us back on our  feet, and lead us into his Kingdom of service.

For each station there are Scripture references to the Way of the Cross and to parallel events in the lives of Peter and Jesus.

These Stations were followed in Saint Thomas’s Church, Canterbury in 2005.

Winchester Cathedral, MMB.

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19 March: Before the Cross VI: Why?

 

Saint Anselm’s feast falls on 21st April, Easter Day this year. So let’s visit him during Lent, reflecting on Good Friday and Easter with another Archbishop of Canterbury.

The crypt of Canterbury Cathedral was closed as they prepared for a service, so I went upstairs to Saint Anselm and sat opposite his post-war window. The focal point, it seemed to me that morning, was not the central figure of Anselm in bishop’s robes and pallium, holding his cross and giving his blessing, but the three Latin words on the book below the Saint and the descending dove of the Holy Spirit:

CUR DEUS HOMO

in English we would say, ‘Why did God become Man?’ Look again at the open book. There is also a sturdy tree on the page, a reminder of the Cross; it bears a cruciform flower. And indeed, Bishop Anselm carries a cross, not unlike the one we saw in the photograph from Algeria in the first post in this series. 

in his introductory chapter, Anselm says, ‘to my mind it appears a neglect if, after we are established in the faith, we do not seek to understand what we believe.’ We cannot disagree with that, even if we find his rather legalistic argument off-putting. 

Where Scotus would later argue that God wanted to become man anyway, Anselm argues that the way for sinful man to be reconciled to God was for the perfect sacrifice to be offered in atonement. A perfect sacrifice could only be offered by a perfect man, and that man was Jesus, and the perfect sacrifice was his death at the hands of sinners.

On the other hand, Anselm’s successor, Rowan Williams, argued in a Lenten talk in this cathedral that Christ lived a life-long passion: his whole life was a sacrifice, making holy the human race and all of creation. Here is Anselm (II.viii):

No man except this one ever gave to God what he was not obliged to lose, or paid a debt he did not owe. But he freely offered to the Father what there was no need of his ever losing, and paid for sinners what he owed not for himself. 

We are all obliged to lose our lives, but we can learn, not just from Anselm’s writings, but from his example. He left home to travel to Bec in Normandy to become a monk; at Bec he became a teacher and leader of the community before he was sent as Archbishop to Canterbury, where he continued teaching. But as Archbishop he had other duties, and was exiled twice for opposing the Norman Kings of England, William II and Henry I. He risked the same fate as Alphege his predecessor,  his successor Thomas, and his crucified Master.

‘Freely offered to the Father’ sounds like love to me, as does ‘lifelong passion’, as does Friar Austin’s view that:

Jesus is revealed in a life no longer under threat. The Resurrection is the realisation of his message of total freedom.

Different views of the same event, which was not Good Friday only, but the 33 years before that, and Easter Sunday and the eternity following that.

The text of Cur Deus Homo can be found here .

 

MMB.

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Lectures at St Peter’s Methodist Church

The Contemporary Theology Group convenes lectures at St Peter’s Methodist Church on a monthly basis for the first half of the year. Entry is £3 per person per lecture, and the evening begins at 7:45pm unless stated otherwise.
Wednesday 15th February Dr Rowan Williams – Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A New Look
For more information on any of these lectures, please contact John Bown, 01227 764876, j.bown230@talktalk.net

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Interruption: Something to listen to – on line

Doctor Rowan Williams, formerly of this city, is giving a series of lectures at Cambridge on Christ and the Logic of Creation.  You can hear these by following this link:

http://sms.cam.ac.uk/collection/2154437

WT.

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Christ the King I

RoodEngMartyrsCamb (495x700)

Pilate therefore said to him: Art thou a king then?

Jesus answered: Thou sayest that I am a king.

For this was I born,

and for this came I into the world;

that I should give testimony to the truth.

Every one that is of the truth,

heareth my voice.                                                                                                           John 18:33-37

Jesus does not tell Pilate that he has come to save the world. He comes as a witness to the truth.

And if we are ‘of the truth’ we will hear his voice.

That includes ‘Every one that is of the truth’, surely also those who pursue truth in other ways: scientists, poets, lovers, giving their lives to their passion for research, for the sound of the right words, for the lover’s good.

John says elsewhere:  

In this we have known the charity of God, because he hath laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.                                                                                                          1 John 3:16.

We need not pursue actual martyrdom, as the young Teresa resolved to do (see post ‘Like Little Children’, October 15th 2015). As Teresa discovered, there are other ways to lay down our lives; Rowan Williams reminds us that ‘Christ lived a lifelong passion’. Is that a description of my life?

MMB.

Rood Screen, Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge. MMB.

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