It’s like a series of stepping stones over a fast-moving stream. When you have crossed a few times, the stream becomes secondary to the crossing, and the stones define your knowledge of it. The living stream is the reality that is too fluid to be retained by the mind.
Theology is for academics who write books to demonstrate their knowledge, piling up pernickety footnotes as a brag list of what they have read. God? … do be sensible, young man!
Cynicism is often at the heart of theology, which has become a field for arm wrestling, not the thirst for experience that will validate the intuition.
So what are we to make of Rowan Williams’s latest book: The Lion’s World, which contains the following passage:
How do you make fresh what is thought to be familiar, so familiar that it doesn’t have to be thought about? … a world in which the strangeness of the Christian story is encountered for what it is, not as part of a familiar eccentricity of behaviour called religion.
Phew! The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury seems more than a little demob happy. And he continues along this fruitful line:
… the real possibility of joy beyond imagining, the fact that the world we think we know is soaked through with symbolic meaning and intelligent energy. [My emphasis]
I like the phrase “soaked through” — it expresses it so well. I should add that Dr Williams has, in the past, been “accused” of writing densely obstruse books on such subjects as, Dostoevsky and Teresa of Avila.
The Lion’s World examines C.S Lewis’s children’s book series about Narnia, a mythical world that only youngsters can see at first, but which develops into a broad metaphor for a field of action, an alternative world, dominated by the Christlike Aslan, a giant lion.
The books and films are too well known, I think, to be described further here. Besides, they have their own slightly dotty charm which must be experienced not read about. As indeed does The Lion’s World, which I won’t labour too much. If you know Narnia and like the sound of this, I heartily recommend it.
Williams amusingly quotes Lewis on Freudian psychoanalysis: “If Theism had done nothing else for me, I should still be thankful that it cured me of the timewasting and foolish practice of keeping a diary.”
Self-obsession is a major impediment to spiritual progress, specifically because the emphasis is on the thinker not the divine. Self forgetfulness is the essence of the mystical path. Lewis knew that, and it is an unusual characteristic for one who hovers around the hill-tops of theological discourse.
However, the author of Mere Christianity was bound to break out of the magic circle at some point. It was Lewis who rather wonderfully pointed out that, “there are no ordinary people, it is immortals that we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit.” It is our purpose to reveal God to one another.
Politics pokes its nose in fleetingly: “Human rules are neither here nor there, and they are commonly used for unjust purposes; Lewis is enough of a Tory anarchist to be very sceptical of most schemes for human happiness,” writes the Archbishop. Is there just a hint of fellow-feeling there? That would be a departure for the lord of Greenham Common.
Might we see a different Rowan emerging from his new Chair at Cambridge University, or will he become lost in the groves of academe, a fate that C.S. Lewis avoided at Oxford? Time, as ever, will tell.
Ultimately, he writes: “What is devilish … is the illusion that we can somehow control this reality by denying it. There is no other stream. The way to life or reconciliation or forgiveness or renewal is always a path through what is there …
And I might add … staring you in the face.
… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.
Spiritual Mystics in the Modern World is coming soon.