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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

When you see a great performer, a singer or instrumentalist, at work realizing a piece of music, you are looking at one human being at the limit of their skill and concentration. All their strength, their freedom, and you could even say their love is focused on bringing to life the work and vision of another person. Think of Jacqueline du Pré’s legendary playing of Elgar’s Cello Concerto — memorably captured on film — and you may see what I mean. But you see it any time you go to a concert, classical or popular, when you go to a cathedral service with choristers, when you watch a singer close up on the big screen. Here is Someone who is completely themselves, free and independent, and yet for this time the whole of their being, their life, their freedom, their skill, is taken up with this mysterious, different thing that is the work to be brought to life. The vision and imagination of another person, the composer, has to come through — not displacing the human particularity of the performer but ‘saturating’ that performer’s being for the time of the performance.

Now, could we imagine what it might be like for a whole lifetime to be given up to ‘performance’ in that way? Because that, surely, is what we’re trying to say about Jesus as a human being. He is performing God’s love, God’s purpose, without a break, without a false note, without a stumble; yet he is never other than himself, with all that makes him distinctly human taken up with this creative work. If we look at great musicians, we see both the intensity of the struggle and the strength of the joy that goes with it. Whatever is happening, these performers are not becoming less human, less distinctive. In the fullness of their skill and their joy, another is made present. So with Jesus; this is a human life and a human will whose power and joy is the performance of who God is and what God wants, the performance of the Word of God.

— Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust

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We live in a world where God’s active presence is both invisible and inscrutable on the one and, on the other, almost unbearably close wherever we are and whatever is happening. The poet William Blake, who had a Vision of trees full of angels at Peckham Rye, is a safer guide than William Paley to a world that may not be secure but is pulsing with something unmanageable, terrible and wonderful just below its surface.

— Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust

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Well, one thing that tells us is that we can’t be doing with the sort of notion of miracles that some seem to have, as if God hearing our prayers were like someone receiving applications. He ticks some and puts a cross by others and hands the forms back for action by some angelic civil service. There is a hint of a slightly more sensible approach in an idea put forward by St Augustine in the fifth century—that miracles were really just natural processes speeded up a bit, ‘fast-forwarded’. This may be a bit too simple; but Augustine had got hold of something that many thinkers of the Middle Ages followed through in different ways. If God’s action is always at work around us, if it’s always ‘on hand’, so to speak, we shouldn’t be thinking of God’s action and the processes of the world as two competing sorts of thing, jostling for space. But what if there were times when certain bits of the world’s processes came together in such a way that the whole cluster of happenings became a bit more open to God’s final purposes? What if the world were sometimes a bit more ‘transparent’ to the underlying act of God?

— Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust

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Cardinal Newman once said that a magnifying glass can kindle a fire somewhere else even if it remains cold in itself.

— Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust

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If God is genuinely the Lord of history, then context can just as appropriately be ascribed to divine providence as it can be to the interplay of social, cultural, and economic forces. Indeed, if it’s truly history that he’s Lord of, those “secular” forces will be the very things he’ll use, in all their developments and collisions, to tip his hand and express his Word. It is important to add, however, that in both Scripture and the church’s life, God the Holy Spirit presides over the historical process mysteriously, not ham-fistedly: he lets events take their natural course and still gets the results he wants. In short, he rides the bicycle of history home no-hands. Think about that. God uses Cyrus the Persian to liberate the people of Israel from Babylon, even though Cyrus himself does nothing but his own thing for his own reasons. God saves the world through his Incarnate Word in Jesus by the historical accident of a judicial murder. And even though the Holy Spirit leaves the writers of the Bible free to say whatever comes into their unique and independent heads, he still manages to get from them the historical Scriptures he wants us to have as his Word written. Freedom in no way precludes providence, and providence has no need to interfere with freedom.

— Robert Farrar Capon, The Astonished Heart

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Actually rather small

You won’t be surprised to hear that I haven’t yet found the decisive new argument that will prove once and for all that there really is a God; but we do need to remember that the number of people who come into a living personal faith as a result of argument is actually rather small. Many centuries ago, a great theologian and pastor, St Ambrose, said that ‘it did not suit God to save his people by arguments’? Of course they have their uses. When people argue against the existence of God, it helps to have some points you can make to counter the idea that belief is just completely irrational. But what is it that shifts people’s imagination and vision and hope?

The Bible has no arguments for the existence of God. There are moments of conflict with God, anger with God, doubt about God’s purposes, anguish and lostness when people have no real sense of God’s presence. The Psalms are full of this, as is the Book of Job. Don’t imagine that the Bible is full of comfortable and reassuring things about the life of belief and trust; it isn’t. It is often about the appalling cost of letting God come near you and of trying to trust him when all the evidence seems to have gone. But Abraham, Moses and St Paul don’t sit down to work out whether God exists; they are already caught up in something the imperative reality of which they can’t deny or ignore. At one level, you have to see that the very angst and struggle they bring to their relation with God is itself a kind of argument for God: if they take God that seriously, at least this isn’t some cosy made-up way of making yourself feel better.

— Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust

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The common life of a people is defined not so much by their doing the same thing at the same time (twenty million Americans watching a rerun of NYPD Blue are not a community) as it is by beating in their bones the astonishing story of who they were and what they are. Judaism since the Exile has hardly been a religion at all; it has been a people. And even if some of its people have “lost their religion” entirely, they are still the people of God.

— Robert Farrar Capon, The Astonished Heart

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