manage people

… because everyone is drawn almost irresistibly back towards this urge to manage.

Rowan Williams. Silence and Honey Cakes, 26.

I have been reading Silence and Honey Cakes – a book by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on desert spirituality. It was recommended to me by a lecture in history at a Catholic theological institute.

The above – “this urge to manage” – is a very strong image for me in the first chapter. The withdrawal into the desert is not a withdrawal from a sinful world but an opening of my own sinfulness. And at the core of this is my need to manage people. To set limits on other people’s access to God and to always place myself between God and people. To make myself the spiritual guru, the person with the answers, the person who has it all worked out. To place myself above the other is not an act of love but hubris.

But that is nothing but my sinfulness. And in silence, I hear that most clearly. The desert is not a place but part of my heart that I need to listen to intently. Only when I know what it means to be broken can I really appreciate what it means to be whole – or holy!


Spiritual guidance affirms the basic quest for meaning. It calls for the creation of space in which the validity of the questions does not depend on the availability of answers but on the questions’ capacity to open us to new perspectives and horizons. We must allow all the daily experiences of life—joy, loneliness, fear, anxiety, insecurity, doubt, ignorance, the need for affection, support, understanding, and the long cry for love—to be recognized as an essential part of the spiritual quest.

Nouwen, Spiritual Direction

I have been listening to Henry Nouwen’s book on spiritual direction. I have not read much by him so I am super impressed with this book. Especially as an audiobook that I can listen to while doing other things.

So I thought I would share the above. Questioning is important and very much part of the journey into Jesus.

witnesses to Jesus

I have been continuing to read The Freedom to Become a Christian: A Kierkegaardian Account of Human Transformation in Relationship with God. (I had a very pleasant hour on the beach yesterday reading and watching the waves.)

I just wanted to share two quotes that really struck me:

When Christian conceptions or propositions become the object of the Christian faith (for example, in the form of Christian doctrine), ‘Christianity’ becomes a plaything for intellectual pursuits, cultural sensibilities and political agendas. This is not, of course, to deny that Christian concepts and propositions serve a purpose. Their primary purpose, however, is to serve as a witness to God: to provide us with teaching that helps us to talk about, understand and know both who God is and who we are before God. But, for Kierkegaard, they are not to take centre stage.

The Freedom to Become a Christian, 4.

I was struck by the idea that doctrine etc are witnesses. And that these provide a framework for us to speak about God.

The conclusion that this work seeks to draw is that, for Kierkegaard, Christian belief and understanding are subordinate to a person’s relationship with God. They do not constitute the relationship itself. They are nothing more than a witness to and expression of the fact that God actively relates to us in history.

This is the main aim of the book. And I think this is a really important point to remember: it is all about a relationship. As the author further explains it is about a choice for the Christian life, it is not about conclusions but rather a resolution. (The last part is me!)

be transformed

… it is conceived as a transformative journey that is grounded in an active relationship with the God who is present with us and encounters us in and through the person of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, it involves a growing in relationship with God that does not simply result from God’s encountering us from the eternal beyond but takes place concretely within the history of this world. Accordingly, becoming a Christian requires responding to God’s historical engagement with us within the limitations of time.

The Freedom to Become a Christian, 2.

I have been reading The Freedom to Become a Christian with much interest. I think it discusses some issues that need to be discussed more – a theology of conversion. Further I think this theology of conversion should stand in the middle of our theology of mission. So I might share one or two quotes from the book as I progress through it. I am also hoping to write a full review and discussion of the book when I am done.

a good find

What a good find! A book on Keirkegaardian theology of conversion. YES! I will read the book and try to write some notes. I am glad to have found it!

holiness and mission

I have been reading The Mystic Way of Evangelism. It is an interesting read with much to think about – much more than I had first assumed. The book takes a wider view of mysticism than other books I have read. I have been exposed to the thoughts of individuals that I had not previously encountered. And that is always a good thing!

Last night I was thinking about how, in the mystics (and maybe modern-day “charismatics”) there is a real connection between a desire for holiness – oneness with Jesus – and the proclamation of Jesus to the world. In the history of the church movements have arisen that connect this desire with mission – mysticism, pietism, charismatic movement. Holiness and discipleship are intimately related to mission and witness.

There is no holiness without mission, no discipleship without witness. We cannot put discipleship in one box and have mission in another. Or have witness in one and holiness in another. These areas of the Christian life are not mutually exclusive – they are intimately related. A person set apart for God will reach out to people with the good news of Jesus. A disciple of Jesus will follow Jesus and witness to Him with their life.

I have been thinking that rather than a plan for mission, parishes should have a plan for discipleship that includes a plan for outreach. A plan for holiness that reaches out into the world. People transformed to transform people. To sound terribly judgemental, people need to understand that Jesus changes them and this relationship is not a private matter without consequences.

Transformed people ready to transform people.

the desert within

I have been reading a book for Benedictine Oblates. It has an article on “Solitude” that I think is very good.

The article makes the point that God has often dealt His people through the desert. Jesus went into the desert after His baptism. And, of course, John the Baptist lived in the desert.

Yet the most interesting point I think the article makes is that the “true desert” (what a terrible term) is within. That point inside of each one of us where we confront the Transcendent. I want to explore that more. (And, maybe, next time share some quotes from the article.)

I have also been reading a book on Julian of Norwich that I just cannot put down.

transform to transform

I have just purchased this book. While I suspect that it will not be my cup of tea, I am intrigued by the premise. And it follows from the previous post. So the premise is:

Christian mysticism is about the holy transformation of the mystic by God so that the mystic becomes instrumental in the holy transformation of God’s people. This transformation always results in missional action in the world. The idea that mysticism is private and removed from the rugged world of ministry is simply false. All the Old Testament prophets were mystics. Their visions, dreams, and other experiences of God were for the express purpose of calling God’s people back to their missional vocation.

Elaine Heath, The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach, 5

“Being transformed leads to a desire to transform”. Yes! Experiencing Jesus leads to a desire for others to experience Him. There are movements that emphases the experience of Jesus that are also intensely missional. (Pietism and Pentecostalism are only two.) Yet the missional impulse does not grow out a “requirement” but rather from love.

So mission is about people experiencing and being transformed by Jesus. And that can only happen if I am transformed and reflect Jesus in my life. And the modern prophet is a mystic who calls individuals back to their mission to proclaim Jesus.

existential individual

We are born biological beings but we must become existential individuals by accepting responsibility for our actions. This is an application of Nietzsche’s advice to ‘become what you are’. Many people never do acknowledge such responsibility but rather flee their existential individuality into the comfort of the faceless crowd.

Thomas Flynn, Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction.

I remember first reading the above quote and being caught off-guard. The philosophy I had read before that had been western Aristotelian – Thomas Aquinas and the more conservative Roman Catholic philosophers. I read Augustine’s Confessions one Lent and became more interested in Plato and Christian Platonism. Somehow (by God’s grace) I read a few books about existentialism and ended with Kierkegaard. I’ll admit that just being able to spell “Kierkegaard” was a point of pride. I was attracted by Kierkegaard’s view of the self but the Absolute Paradox keeps me reading. But that is for another post!

The above is a thought I have often returned to because it puts it so simply and elegantly. Kierkegaard, of course, would speak of becoming a “single individual” before God. Often in Christian circles I have heard people speak of the evil of modern individualism. I think that is how some people would read the above quote. But the issue with modern individualism (what is that?) is the idea of freedom – someone being free does not mean that their actions are right. Again, for another post!

“Actions and consequences before God” is how I read the quote. (And how I understand Kierkegaard’s “single individual”.) I am responsible for my actions and for my relationship with Jesus. There is no magic formula or secret handshake that creates and keeps me in that relationship. No doctrinal position or liturgical rite will take away from me the responsibility I have before God for my relationship with Him. God makes the first move and reaches out to me. I am called to respond to Him in my particular and individual situation.

Maybe I should write a little about “faith” in the future? But the above is just as true for me in my daily life with depression. The moment I took responsibility for my mental health things changed. I remember crying for the first time during counselling – not hiding the pain behind a mask given to me by the crowd, not allowing the crowd to define me and box me into a role. Finding out what that “me” is has been painful and very hard. And it is a daily struggle not to run back into the crowd and just surrender “me” to a function I have been assigned.

So, anyway, I just wanted to share that quote.