1. Pageantmaster [KJS to Coventry] wrote:
Some while back, encouraged by a friend, I started taking an interest in Christian meditation - and in particular the exercise which has been taking hold in the Anglican church, as it seemed to accord with where my prayer-life was going. This is an esoteric development pioneered mainly by Catholics recently but now more of an ecumenical movement developed by Bede Griffiths, Laurence Freeman, John Main and others. Rowan Williams is heavily involved and has written on an early forerunner, Thomas Merton. He is also Patron of one of the organisations which promotes this in the Anglican Church.
Well, all went swimmingly, until I went to a lecture by a Benedictine Monk central to the movement who lives on a ‘Christian Ashram’ in India. He let the cat out of the bag under some astute questionning from the audience. Central to the thinking is that all the ancient traditions have meditation - the eastern religions, and the Christian church from the Orthodox to the Catholics. Deeper in, the experience in our church uses the scriptures to meditate upon, but the techniques of emptying, focusing and so on are indistinguishable from those of the Eastern religions. Our ‘Benedictine monk’ did finally admit that Christianity and Jesus was seen as just one branch of the great tree of world religions, along with Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and so on, revealing, just as the many names of gods in other religions, aspects of the One God/s who expresses himself or themselves in different ways. Hinduism has no problem with Jesus, he is just one aspect of their pantheon of expressions of god/s
I was deeply shocked, and my friend was embarrassed, but I am grateful for the clarity which I gained that evening.
Pope Benedict has specifically warned against the dangers of using non-Christian practices in meditation and as far as I can see he is spot on. My meditation and prayer no longer has anything to do with this heretical movement.
What does this have to do with Rowan Williams? Well I have been reading with rising concern his recent pronouncements. Consider his Diwali message in October:
In Hindu and Christian mystical texts different passages speak of homecoming as a matter of communion and relationship with God, while others present it as a luminous experience in which God and Self merge into one. I hope that through reading these different passages together in Hindu and Christian dialogue we can find a basis from which to work together as communities and develop greater understanding of the nature of God and of what it means to dwell with and in him.
So, according to the ‘Archbishop’ we can learn more about God by reading the Hindu scriptures?
There is more - in November in his address launching the Hindu Christian Forum he is candid:
I thought I might begin by saying a word about my own history of encounter with the Hindu world which began I think when I was about 12 years old. I picked up in the school library a children’s version of the Ramayana, and began to understand that there was a very considerable world out there of which I’d known nothing, full of beauty and challenge and terror and complexity and death. And from that moment in the early 1960s, when I had my first very superficial encounter, my interest remained strong and my appetite remained strong for learning what this other world might have to teach. Later on in my teens I began to read some of the work of that unusual and controversial Roman Catholic writer, Bede Griffiths, who of course spent so many years in South India - controversial, I think, both in the Hindu and the Christian context, for his efforts to build bridges. And it was later on as a student that I encountered yet another boundary-crossing Roman Catholic figure in the shape of Abhishiktananda, whose book on prayer was to me one of the most influential works I had ever read, drawing as it did on the very deep resources of the Hindu spirituality that this French monk had drawn from in his long witness in India.
Where does this lead Williams?
I used the opportunity of studying as much as I could of the religious world in which my wife’s family had worked for many years, and again finding my own understanding and horizons enlarge all the time.
In other words part of my own encounter with the Hindu world has been an encounter in which I have constantly realised that the historic Christian identity is something that constantly needs to be opened, enlarged, challenged and enriched in conversation.
Reading the rest of the piece it is clear that Williams draws no distinction between the insights to be drawn from the god who Hindus worship and the God who Christians worship - for him they appear from his writings to be one and the same.
Again, that resonates with a conversation I had with another individual who had asked Williams long before he became Archbishop whether Christ was the only way to God the Father. Williams reportedly told this man that he did not accept that Christianity had an exclusive claim to knowledge of God - one could get there through other religions.
So we come to this piece and where for its prolixity and tortuously careful attempts to ground itself in scripture and the Church fathers it is going:
Our vision of and faith in Jesus depends on the fact that the eternal Word is ontologically prior to the human individuality of Jesus, that the relation between the humanity of Jesus and the eternal Word is asymmetrical. Jesus depends on the Word. This does not mean that anyone comes into relation to the Word without coming into relation with Jesus; but it may mean that the freedom of the Word to develop relation with any human subject or human culture is not immediately limited by the contingent facts about how much that subject or culture knows or thinks it knows about Jesus of Nazareth.
Quite - Archbishop Williams has wandered off exploring - past Rome, through Moscow and perhaps Constantinople and like Alexander has landed up in India. He has left us in the Church far behind.
Like his forerunner who wandered away from Christ, Richard Holloway, we should pray for him as for all those in leadership, for “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” [1Peter 5:8] His attack is sometimes subtle and preys to our weaknesses, our arrogance, our intellectual curiosity, our desire to accept everybody; he particularly likes our leaders, and those who do not ground themselves in the ‘Word’ as we have been given it in the Christian scriptures are particularly at risk.
Some days I sit and think. Other days I just sit!!
December 13, 9:52 am | [comment link]