Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Rowan Williams, Silence and Honey Cakes, 2003.

Archbishop Williams gave the 2001 John Main Seminar Lectures on "the wisdom of the desert"--that is, what's relevant about the Desert Fathers for our faith today.

The book is the edited versions of those lectures, plus a Question and Answer session, that discuss four principal ideas with which the Archbishop engages: neighbours, silence, flight, and stability. Williams starts each lecture with a saying from the desert fathers, understands the saying in its context, and then deals with what it can impart today. As he goes through his lectures, he hits on ideas of vocation and ministry, of what it means to be a member of the church, and of what it means for one's decisions and attitudes to be a follower of G-d.

The Archbishop is compelling; each point he makes is hard indeed to refute, and I found myself increasingly convinced by his arguments. The one flaw of the book is that it feels like a series of talks rather than like a book: two many colloquialisms or standard modes of speech remain that should have been excised.

For people unfamiliar with the Desert Fathers, this book serves as a wonderful introduction, better perhaps than Merton's The Wisdom of the Desert--my copy of which I can't for the life of me find--at helping a newcomer to enter the tradition of the Fathers. It would be nice if the book had more of their sayings; readers are going to want to find a copy of Merton's Wisdom or Sister Benedicta Ward's The Sayings of the Desert Fathers if they want to spend some extended time with the thoughts of the Fathers.