Tuesday, 23 May 2006

For the love of God (1): Why I love Rowan Williams

A guest-post by Kim Fabricius

Great theologians are like icons rather than religious paintings: you not only look at God, God looks at you. The theology of Rowan Williams is iconography.

In it we meet the gaze of God. It is the look of agape. Not since Barth—an immense influence—have I felt so love-touched by a theologian.

But the divine gaze is an x-ray of penetration, revealing the cor inquietum (Augustine is probably Rowan’s most significant theological other), exposing the self-love and self-hatred that infect the human project, and the self-deceit that blinds us to both. Rowan is completely conversant with postmodernism, but he doesn’t need Derrida to resource his own hermeneutic of self-deconstruction and social suspicion. Iconoclastic as well as iconographic is Rowan’s theology.

In fact, there is hardly a language-game Rowan cannot play (Wittgenstein is another mentor). He quite promiscuously quarries a range of traditions and thinkers for iconic gold—and finds it in the “silence and honey cakes” of the desert fathers; in the “muddle and silliness” of the saint John Wesley; in the exultant poetry of George Herbert and the dark fiction of Flannery O’Connor; not to mention in that contemporary pop-cultural “icon” Homer Simpson!

Rowan’s theology plays as well as prays (as in attendre, “dropping into what is there”). It is also politics. Its “social programme is the dogma of the Holy Trinity” (Nikolay Fyodorov): inclusive (no voices silenced), egalitarian (on hierarchical power, “think of what Coca-Cola does to your teeth”); pacific (based on “the truce of God”); and deeply enfleshed (“The Body’s Grace” is already a classic on both the “precariousness” and the creative possibilities of desire, gay as well as straight).

Not to forget Rowan’s personal holiness, at once profound and prosaic. Rowan is such a nice guy, reserved and vulnerable, yet warm and with-you, gaze for gaze.

Perfect? Not quite: Rowan doesn’t like sports—and he is too uncoordinated even to drive. After a meeting in Aberystwyth he once hitched a ride with me to Swansea. With my own focus more on Rowan than the road, he probably wished he’d taken the train!


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