[i]The Rev. Andrew Symes at Anglican Mainstream offers a reflection on the challenge of balancing “the inward and the outward life,” critiques former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ recent interview “How Buddhism Helps me Pray,” and examines British values and Christians’ response in the face of the challenges presented by multi-culturalism. -the elves[/i]
So the life of discipleship is oscillating between rest in God, and fruitful action in the world; both undergirded by active, unhurried, worshipful, compassionate, sometimes agonized prayer. It constantly moves between the two poles of wonder at the sacrifice of Christ dealing with my sin and winning my forgiveness, and engaging sacrificially with others, enabled by the indwelling divine living presence. There is an enormous richness in teaching over the centuries, in different church traditions, on Christ-centred prayer, and on maintaining these two poles, sometimes paradoxical, of inward and outward life, rest and yoke, of abiding and being productive, of atonement and empowerment. Yes there might be imbalance in the teaching of different groups, just as each of us because of our personalities tend to prefer contemplation or activism. But that doesn’t mean we are at liberty to reject clear teachings of Scripture or go searching outside the Christian tradition when Jesus commands us to come to him.
But sadly this is exactly what Rowan Williams advocates in a recent interview:
The whole article is about Williams’ morning spiritual disciplines ”“ what evangelicals might call his “quiet time”. He begins encouragingly by talking about the ”˜Jesus Prayer’ (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”) ”“ one would think that this could be a great opportunity to explain its meaning to the secular readers who clearly are interested in this detail of the personal life of a celebrity. But the phrase does not prompt reflection, in order to worship or pray to the living Christ ”“ it is simply repeated as a mantra, as part of a Buddhist-inspired technique of focusing on one’s body living and breathing in the moment. The former Archbishop does not give any indication at the end of the interview that God might really exist out there, a divine person separate from us, calling on us to repent and come to him in Christ. Rather “God ”˜happens’: a life lived in you”, and the uncomfortable meditative technique is apparently a way in which anyone who puts in the work can become aware of this “inner light”.
Is Rowan Williams embarrassed about embracing and articulating fully the Christian story and the wonderful resources that Christ offers his followers by grace? Does he feel that Jesus is not enough, and the insights and practices of others faiths are needed to get closer to God, to feel loved, to have strength to face the day and help others? Or perhaps he believes that in synthesizing aspects of different religions, he is modelling inclusivity and helping to promote community cohesion between the different faith groups in Britain? This is suggested by his recent appearance as a speaker at the Living Islam Festival at the Lincolnshire showground. But again, is modern Britishness best achieved by a synthesis of Christian, secular, Islamic and Buddhist ”“ and if so how, given the radically different worldviews of these four faiths?
Christianity is in retreat, yet secularism and Islam are becoming more confident in demanding the hegemony of their values. Many orthodox Christian leaders are responding by self-ghettoisation: increasingly arguing that faith is a private matter and that Gospel values, the ethics which flow out of taking on the yoke of Christ and being fruitful in him and on which the best “British values” are based, are only applicable to the converted. We continue to thank God for groups like Christian Institute and Christian Concern who have resisted this route. Liberal thinkers such as Rowan Williams want to engage in the public square, but seem to do so with embarrassment about the apparent former dominance of Christianity: the result is the articulation of a more “generous and inclusive” faith which synthesizes, merges with and ultimately submits to other worldviews rather than confronting, challenging and transforming them.