Rowan Williams on being a person and freedom
Rowan Williams seems on fire in the last few months of his Canterbury tenure.
His recent Theos speech was a little dense but brilliant on the different between being an individual and being a person - roughly, the notion of being an individual abstracting us from life (individuals have rights, for example); whereas the notion of being a person takes us into our lived, embodied uniqueness, vulnerability and mystery - in the sense that to be a person is to 'overflow' natural categories of being in possession of this or that human capacity.
And I was just reading his speech to the Roman bishops. He is surely right that the attractive side of Christianity these days is coming out of the religious communities that live a profounder vision of what it is to be human than the one available in consumer culture. (He's thinking about Taizé, Sant’ Egidio, the Focolare.)
What is particularly brilliant about his analysis, I think, is recognising that Christians must navigate the shadow side of themselves to find 'freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them'. (There's something similar in the psychodynamic understanding of narcissism.) Though it is very hard to do, not least in the church, I feel, partly because it takes leaders who have themselves undergone that journey to lead others through it. Hence, he also admits, the church routinely fails to live this promise and so looks as 'anxious, busy, competitive and controlling' as any other human institution.
When Christians live that freedom, it is naturally attractive. Williams' continues:
'What people of all ages recognise in these practices is the possibility, quite simply, of living more humanly – living with less frantic acquisitiveness, living with space for stillness, living in the expectation of learning, and most of all, living with an awareness that there is a solid and durable joy to be discovered in the disciplines of self-forgetfulness that is quite different from the gratification of this or that impulse of the moment.'
He quotes Henri de Lubac a few times, whom I'm now off to read. ‘He who will best answer the needs of his time will be someone who will not have first sought to answer them.' ‘The man who seeks sincerity, instead of seeking truth in self-forgetfulness, is like the man who seeks to be detached instead of laying himself open in love.'
There's something in that on the difference between atheistic and theistic notions of meditation...