Rowan WILLIAMS. Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer. Grand Rapids ,and London: Eerdmans and Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge: 2014. Pp. 84. ISBN 978-0-8028-7197-8. Reviewed by Keith J. EGAN, Saint Mary’s College and the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame IN 46556
The name Rowan Williams automatically attracts readers so there was a good reason that the publishers of this short book did not give as the author’s name the title he now has as a lifetime peer in the British House of Lords: Baron Williams of Oystermouth. Under any name this book is worth the quick read that it is. The book is based on talks that were given in the Canterbury Cathedral during Holy Week, presumably in 2013. The author sees the themes in this book, Baptism, Bible, Eucharist and Prayer as four of the “most obvious elements” in the life of Christians.
As is the author’s wont with such essays, these chapters are based on erudition expressed in straightforward language free of jargon and technical terminology. The essays are, indeed, pastoral and practical, but they are filled with fresh and interesting insights. Chapter Four on “Prayer,” takes up contributions about prayer by three figures from the patristic era: Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and John Cassian who have contributed so much to a solid theology of Christian prayer. Lord Williams knows so very well how to extract wisdom from the writings of early church and in fact from subsequent eras as well. That wisdom is presented in language that is easy to digest but which has profound consequences for anyone who seeks to be a serious and dedicated disciple of Jesus.
One leaves these essays with the feeling that one has just heard sound and advice about how to live more robustly and yet simply one’s baptism, how to be more attentive to the scriptures, how to become aware that at the Eucharist one is “at the centre” of the world, and finally how one’s prayer life can be enriched by the wisdom of eminent prophets of prayer like Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and John Cassian. When one turns over the last page of these essays, one’s thirst for spiritual wisdom has been well met and, at the same time, one is left with a desire for more of such writings from the once one hundred and fourth Archbishop of Canterbury who is now the Master of Magdalene College at Cambridge University.