Writer: Mike Print
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After a break of a few months I had the opportunity to delve into a little more of Rowan Williams' theology. For anyone who has followed my blog (and I think Jessica is possible the only one!!) they will have noticed that in the past I've been challenged and encouraged by the present Archbishop of Canterbury who has cut quite a controversial figure in England over the past few years. In trying to get to grips with what Rowan believes, which because he is an academic is far harder that just reading his books, I decided to read Mike Higton's 'A Difficult Gospel: The Theology of Rowan Williams'. This post is a reflection upon on of those chapters 'Adulthood and Childhood'.
Childhood in its extreme can, of course, best be seen in the new born baby. For him or her, their entire world, rightly revolves around them. They sleep until they want something and then they scream until they get it and this is 'infantile' in its most basic form. As we look around the world and as we look inside ourselves we, to a greater or lesser extent, see the infantile in many who are no longer infants. Whenever we're selfish or demand our own way we are showing those around us that tendency which has been with us from birth. What matters to us is what is most important and we are metaphorically going to scream until we get it. The other day I went shopping with Natalie, my fiancee, and being selfish as I wasn't in the mood for shopping, I was grumpy and made sure she knew it. I was infantile and acting like the world revolved around me and tried to manipulate the world to get it to conform to my desires. As Higton puts it, Williams believes that:
'We are beset... by the infantile temptation to imagine ourselves on the verge of completeness. If I just had that thing, we say, I would be happy: I wouldn't need anything more. I look at myself, calculate the size and shape of the gaps in my life, and then hunt for the things or people or experiences that will fill them.'
So as you can see being infantile, being a child has nothing necessarily to do with age. Anyone from the person who has turned one hundred down can all be or remain infantile their entire life.
Adulthood then is the moving away from the subconscious belief, backed up by selfish actions, that the world revolves around me. To become an adult we must come to realise more and more that 'I' is not the centre of the universe, that others exist and have a say and that in fact the world may care little for my selfish desires. Becoming truly adult then is something which many people do not fully obtain regardless of how long they've lived and whether or not they can legally drink alcohol, vote or drive a car. As Williams says:
'The self becomes adult and truthful in being faced with the incurable character of its desire: the world is such that no thing will bestow on the self a rounded and finished identity.'
The problem then is how we move in the direction of the adult; how do we set aside the infantile desire to be the centre? For Williams, and for me, the answer lies in God and His grace in doing what otherwise could not be done - the continued movement from infant to adult in those who trust Him, Higton sums up:
'Grace awakens us to a vision of the self not as controllable and nearly complete, but as continually being given more, continually receiving not just neatly packaged extras, but transformation, real growth, unexpected reordering, from others who genuinely are others, rather than projections of our own desires. Grace invites us... into an economy of giving, which is grounded ultimately in the complete self-giving of God.'
It is only in recognizing that God should be at the centre of our world, that we become free to interact in the correct and most meaningful way with others with whom we share that world. No wonder Christ sums up the teaching of God as loving God first and people second, because we can only love others as ourselves when, in the first place, we love God completely (Matt 22:37). As I think back to my behaviour when shopping the other day I realise I continue to need God's help to love Him more, putting Him more at the centre of my life, so that I can love Natalie more and love her as much if not more than myself.
Any thoughts? Please share them in the comments section! Thank you!