Rowan Williams. Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014. 96p. (Kindle edition)
In his Introduction, the former Archbishop of Canterbury asks: “What are the essential elements of the Christian life?” He is not asking what makes individual Christians holy, but rather what are the simple recognizable things that make one realize that one is part of a Christian community. He suggests they are the four in the subtitle of his book. The chapters of his book are based on talks given in Canterbury Cathedral as part of the open lectures given during Holy Week 2013.
The theme of the first chapter on baptism begins with the recognition that what formally brings people into the Christian community is baptism. The word means “dipping” and suggests immersion or drowning in the death and rising of Jesus Christ. St. Paul refers to this theme in his letter to the Romans 6:4. Chapter two begins with the statement that “one of the things Christians characteristically do, is read the Bible…or have the Bible read to them.
“To share the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, means to live as people who know they are guests – that they have been welcomed, that they are wanted. Jesus Christ wants our company” Williams says at the beginning of chapter three.
Chapter four affirms that we need to grow in prayer, i.e. into the full stature of Christ (Eph 4:13), into the kind of humanity that Jesus Christ shows us. In other words growing in prayer is growing in Christian humanity. This theme is explored with the help of three outstanding fathers of the Church who have written about the Lord’s Prayer: Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and John Cassian.
Williams summarizes this section and closes his book with the following considerations: Origen, Gregory and Cassian: those three great figures of the early Church each reflect in different ways on the Lord’s Prayer, and each brings into focus three things that are essential to what most Christians have thought about prayers. First, and most importantly, prayer is God’s work in us. It is not us trying to persuade God to be nice to us or to get God interested in us.
Then, there is the deep connection that all these writers see between praying and living justly in the world, being the kind of mature human being who is not trapped by selfishness, fear of others, anxiety about the future or the desire to succeed at others’ expense. Prayer is the life of Jesus coming alive in you, so it is hardly surprising if it is absolutely bound up with a certain way of being human which is about reconciliation, mercy, and freely extending the welcome and the love of God to others.
Finally, prayer from our point of view is about fidelity, faithfulness, sticking to it. I may not quite know what is going on, as prayer deepens in me… Just stay there and if in doubt say, ‘O God, make speed to save me.’ Prayer is our promise and pledge to be there for God who is there for us. And that essentially is where, for the Christian, prayer begins and ends.