Magazine article The Spectator

Pabulum for Pilgrims

Magazine article The Spectator

Pabulum for Pilgrims

Article excerpt

PONDER THESE THINGS: PRAYING WITH ICONS OF THE VIRGIN by Rowan Williams The Canterbury Press, Norwich, 77.99, pp. 74, ISBN 185311362X

Practising, orthodox Christians now make up a small part of the population, perhaps 10 per cent depending on your definition of 'practice' and 'orthodox'. Most of the remaining 90 per cent are more accurately called not agnostic but pagan. Of the 10 per cent it's anyone's guess how many are under spiritual direction and regularly engage in disciplined meditation whether at home, in retreat or on pilgrimage. Those who conduct retreats and lead pilgrimages for these few sometimes prepare addresses for their people to meditate on and Ponder These Things is a collection of four such addresses given to pilgrims from the author's diocese to Our Lady's shrine at Walsingham.

Archbishops such as Rowan Williams speak in different ways. They conduct scholarly theological discussions with their peers. They preach sermons. They sound off on political matters in letters to papers. And they lead meditations with pilgrims. Each has a different discipline and different authority. There are obvious dangers in mixing them up and I think that is what happens in this little book. Three of the addresses use icons of Mary, The Hodegetria, She who shows the way, The Eleousa, The Virgin of loving kindness and The Orans, The Virgin of the sign. The fourth is based on a legend of Mary spinning the wool for the sanctuary veil for the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple. In the Eleousa, the child is clutching tightly at His Mother. Rowan Williams writes that this shows how God does not wait afar off to love us, `impassive as we babble on about our sin and penitence ... His love is that of an eager, boisterous child.' The child cannot bear to be separated from His Mother. God is passionate for our company. Can God then be said to need us? Would He be incomplete without us? Williams the theologian knows this cannot be and he sets off to resolve the apparent contradiction. The resolution is that He needs us not for anything in particular but `to be' and this not because He is incomplete but because He needs to be Himself, to exercise the love that is His eternal life.

I mention the passage - necessarily in summary - because there is quite a lot of this sort of discussion in these pages. In sections like this, it seems to me that the author is not answering the needs of a pilgrim party of ordinary people from Wales. …

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