What's Tony Thinking

The Encounter We Can’t Control


“God is that environment, that encounter, that we will never get to the bottom of and that we will never control.”

I love this line from an article by Rowan Williams in the current (August 29, 2018) Christian Century. That issue of the Century is devoted to the theme of silence. (Williams acknowledges the irony of speaking/ writing on silence.)

And the former Archbishop of Canterbury reflects on various kinds of silence and the experiences that lead us to silence. “What all these experiences have in common is that they challenge our urge to get on top of situations, to control.”

Often when I’ve seen a really great movie, play or concert, I don’t want to talk about it. At least not right away. I almost can’t. Words would seem a diminishment, a sacrilege of sorts.

Williams notes that now we “habitually live in a world where the ‘right thing’ to do with critical moments is to stop them from being critical. The right thing to do with a wild animal is to tame it, so to speak, and the right thing to do with any wild experience is to work out what I can do with it, what I can make of it, and, in short, domesticate it.”

“But the more our humanity falls in love with the strange idea of domesticating, absorbing, and controlling, the less human we actually get.” And then this sly line: “I would venture to guess that the people we would least like to spend a long time with are those who have answers to every question and plans for every contingency. There’s something slightly inhuman about that . . .”


This is the power of poetry, or good poetry. To create that gap, those moments at the end of the reading of poem, when we are silent. When no words will do.

Later in the article Williams speaks of liturgy/ worship, and of the contemporary propensity among worship leaders to explain everything and to fill every gap or space with words. Too many words is one sure way to keep a worship service from becoming worshipful. The best worship leaders know when not to speak.

“In the last few decades,” writes Williams, “when we’ve been trying to reconstruct and rethink worship in the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church and lots of others too, we’ve regularly made two sorts of mistake.

“We have said, ‘It’s all rather difficult, so we need to explain it,’ and we have said, ‘It’s all rather long and we need to trim it.’ The result is that we’ve lost sight of the ways in which the slow pace and the carefully chosen word, however mysterious, have their own integrity and effect.”

Beyond the world of worship too silence is hard to find. The chatter of social media, phones, internet is relentless. With it all we deceive ourselves into believing there are no voices but our own. Religion has to do with what we can’t get to the bottom of, what we will never control.

Last line to Williams: “But the more our humanity falls in love with the strange idea of domesticating, absorbing, and controlling, the less human we actually get.”

a p.s. that fits these themes: I am doing another session of “Writing in the Wild” at Seattle’s Discovery Park on September 29. For more information check this link





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