Book Review: Wound of Knowledge by Archbishop Rowan Williams
by Peter Menkin 1/20/2009 / Book Reviews
Passonate and intelligent book on Christian inclination and spirituality
Where does this book begin? I find so many entry points, for the writer, Archbishop Rowan Williams, allows the reader to join in at many places. I will start from the beginning, the usual way of writing a book review. For me, there are many lessons as in the way to live more seriously in Christ. To live more seriously in the church and into "...the historical corporateness of its tradition..." with commitment. He the head of the Anglican Church, its worldwide communion, and the Church of England again provides a service in illuminating God-in-Christ. I do not mean to reduce this thoughtful and brilliant book to a series of sound bites. For it is a readable yet scholarly book, well thought out, and filled with the "Wound of Knowledge" as the title suggests.
The author writes with authority in matters, including our inclinations to "religious control" where we wish to come to Christ and the New Testament without so many certainties. Let me stop a moment and say something of certainties, as found in a poem by the author of the book "Run, Shepherds, Run: Poems for Advent and Christmas." In that book the Episcopalian teacher at a seminary in Berkeley, California USA says, "If you want to go to God, go without/your certainties. Take your graces. Leave/your certainties behind..." (L. William Countryman, "Going to God with the Shepherds.) This is good advice on an approach to reading this 191 page paperback published by Cowley Publications, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
The subtitle of the book tells us that the author is writing about, "Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to Saint John of the Cross." The table of contents names the chapters well, and this well presented book is offered with intriguing questions and statements: "The Passion of My God," "The Shadow of the Flesh," "End Without End," The Clamor of the Heart." If it were not for the clarity of the writing, one would think there is a denseness to the text that thwarts an intelligent lay man or woman. Not so, for though there is a sense of mystery about the book, there is more greatly so a sustained exposition.
Many of the thoughts presented in this book will be familiar to the Christian reader, nonetheless by the authority of the figure who is author, and by the tone of the writing, clarification and consideration is evident. "The whole notion of a God who is 'productive,' free to create a world to which he can communicate something of himself, depends upon conceiving God's intrinsic life as generative of relationship." This sample of reason is helpful, and solid stuff. I like to hear it said.
In our world there is for us humankind, "...an eternal actuality..." Here again, just a few words, but words one can take and think about, and hang onto. In discussing Saint Augustine, as Rowan Williams does other historic Christian thinkers, for when this Augustine concept is used, we get the light of spirituality: "...the never ceasing pilgrimage of the heart or spirit ..." we know that the Archbishop is a man who believes well what he writes: "The heart does not look for an easy stability..."
The book is, "...an introduction to the ways in which a succession of Christian saints lies in their readiness...to articulate their vision of the Christian calling..."
I like this quote from the Chapter, "The Sign of the Son of Man." It ends the chapter and is towards the end of the book: There are, according to Luther, "...unpalatable facts of human self destructiveness; that it is there, in the bitterest places of alienation, that the depth and scope of Christ's victory can be tasted...all-pervading liberation." As you can see, this is an ecumenical book. That is important to say.
There is passion in Rowan William's belief and spirituality, a deeply religious man certainly, I enjoyed the context created for a quotation from John of the Cross. As Archbishop Rowan says, "...poems do not argue; they reflect, modify and recreate the synthetic vision of experience..." This quotation from the Bride's words reflects and professes the deep experience that religion brings: "All those that haunt the spot/Recount your charm, and wound me worst of all/Babbling I know not what strange rapture, they recall,/Which leaves me stretched and dying when I fall." Passion is there, and in this book.
The title fulfills the mission statement of the publisher, "...to developing a new generation of writers and teachers who will encourage people to think and pray in new ways about spirituality, reconciliation, and the future." The uniqueness of the vision in this book is welcomed by this reader, and I am sure if you are inclined to find means to know Christ and become more deeply engaged with God-in-Christ you will find, "The Wound of Knowledge: Christian Sirituality from the New Testament to Saint John of the Cross a worthwhile purchase. I can truly say that this is a book when read that is time well spent.
--Peter Menkin, Ninth day of Christmas
Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA where he writes poetry. He is an Oblate of Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Big Sur, CA and that means he is a Camaldoli Benedictine. He is 64 years of age as of 2010.