Dear Professor James: A century has passed since you delivered the 20 Gifford Lectures on natural religion at Edinburgh, and published them as The Varieties of Religious Experience. We are celebrating this occasion, my students and I, and your friends around the world, as the 100th birthday of the greatest modern book on personal religion.
I was driving to work when a song on the radio caught my attention. In country style I was treated to a theological lesson: “God is our Santa Claus,” a voice crooned, “each and every day.” The words, sung half in a self-satisfied and half in a whiny and wistful tone, acquired for me the force of a revelation.
Now that the war against terrorism is well under way, things have eased up a little in Clarkesville. A month ago, you could not walk into a room full of people without someone trying to pin a flag on your lapel.
It’s going to be a long Advent. We stepped into the deep violet darkness and have been on the alert ever since, not only for the coming of our Savior, but also for further assaults from our largely unseen enemies. Two mysterious objects thus appear on the same radar screen: the mystery of redemption and the mystery of evil, both pushing our powers of analysis beyond their limits.
In his wonderful memoir Open Secrets, Richard Lischer describes a personal conflict that developed between Lischer and Leonard, a lay leader in the congregation. Their conflict had the potential to erupt into a major split in the congregation. But each man remained committed to the ministry of the church.
When he’s at home, Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury, begins each day with a short meditative walk, or sometimes with some slow prostrations, followed by 30 to 40 minutes of sitting on a low stool to repeat the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”). Usually he repeats the words silently, saying them while breathing out. “Over the years increasing exposure to and engagement with the Buddhist world in particular has made me aware of practices not unlike the ‘Jesus Prayer’ and introduced me to disciplines that further enforce the stillness and physical focus that the prayer entails,” says Williams (New Statesman, July 8).