Today, the draft of an interview with Rowan Williams, centered on Teresa of Avila (28 March 1515 – 4 October 1582 / Note – 500th Anniversary of her birth 28 March 2015) that will apparently be published in the May / June 2014 issue of Theology.
Here’s an excerpt. The interviewer is Kirsty Jane McLuskey (“KJM”):
“…KJM: This question comes with the benefit of hindsight because, of course, both were very marginalised and the majority of people at the time would not have come into contact with their spirituality. But mysticism is not something often mentioned in the way people talk about mainstream religion today. I wonder whether mystical experience is still possible, or whether we have pathologised the transcendental to the extent that a Teresa or a John could not express themselves at all in these days and be taken seriously?
RW: That’s quite a complicated question, really. People have certainly tried to pathologise Teresa, in particular, and she undoubtedly had some very strange experiences. At the same time, people do still have these experiences and are sometimes very frightened of talking about them, because they don’t want to be thought insane or disturbed. People look with a mixture of suspicion, respect and envy at those who claim some sort of connection with the transcendent, and don’t quite know what to do with it. There are two problems, I think, in our modern discourse about mysticism. One—I hinted at this, I suppose, in the book—is to identify mysticism with a whole succession of odd experiences; whereas I think that for Teresa, and certainly for John, the really stomach-churning, dramatic and bizarre experiences are just your entry into another level. It’s not that you go on having stomach-churning, bizarre experiences and mystical ecstasy right up to the end. The whole point is to get you to another kind of normality, almost. So the mistake now is often to see mysticism as just about ecstasy. People look at Bernini’s famous statue and think that’s mysticism, whereas Teresa, I think, would have taken a very dim view indeed of that statue, very dim. “That’s precisely not the point: of course I had these extraordinary experiences, and I wished at the time I wasn’t having them, but eventually what it permitted me to do was to wash the dishes mindfully and prayerfully.” She more or less says that.
Now the other error, I think, is the old chestnut about spirituality and religion: “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.” A statement which drives me to distraction, as you can imagine, because there the spiritual becomes something very private, very interior, which doesn’t really threaten anybody very much and doesn’t do what people like Teresa are doing, which is to put a sharp question from the margin. To say, well, if you’re serious about being spiritual, you live differently: get used to it. Those two problems make these questions all the harder these days…”
You’ll find the complete draft interview here.
Also, see also Williams’ lecture (46 mins), as part of the Legatum Institute's current Salon Series, 'Prosperity on the Edge: 1913-14 The Last Year of Peace'. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams delivered a lecture on historian Adolf von Harnack's influence at the time, as well as the way in which post-war thought was shaped by the reaction against his kind of liberal religion. It was delivered in Jan. 2014 and was titled: “The Deadly Simplicities of Adolf von Harnack – Liberal Theology in Germany on the Eve of the Great War”.