Faith Finding a Voice by Vincent Nichols
Has a promising premise, but is undermined by a focus on Catholic theology in Catholic terminology
Faith Finding a Voice
By Vincent Nichols
Reviewed by Alec Gilmore
When this book arrived on my desk title, author and blurb all whetted my appetite. A distinguished Roman Catholic inviting us to 'an exploration of the presence of God in our lives' (rather than in creed or liturgy) and in the 'mystery of humanity' (rather than divinity), leading us to a 'religious literacy for the common good of society' (rather than church, institution or personal salvation).
An amber light flashed when the first word was 'theophany' (try opening any conversation anywhere with that!) but it soon changed to green when the Archbishop went on to explain that he was not thinking about 'some awesome manifestation of the divine' but the many different ways in which 'our attention is drawn . . . to the horizon beyond our normal attention . . to the infinite . . . that open(s) on God's presence in our lives'.
Great, I thought. This is the voice we all need to find and often miss.
As I worked through the text, however, I felt that what I had 'bought' was not what was 'in the window', as the Archbishop steadily works through all manner of Catholic theology in Catholic teminology (from the scriptures, education, religious dialogue, the Papacy, Episcopate, Presbyterate and Diaconate) to the point where having identified 'the Voice' in every nook and cranny it is clear that this is the Voice he wants us to find. So whatever happened to those sudden intrusions of the divine in our everyday life?
Fearing I had missed something I went back to the beginning where on page 21 I found another 'Voice', except it was not a 'Voice' but an 'Echo', where Meister Eckhart is quoted (with approval), saying that 'the created world is the echo of the eternal Word', and since we are part of the created world we may expect to hear that echo in our daily lives. That was what led me to believe what to expect: not so much to 'find a voice' in traditional religious experience as to identify an 'unexpected echo' in daily life which we could then explore together in a common language and a shared atmosphere we can understand. I saw this as something to which Baptists could warmly respond.
Hence my disappointment. Perhaps he could now follow Eckhart and give us volume two: 'Hearing the Echo'. I hope so. We all need it. It could also open the door to Inter Faith dialogue which was one of his objectives.
Meanwhile, the book is a timely reminder for all of us not to allow our language to be a substitute for experience or a defence to avoid it, and a curt reminder of the way in which we Baptists too often take refuge in religious language, even purporting to explain it to 'outsiders or unbelievers', instead of hearing the echo and then inviting others to 'find the voice' as we share the experience.
It reminded me of a professional architect who one day saw a woman gazing at a very ordinary building. He paused and asked her what she was looking at. She was quite unable to put into words what she felt but there was obviousy something there, so he proceeded to give her an extended lecture on every detail of the biilding. When he had gone on his way she was none the wiser and even her fascination for the building had been somewhat tarnished. If only he could have helped her to find her 'voice' he too might have heard an echo.
Alec Gilmore is a Baptist minister