TO CONVERSE is to create; to listen is to discover. Greg Garrett began listening to Rowan Williams in 2004, whilst reading his On Christian Theology (2000) at seminary. Garrett is a Professor of English at Baylor University, Texas, and sent Williams the proofs of his spiritual autobiography, Crossing Myself (2006).
Shortly afterwards, they met for the first time. Garrett was invited to Lambeth Palace for tea, and they quickly realised the books and authors they had in common, including the works of Shakespeare, and the novelists Marilynne Robinson and P. D. James. For Williams, their conversations about “the interweaving of faith and imagination” became part of his need to “have people I could talk to who write at an angle to the Day Job”. Their friendship developed.
This is an elegant volume of seven conversations that took place in 2018. They cover a range of subjects including prayer; writing poetry and novels; why Shakespeare matters; the value and the truth of poetry; their religious backgrounds and influences; the instruments of grace; preaching; Jesus as a storyteller; faith and political power; the (inevitable) survival of the Church; where they find hope; the Harry Potter novels (J. K. Rowling told MTV that Matthew 6.21 and 1 Corinthians 15.26 were the “thematic core” of all of them); Doctor Who; and the music group U2 (“I’ve never been in a rock band,” Williams says. “That will surprise our readership.”).
Packed with insights from experience as well as the study, this pastoral book is a delight to read. The immediacy of the conversation genre means that the reader can see the speakers’ minds unfolding, and their thoughts shaping and developing, feels energised by them, and wants to know where they will lead. Books and authorities are mentioned in passing (Garrett helpfully provides references); so a potential reading-list emerges gradually.
Readers can expect to find great encouragement here. Garrett’s and Williams’s good will towards each other resonates warmly, and they share the book equally. Their way of speaking is gracious, wise, and gentle. “We are all looking for Community,” Garrett says, “for something larger than ourselves.” Williams observes in his afterword that “There’s actually very little that we discover as human beings on our own — certainly very little indeed that’s of serious human significance.”
These conversations have already inspired mine, and made me realise afresh that more can always be discovered through talking with friends.
The Revd Dr Paul Edmondson is a Church of England priest and Shakespeare scholar based in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Rowan Williams in Conversation with Greg Garrett
Greg Garrett and Rowan Williams
Church Times Bookshop £9