Silence and Honey Cakes is Rowan Williams wonderful little book – based on his lectures to The World Community of Christian Meditation – which explores the wisdom of the desert fathers and mothers. It is one of the most compelling books on Christian community that I have read. One of the great aspects of this book is it’s presentation of holiness. By looking at the writings and lives of the desert monastics, Williams presents the call to be saints as ‘non-heroic.’ I immediately thought of a book title I had once seen (but have not read) called “The easy burden of pleasing God” (Patty Kirk). While the desert dwellers did not live easy lives, we begin to understand that the locus of their wisdom was not in the big moments, but the simple and mundane moments of each day. So it can be for us.
Throughout the book Williams put teeth on the always important question of ‘how does one love their neighbor?’ We learn that it is by becoming honest, first and foremost, with ourselves. Only when we do that can we learn how to deal with the weaknesses in others. There is no room left to judge such weaknesses, explains Williams, if we have learned to rightly judge ourselves. This ties in with the theme of “fleeing.” Williams writes that “there is all the difference in the world between running from responsibility and ‘fleeing’ for the sake of truth or honesty – that is, for the sake of responsibility…what you are ultimately ‘running’ from is just this, your compulsions…of anxious comparison, status-seeking and chatter” (pp. 78,79). He ‘fleeing’ is rooted in one of his final chapters on ‘staying.’
Aside from drawing wisdom from the desert monastics, Williams also gleans from the Orthodox church. His writing on Vladimir Lossky’s distinction between ‘person’ and ‘individual’ is worth the price of the book. This distinction challenges our all too common consumeristic individualism with a beautiful understanding of varied ‘personhood’ (rooted in Trinitarian theology), and provides not just a deep concept to chew on, but important pastoral insights.