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True to Experience by H. A. Williams

August 27, 2015

tteThis is an anthology drawn from Williams’ many profound and thought-provoking writings including much previously unavailable material. True to Experience, like Williams himself, is unorthodox by the tenets of contemporary Christianity, but encompasses the the uncertainties and fears, the joys and sorrows common to us all.


Perhaps it can be said that God accepts me just as I am because he sees that in fact I am not just this. Perhaps he can be described as seeing below the surface of my superficial self (which I consider the whole) to an under­neath where lie the materials from which a being in his image and likeness are waiting for construction. And perhaps this may illuminate St Paul’s idea of Christ in us, or better, Christ being formed in us. In short, when God forgives me, he receives the self of which I am unaware. His reception of the self of which I am aware is only a necessary stage in a therapeutic process. It opens me out to what I am. Certainly this is what happens in human relations. When I act compulsively (for example, lose my temper with my friend) nothing restores me to goodness and love so effec­tively as his refusal to believe that the me who lost my temper is anything but a superficial and unimportant aspect of my full self. Forgiveness is rooted in this conviction. Without it, there can be no forgiveness. I cannot sincerely welcome a serpent to my bosom, but only a man tempo­rarily strangled by a serpent. All forgiveness, God’s and man’s, must be rooted in truth. in True Virtues Reassessed ed. A. Vidler

what has probably to change most within us is our notion of sanctity. That is why there is no need for our current version of it to persecute us. In spite of it, we can accept ourselves. But how? We cannot do it by deciding to. For if there is any truth in Christianity, it is certain that we are not the captain of our soul. The ability to accept ourselves can come from nothing else than our faith in God’s prior acceptance of us just as we are — in whatever intellectual forms or by means of whatever human circumstances such faith may be medi­ated to us. For, although we believe God spoke in Christ, we also believe that the Christ in whom God spoke is the Eternal Word — the true light which enlighteneth every man. And so, whenever or wherever a man accepts what he is, it is because he has first heard, in whatever idiom, God’s word of acceptance.

“It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?” It is absurd to suppose that we believe in God’s acceptance of us (which is the quintessence of the Christian gospel) if at the same time we are anxious and worried about the sort of people we are. Who are we to con­demn ourselves if God does not? Do we know better than he or is our standard of morality higher than his? Is it for us prodigals to play for our own benefit the part of the elder brother? Our faith in God must inevitably include and bring with it our ability to accept ourselves. And this is the spring of gentleness. God’s attitude towards men, revealed in Jesus Christ, where faith is present, will find its echo in men’s attitude towards themselves. A believer will be for­bearing and forgiving towards himself. And he will not con­sider this dangerous, lax, or misleading if God’s calling him his son has evoked a response of filial trust. in True Virtues Reassessed ed. A. Vidler

the alternative, God or man, is false. This is particularly important in these days when God is always present and waiting to be discovered now, in the present moment, precisely where we are and in what we are doing. That is what we mean when we say that we live in a sacramental universe. Unfortunately we tend to treat the sacrament of our daily life, broken as it is into dozens of small, uneven bits and pieces, as something which hinders us from finding God when in fact it is the very vehicle of his presence. It is as though we were to complain that the bread and wine at the Holy Communion were obstacles to our approach to God instead of the means to it. If, as they do, the bread and wine on the altar represent all we are and do and suffer, then they show us that all our life in its manifold and often petty detail can become God’s real presence with us, that it is in the daily bread of our ordinary common experience that we can discern the radiant body of everlast­ing life. The many things we have to do, the hundred and one calls on our time and attention, don’t get between ourselves and God. On the contrary they are to us in very truth his Body and his Blood.

This is accepted without much difficulty when for the moment our world consists of people who need our help ­the tramp who needs a meal, the neighbour in distress who needs a talk over several glasses of whisky, or the shy person who needs to be given confidence. We remember “Inasmuch as ye did it” and recognize God’s presence. And it is no less easy when we ourselves are the people need and others minister to us. It is not hard to recognize God in their sensitive generosity and to praise him for w he is giving us through them. Perhaps we remember’ “Inasmuch as ye did it” even more when we are on the receiver’s side of the counter. And what goes for personal and individual dealings of this kind goes equally of course for the public and political campaigns in which we engage. To join in public communal action to establish righteous­ness (which means humanness) in some place where it is denied is obviously to find God at work in his power and wisdom.

Where, however, we invariably fail to recognize God’s presence is within those many occasions which are not con­ventionally associated with active compassion and charity. (“Conventionally” here means formally recognized, not, needless to say, unreal.) For people continually give themselves without their (or anybody else) often realizing what they are doing. Self-giving is not (thank God) confined to what are technically acts of piety or compas­sion. I arrive, for instance, at a party feeling dismal and dead. And there in talk and chatter I find myself mixed up with a lot of mutual giving and taking. The result is that I slowly become alive and begin to enjoy myself. A great deal of what appears in itself to be trivial empty talk — “Ghastly weather, isrt’t it?” “flid Face hear what happened tQ Johnnie when he took the dog out last night?” “Betty’s had her hair dyed!” — is in fact the machinery of communion between persons, the sacrament, the outward and audible sign of fellowship (a fact which people who are always wholly serious can never understand).

Perhaps at the party I drank quite a bit, but drink on its own depresses rather than enlivens me. What renewed me was the contact with others the drink helped to establish. It was my blindness of heart, my false idea of is God, which prevented me from recognizing the true locale of the party — that it was Cana of Galilee and that it was Christ himself who had for the time being changed the water of my existence into wine. If I were to recognize only the possibility of that miracle when I have to meet other people, I should most likely begin to find myself enjoying what at first sight looked like the most unpromising social occasion. The Joy of God – H. A. Williams

It looked as if God Transcendent had died on me. But then I discovered that I was confusing God Transcendent with the stereotyped god of conven­tional religion.

God’s transcendence meant (as informed theologians have always told us) that any attempted description of him as One who towers above us in his infinite majesty is bound to fail and look ridiculous. The machinery of thought and language breaks down under the weight of Reality. So God Transcendent, I came to see, is the God who appears when every image and thought of God becomes meaningless. God Transcendent is the God who abides after God has died. You don’t believe in God above? Then the first intimation of God’s transcendence has come to you. Formerly you imagined that the water in the bucket of your mind was the ocean. Now you have discovered your mistake.

If I were asked to sum up in a short sentence what analysis has done for my apprehension of Christian truth, I would say that it has delivered me from the narrow moralistic perversions of repentance and has shown me that repentance is as wide and continuous as life itself. From our side it is growth (not going back to a status quo ante). From God’s side it is his creative Word; “Behold I make all things new.”

  1. A. Williams in Psychotherapy as Repentance – Christian vol 4 no 2

. But when Jesus was actually dying all that was in the unknown future. The present spoke only of failure — the collapse of Jesus’s life-work summed up in the flight of the only followers he had left. Yet, as man, Jesus knew that in the last analysis this didn’t matter, that nothing mattered except the fact that behind all appear­ances God was in control accomplishing his work for the world. So Jesus gathered together all his hopes and fears and aspirations and disappointments into this one act of faith — “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”. And it was by this committal of everything to God in trustfulness that the powers of destruction were conquered by God’s own creative love.

The mistake which we almost always make is to think that faith is possible only when we feel holy in some way or other, when we are feeling resigned, submissive, meek, when we are inwardly full of some vision of things, or when we are calm inside. Then, we think, and only then, can we say — “Father, into thy hands” . But the real true context of that prayer is, as the gospel says, Jesus crying with a loud voice, and crying with a loud voice does not indicate calm victorious serenity. It indicates the thick of the raging battle. It is when we are being knocked for six here, there and everywhere; when we are feeling the very reverse holy; when our hatred and resentment seem more than can bear; when we are in the depths of depression; when appears utterly meaningless; when we seem to have not to live for; when we are just one ghastly, muddled, senseless civil war — it is from the depths of that utter bloodiness we can and must say, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”.

When things are going well or are what we call successful, it is not so difficult to believe that God is working his purpose out and that we fit in as part of that purpose Or when external circumstances are against us, but we have some sort of warm glow inside, some sense of meaning and purpose, some citadel of spiritual certainty, then, too, we trust that God is achieving something through us. But requires the greatest faith, the deepest and truest faith, has sometimes been called naked faith, is when within a& in heart and mind, we find ourselves in the same condition as Jesus upon the cross: we see our life as one tidy pile of unfinished bits and pieces. We have no satisfying sense of achievement. Our spiritual capacities seem blunted, our capacity for joy, for expectation, for love, for life in its many-splendoured variety, for worship, for wonder, for prayer, for God — they all seem dying or dead. It is precisely then that we can have faith, a faith which cannot be rotted or destroyed by external circum­stances and which goes much deeper than any warm glow within, a faith which is a desperate leaning on the fact that whatever we have or have not done and however we feel, God’s purpose in us and through us is being achieved.

Jesus, as we all know, once spoke of the importance of the widow’s mite. God needs that farthing (the farthing which can be said almost not to exist) — God needs that farthing of love, of truth, of fidelity, of courage, from us. And we give it, as the widow did, from our penury, our destitution, our emptiness, from what we are and where we are, from the place where we have been driven by our heredity and environment and our own deliberate choices, probably for the most of us some sort of slum.

The struggle or conflict which our life is ultimately about, the struggle between creativeness and destructive­ness, between good and evil, is always in the end a struggle between faith and unbelief. Jesus calls us to share with him not only his conflict but his victory of faith. “Father, into thy hands I commend everything I am and everything I am not.” That is the victory which overcomes the world. And it is God’s victory in his Son Jesus Christ.

For in our turmoil — our strife and doubt within, our tears and sweat and blood — we are not engaged in an indivi­dual, private war, just me and my own damned self. In our turmoil the Son of God himself goes forth to war, and it is by means of our experience of our own and other people’s destructiveness that the Son of God is destroying destruc­tion and winning his total cosmic victory for the love which created and continues to create all things. So when, in some form or other, we are going through it rather badly, it is because Christ has put us for the time being with himself in the centre and thick of the battle. And it is precisely here now, in me and in you, that darkness is struggling with light, destruction is struggling with creation, death with life, isolation with communion, unbelief with faith. Those gigantic contraries are fighting it out to a conclusion now in us. And the conclusion is assured. For Christ has been raised from the dead and has won the day finally and for ever for light and creation and life and communion and faith. H. A. Williams in Conflict and Victory Radio 4 16/4/77

Fundamentally obedience consists of discovering you most truly and deeply are or, better, what you have you to be, and of being loyal to the insight you have received. Such loyalty, as we shall see, may some perhaps often, involve a degree of submission to external authority or other. But its root is not submission to anything external, it is being true to yourself. One of the best examples of obedience in its form is the creative artist. He has the immense labour often the terrifying ordeal — of discovering what is within him, of catching it, and of expressing it to the the utmost of his ability. Such obedience to inspiration requires sternest of discipline. It requires courage, patience, perseverance, faith, the capacity to put up with disappoint-t and frustration when the thing simply won’t come right, the willingness to tear it all up because the vision hasn’t come through properly or been adequately ex­pressed, and the no less taxing excitement when the inner stirring is at last captured and satisfactorily stated. All that what the creative artist has to endure as a matter of obedience to himself. But it is only by such obedience that be can enter into life and take to himself the glorious liberty which belongs to the children of God. Critics sometimes sneer at the idiosyncrasies of great creative artists — at Proust, for instance, for his neurasthenia and cork-lined room — because such critics are too shallow to understand the cost of an artist’s obedience to what is in him. But what do their sneers matter compared with what the artist achieves, compared, since we have just mentioned him, with the rivetingly wonderful world Proust created for all time? In obedience to his cross Proust found life — and gave it to mankind.

Ordinary people, like you and me, have to show the same sort of obedience if we are to fulfil our human destiny. We have within us a host of competing claims upon our time and attention, and we have to use both our intuition and our reason to sort them out and arrange them in some kind of order of importance. If, for instance, I have the makings of a scientist or historian and spend all my time at parties or chattering with friends, then my failure to work is a failure in obedience to myself. Or if, to take the opposite situation, I spend all my time working and never see any­body or go anywhere, then I am being equally disobedient to what I am, since by nature man is a social animal and needs company. Or, to take an absurdly simple example, we all know the old song: “It’s nice to get up in the morning, But it’s nicer to stay in bed.”

When the alarm clock goes, my immediate impulse may well be to turn it off, pull the bedclothes around me and go to sleep again until lunch time. But if I always do that, I shall cater only for the lazy man inside me and thus be disloyal to that nine-tenths of myself that requires me to get up and be active.

It will be seen that obedience to myself is not at all the ilsame thing as caprice, always giving way to the whim of the moment. On the contrary, it is a yoke and a burden. Yet when we take them upon us we discover that our yoke is easy and our burden is light, for by means of our obedience we are becoming what we are and finding fulfilment, and that is always satisfying. If a man is a mountaineer he may well cheerfully accept the most severe hardships, dangers and privations in order to climb Everest. His is indeed a hard obedience. But it is also an easy one, for he is doing what he is, and that is always the hallmark of true obedi­ence. So it is said of Jesus, the representative man, that for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross. By hit obedience to what he was he became fully himself. And there is no other kind of joy.God’s Wisdom and Christ’s Cross – H. A. Williams

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