By Liam Miller
Charting Chapter 1 of Rowan William’s book Being Disciples.
Being Disciples: Essentials of Christian Life is part two of an unofficial trilogy of excellent, accessible, nuanced (and short!) books on the Christian life (Being Christians and Being Human bracket this volume).
In Chapter 1, Williams suggests “being disciples” is about two things:
- continuing to ask “whether what we do, how we think and speak and act, is open to Christ and Christ’s Spirit…
- [and] how we as a Church go on being a learning community, how we grow in depth of relation with each other and God” (vii).
To attend these questions we need to consider discipleship as a “state of awareness” which is inseparable from a “sort of expectancy” that something will burst through from Jesus to us and “uncover a new light on the landscape” (4). By the power of the Spirit, this illumination comes from our attention to Scripture, Sacrament, and community.
Williams holds that “the first thing we ought to think when in the presence of another Christian individual or Christian community is: what is Christ giving me through this person, this group?”
Far from programmatic, William’s characterisation of discipleship centres on our attentiveness to Christ.
By being present (attentive and expectant) in our relationship with Christ, we find ourselves where he is: in the depths of the non-intermittent, dependable, loving relationship of the Triune God; meaning, “the heart of discipleship is bound up with the life of the Trinity” (15).
We will also find ourselves where Jesus is in terms of the corners and circles of the world where Christ is pleased to be Emmanuel.
By being attentive to Christ we become aware of where and who he is with – which, just like in the gospel accounts – are the “most unexpected and unlikely characters” (16.) The attentiveness we pay to Jesus, like Mary sitting at his feet, is “not just a kind of aesthetic attitude” while the important work takes place in the backrooms. As Williams concludes the chapter:
… this habit of attentiveness and expectancy towards God and one another results, or overflows, in a mode of being and action in the world that – because it can be free from ego and anxiety – actually allows God-shaped change to take place around you. This happens not by effort and struggle, with furrowed brow and tensed muscles, but by allowing something to rise up, something irresistible within your awareness that is God’s purpose coming through to make the difference that only God can make. A disciple is, as we have seen, simply a learner; and this, ultimately, is what the disciple learns: how to be a place in the world where the act of God can come alive. (18)
Are we creating such an environment in our ministry and missional endeavours for our leaders and ourselves to pay this kind of expectant attention to Christ?
The book grows and expands in many exciting directions. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to write more on the rest of the book.
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Liam Miller is a mission resource worker with the Sydney Central Coast Presbytery. He is also a candidate for Minister of the Word. He completed his MDiv through Pilgrim Theological College and his work has been published in Pacifica, Studies in World Christianity, and in a forthcoming edition of Black Theology: an International Journal. He is the host of the Love – Rinse/Repeat podcast which you can access wherever you get podcasts. He is a panel member of the Growing in Faith Assembly Circle. He previously worked in University Chaplaincy and as a pastor in a church plant on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
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