A Ray of Darkness

Written by Rowan Williams

Reviewed by EW

In his Introduction to A Ray of Darkness, Rowan Williams says that “a sermon is a particular event, far more than a text” (p. vii), and emphasizes the importance of the immediacy of a specific message for a specific people at a specific time and place. But even though some of the sermons in this collection were written for distinct occasions---a choir festival, a wedding, a Saint’s Day---they are alive and present for us whenever we read them.

This happens not just because Williams’ themes are universal and important, though they are that. The energetic, even kinetic, quality of these homilies comes from Williams’ skill in identifying and presenting the dynamic tensions that are at the heart of the Christian faith.

In the title sermon, “A Ray of Darkness,” Williams deals head-on with the centrality of paradox in the journey towards God. The phrase, borrowed from the 5th-century Syrian Dionysius, captures both the brilliance of illumination that occurs when God “interrupts our blindness and ignorance” (p. 100) and the disorientation that comes when this very illumination cuts through our familiar sense of ourselves. Far from making everything clear, the encounter with God makes everything that is from the ego unfamiliar.

Williams affirms that this sense of bewilderment is essential to discipleship. He desires “a discipline that stops me taking myself for granted as the fixed center of a little universe, and allows me to find and lose and refind myself constantly in the interweaving patterns of a world I did not make and do not control” (p.101).

He celebrates this struggle, not as an end in itself, but as a prerequisite to dwelling in the kingdom, and experiencing “ the ‘ray of darkness’ as the dart of love”(p. 103). Williams never gives us a static truth; he always invites us to move, as Jesus did, from darkness to light, and from that light to greater light.    This endless pilgrimage, in which we authentically encounter the paradoxical dimensions of the mystery of God- is found in the fabric of Williams’ sermons themselves. They speak directly to us, wherever we are, and remain immediate to us each time we turn to them again.