a moving account of Claire’s journey from the tyranny of a received doctrine
to an authentic personal understanding of her own Christian life
SEVENTY-SEVEN very worthwhile pages. It’s always something of a relief to me to encounter another whose life is constantly touched by a sense that we’re living “in in-between times”, and that there has to be more to fullness of life than just the versions that the assorted ecclesiastical institutions purport to offer. Michael Paul Gallagher SJ tells of his having a hunch that “our crucial hungers are more human than explicity religious” (see his The Human Poetry of Faith). Claire Henderson Davis – the daughter of a former Roman Catholic priest – seems to be someone who, like me, loves and honours the Church even whilst, at times, being frustrated half to death with her; someone who, like Michael Paul Gallagher, lives the links between arts and faith; someone who holds that our human “connections” have a great deal to do with how we can access God – “word and flesh” – inter-relating elements of the masculine and the feminine in everyone.
If Christianity has anything more to offer, it’s not about being Christian but about being human. I propose to retell the Christian narrative as a story about human life, its limits and how we find them, and our choices when we do … the result may resemble a patchwork quilt sewn together with a darning needle. But I hope this inspires others with a talent for finer stitching to try their hand.
After the Church, Claire Henderson Davies, Introduction, page xv, Canterbury Press, 2004
I’ve never tried my hand at darning let alone fine stitching but I’m wondering whether the heart-mind-brain-work of a forthcoming sabbatical next year is beginning to dawn in my imagination. This little book is packed with jewels of “contemporary interpretation” pointing to what Micheal O’Siadhail describes as “a constantly surprising, open, forgiving story of human relationships”. The epigraph, from Gillian Rose’s Love’s Work, is a delight:
If the Lover retires too far, the light of love is extinguished and the Beloved dies; if the Lover approaches too near the Beloved, she is effaced by the love and ceases to have an independent existence. The Lovers must leave a distance, a boundary, for love: then they approach and retire so that love may suspire. This may be heard as the economics of Eros; but it may also be taken as the infinite passion of faith.
Love’s Work, Gillian Rose
page 133, Chatto and Windus, 1995
And for some the final paragraph of After the Church might usefully be read before turning to the Introduction (Omega to Alpha) … but the whole has provided me with both hope and food for thought for many days to come.
If we separate the story from the institutions that have tried to control it, what Christianity offers, it seems to me, is a way of creating a common narrative without eliminating difference. The path Jesus offers doesn’t say what the story should be, but suggests how we might relate to each other in order to create the kind of relationships that bring about true peace and friendship. The story is up to us, the future unknown and undetermined, rich with possibility, pregnant with hope.
After the Church, page 77