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The Archbishop's Simple, Provisional Letter

Ben Myers has asked, why did his post of the Archbishop of Canterbury's letter to six year old Lulu receive so many hits and visitors?

There's not a straightforward answer, but a few comments can be made, many of them related to our prelatary preconceptions (I made have just coined that word). We are, generally speaking, so used to pastors and church leaders being distant, bureaucratic, or inscrutable. It's such a Hollywood, let the children come unto me moment that the Archbishop of Canterbury responded to this child so simply and clearly. Somehow her letter wended its way through the Anglican Church's many inboxes to the desk of Rowan Williams. In a time when we can barely get a real person on the phone who can answer our questions about our cell phone service, it seems a bit of a miracle.

Secondly, the Archbishop is wonderfully provisional. The pastoral image is someone holding a sign with "John 3:16" on it, or giving a Sunday School answer to this child. Instead, Williams speaks to her level, clearly and directly, yet he leaves a lot of room for mystery. He uses words like "hints" and "really beautiful and really mysterious," evocative rather than declarative words, and he couches it all in a letter of genuine warmth: "lots of love from me too." He freely admits that the ideas about God have varied from the sensible to the not so sensible, which underscores the provisionality of our theology before the grandeur of God.

Finally, the Archbishop gives it all a sense of excitement and discovery. The word "discovered," in fact, appears several times, and he describes our world as a kind story written by God. The imagery and connotations all sound of C.S. Lewis and the Narnia books, which we know he's a fan of. I think Lewis has reinforced, for Williams, how to speak to a child in a way that is clear but evocative, lovingly yet interestingly, and this appeals to the child within us, just as the Narnia books do.

Well done, Archbishop Rowan, and may our clergy be filled with such wisdom and sensibility!

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