Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has affirmed Ben Quash’s book Abiding for his Lent 2013 book:
The book, ‘Abiding’ by Ben Quash, considers what the concept of ‘abiding’ means for Christian prayer and devotion. The word was used by Jesus to describe the Good Shepherd who did not abandon his flock, and Quash argues that the sense of full personal commitment which abiding carries can be key in understanding our relationships with God and within our churches. He draws on modern fiction, film and art as well as great figures from Christian tradition.
The book had been commissioned by the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who called it “…a large meditation in a small space…”, and it was supported enthusiastically by the current Archbishop, Justin Welby.
A letter from Welby:
I am deeply grateful to Ben Quash for writing this book and also to Archbishop Rowan for having the wisdom to invite him to do so. I gladly associate myself with it and welcome it as the first Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book of my time in office.
Ben Quash’s encouragement to us to abide (with all the meaning that he enables us to give to that word) and his reminder that God abides with us shows us a way to intensify relationships so that they may be characterised by the peace of God, and indeed make that peace more real for us. We saw this when Jesus, from the cross, made a new relationship between his mother and his beloved disciple and so began the set of relationships we call Church. We see it wherever we stand alongside another in solidarity, especially if that solidarity is being carved out of enmity.
I joyfully commend Ben Quash’s ‘Abiding’, and join my prayers with all who use it to accompany their Lenten journey.
How might habits of contemplative abiding help modern people to do what earlier users of the Bible once did – who knew instinctively how to find their way around the Bible, and in their theological imaginations to ‘roam freely through the Sacred Writ’? … The problem is not only how to open up the Bible to the biblically-illiterate. It is also how to wean those who feel themselves to be on good terms with the Bible from the view that they have it all taped.
This is because the idea that one is on top of something, and has mastery of it, can itself precisely have a distancing effect. The object of one’s supposed knowledge loses its power to surprise and transform; the moment it becomes commonplace, it becomes an instrument in our hands that we can pick up and put down at will. When we have used it for whatever purpose we wanted it for, we can hang it up in its regular place and walk off.
Paradoxically, then – for those who have some knowledge of the Bible already – the intensification process may need to begin with something that in one way or another makes the Bible more strange than it was before. Something valuable and liberating can happen when in encountering the Bible someone who supposed she knew what she was dealing with suddenly finds it a bit less familiar than it was. But (and this is the paradox) oddity can lead to intimacy. Through moments of de-familiarization, a better abiding can emerge. This is because one achieves a greater presence to an object or another… when one has set aside one’s preconceptions about them. One can be led to look harder by realizing the sheer otherness of something – the fact that it is not just an extension of oneself, one’s wishes and purposes. One can be sent back to it with new energy and interest.