In this interview, we asked a few questions to Dr Jane Williams, the McDonald Professor in Theology at St Mellitus College. Most theologians who have shaped the Christian faith would have shared Evagrius’ view that prayer and theology are not separable; but they would also often have assumed that women mystics are pray-ers but not theologians.
Dr Williams will be the speaker of She Who Prays Truly is a Theologian on 7th March, as part of the latest Evening Talks online series. In this session, she will seek to suggest that people such as Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen and Teresa of Avila should be studied as much for their theological contributions as for their lives of prayer.
In a few words, can you tell us how you got in touch with the world of meditation?
“This started off as in intellectual interest, as I worked on Christian Mysticism in various forms. My personal practice of meditation was enabled by Speaking in Tongues. I found that taught me the importance of acknowledging that we are not in control as we come to God. It also made me hungry for a more receptive, still approach to prayer and to God.”
In what way, women mystics such as Julian of Norwich and Hildegard of Bingen can be seen as prayers and not theologians?
“Julian, in particular, has often been seen primarily as a ‘prayer’, and as someone who speaks primarily effectively, from her experience, without thinking through the theological implications of what she is saying. I want to argue that that is an untrue description of Julian, and of other ‘mystics’. The dichotomy between prayer and theology is not a truthful or helpful one.”
Can you anticipate some of the elements of your talk, ‘She Who Prays Truly is a Theologian’, what can we expect?
I want to suggest that the experience of prayer and meditation is a deeply theological practice. We approach God as one who attends to us, and one who is to be trusted with our deepest vulnerability. In other words, we make implicit claims about the character of God and God’s purposes, claims that are ‘doctrinal’, as we pray in this way.
I will also be looking at the way in which some women mystics interrogate their experience in order to draw out its theological implications.
Curious to hear more? Register for the Evening Talks series starting on 7th March and get a chance to interact with the speakers plus get lifetime access to recordings (single sessions registrations give 1 year access).