John Webster Prayer

Freedom and Prayer

I’m just parking this Webster quotation here; no further comment is necessary.

Evangelical freedom, emerging from our being put to death and made alive in Christ and the Spirit, is thus freedom from the care of self which so harasses and afflicts the lost creatures of God. My freedom is in part my freedom from final responsibility for maintaining myself, a freedom which is the fruit of my having been liberated from the anxious toil of having to be my own creator and preserver…

A particular mode of this freedom is the freedom to pray. Prayer is an act of evangelical freedom because in it is expressed our liberation from anxiety and self-responsibility, and our freedom to live on the basis of fellowship with God and trust in the divine promise. Prayer thus expresses the fact that, as we have been set free by God, so we have had taken from us the evil custody of ourselves which we thought ensured our safety but which in fact fastened us to sin and death. Prayer, indeed is at the centre of the fellowship with God which is determinative of whatever is authentically humane.

John Webster, ‘Evangelical Freedom’, in Confessing God, 225-26.


Easter Sorrow

What to say when Easter joy
Is silent? When in my heart
I sense a still-sealed tomb?
When death has won and cries of peace
Are violent intruders, mocking
in the gloom.

What to say when others’ joy
Seems shallow? And seeds of doubt
Are planted in the ground,
In fields that now for years have stood
Long fallow—empty, dry and barren
Seasons round.

What to say when voices cry
“He’s risen!” and Alleluias
Scald my angry mind?
Weary resignation and
Depression, the only consolation
I can find.

What to say? My cauterized
Rejection of Easter’s joy
Will seek another cave,
Another Mary, witness of
Resurrection, as silently
He weeps before a grave.

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash


Love’s Bonds

A man I never knew has died and I am sad.
Parents, not my own, are sick, 
and I am anxious as I wait for news.

Strange that I am grieving
at the death and pain 
of people I have never known.
But he was a beloved friend 
of my friend. They are parents
of another friend.
And I am bound to both my friends
with bonds of memory, affection, hope, and
so I am bound
to those they love.

Grief is the strangest thing. Death rips 
us from the people we have loved,
yet death cannot rend love.
In victory, death deepens 
love. Love is never so strong 
as when it faces death.

I have learned today death 
deepens friendship. 
Even as it tears and claws at life,
death binds me to my friends with deeper bonds of love.
I weep with them. I watch and wait for news.
I pray. We pray. And we are held by Love.

Love that is as strong as death. 
Jealous of the grave.

Photo by Jamie Haughton on Unsplash

John Webster Pastoralia Prayer

Grace in a Time of Coronavirus

In our current trials, painful as they are, we are being given a gift—a gift as Christians, a gift as pastors, a gift as churches and a gift as nations, if only we will take it. This time of losses, restrictions, anxieties and griefs, it also a matchless opportunity for grace.

In The Culture of Theology, John Webster invites us to take our own existence, and the situation in which we are placed, with full seriousness. He asks, ‘In what sense can theological existence be cultivated?’, and answers, ‘The first thing to say is that it can’t.’1 Although he is writing about the ‘anatomy of a theologian’, what Webster says here applies equally to our understanding of all human existence in the light of the gospel. This seems more obvious now than at any time in my lifetime. If we believed it, how refreshing it would be! It would calm our bubbling anxieties, cool our frenzied conversations, soothe our restless fears.