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Religious belief in a tempest tossed church



In The Tempest Tossed Church, author and critic Gerard Windsor explores his appropriation of Catholic faith. Its title is drawn from a sombre 19th century hymn whose tone is embodied in the line, 'Save us from peril and from woe'. Its fearfulness is echoed in much reflection on the state of the Church today. But not in Windsor's book.

The Tempest-Tossed Church: Being a Catholic today 
Gerard WindsorIt is exploratory, teasing out for a general audience what being Catholic means to him today. The exploratory quality differentiates it from authoritative expositions of Catholic faith, the rebuttal of external or internal enemies and exercises in self-justification, reminiscence, criticism, lament or celebration. Although it contains elements of all these genres it is imprisoned in none.

Explorers are judged by how much territory they cover, how attentive an eye they have and how many aspects of the terrain they reveal. Windsor passes all these tests. He teases out the complex strands of the lived experience of being Catholic at different times and in different contexts of his life, displaying the symbolic force of the images, practices and language that have shaped Catholic life.

He attends to the intellectual challenges of Catholic belief, such as the reasons why someone may believe in God in the face of widespread disbelief and massive evil and suffering. He also gives full weight to the dissuasive power of corruption in the Catholic Church, revealed most recently in the horrifying child sexual abuse and its cover up by Catholic officials.

In his explorations his distinctive gift lies in his deep respect for words in what they both can and cannot say, and for the breadth of the religious and literary culture in which they are rooted. This gift echoes the central importance in Catholic tradition of the belief that the Word became flesh, which directs believers to seek God in the relationships and encounters of everyday life.


"As in other tight knit communities tribalism faded with affluence and equal opportunity, a growing cultural emphasis on individual choice and the spread of an ideology that valued people as economic competitors."


It implies that in everything we see and do is greater and deeper than we can measure or analyse. As a result words must be qualified as shallow or deep as well as accurate or inaccurate. By these criteria Windsor calls out both Catholic and anti-Catholic propaganda.

The compass bearings in the book are found in the vignettes that introduce each topic. With his gift for fixing people in a few words or images, Windsor describes people who seem initially familiar but prove surprising. As in playwright Alan Bennett's monologues, the predictably humdrum turns out to have unexpected depth and poignancy.

When we respond to a book that ranges so far, we could easily cavil at points where we suspect he has momentarily left the path. That might make for good conversation or bad debate.

This intuition — that there is more to reality than can be measured and analysed, and that it is critical for us to find good words and the right tone to commend this intuition — forms the bridge to all religious belief and ritual, and so specifically to Catholicism. Without this intuition faith is sterile.

Windsor shows that in the Australian Catholic Church this was once done through strong communal ties in which ritual, devotions, scriptural and historical literacy all supported words in which to catch the 'something more and deeper' and to embody it as a community in daily living.

That world has gone forever, and with it the bridge over which disengaged Catholics might return to their church as a viable resting place. As in other tight knit communities tribalism faded with affluence and equal opportunity, a growing cultural emphasis on individual choice and the spread of an ideology that valued people as economic competitors. In all these cultural strands the real is confined to the individual and tangible, and words that might reach out to something more are ripped away. Poetry and religious literacy became niche markets in the educational curriculum.

For young people religious belief has become a choice, associated with a generous social ethic, but not bound to it within a cohesive religious and intellectual culture. That makes it a minority choice.

The Tempest Tossed Church will invite some Catholics to ask how they should visualise and plan for the future of the church. Its exploration suggests that they should not see themselves as developers. They will be small scale gardeners who preserve for a more human time the craft and wisdom of preparing soil, seeding, nurturing and pruning in their seasons.

The Catholic challenge will be to shape pockets in which religiously literate and radical communities are formed around the symbols of faith. Its contribution to a more humane society will be made by joining other small groups in keeping alive the sense of 'something more' and by passing on the craft of finding the words, symbols and silences that catch it.


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Gerard Windsor, Catholicism



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Existing comments

Very depressing to read, Fr Andrew, that community in and with the Church"has gone forever". Does that not mean that the Church which if nothing else is a community, the product of an instinctive human trait that determines living and congregating together usually with a guiding philosophy and expectations, is also on the way to being "gone forever"? Your last paragraph today conjures up visions of little colonies of hermit monks preserving what the new world rejects in preparation for the renewal to come goodness knows how far down the track? I thought Vatican II was supposed to have sorted out the future for the Church. I recall reading somewhere that Pope John XXIII,near to death, pleaded with his attendants and retinue to "Stop the Council"!. Perhaps he experienced an alternative vision for the future similar to what you speak of in this review today. On another tack could I ask all readers of ES today to say a prayer for the repose of the soul of Fr Kevin King SJ who through his holiness and dedication served my wife in the throes of a diabolical illness over some years and successfully cemented our family together in community in the Church. I cannot imagine Catholicism, Universality, without community.

john frawley | 29 March 2017  

All we have to remember are the words Jesus spoke to the Samaritan women at Jacob's well; " But the hour is coming and now is, when the true worshipers will worship The Father in The Spirit and in The Truth, for The Father also is seeking such worshippers as these."

AO | 29 March 2017  

John Frawley, you're right - the Catholic Church is community or it's nothing. I didn't read a denial of this in Fr Andrew's review of the book. The challenge seems to be to find a way of living that Eucharistic community now that the old way can no longer feed us successfully. Your own comment seems to describe some of the necessary elements of such Catholic community. Another book to add to my growing must -read list!

Joan Seymour | 29 March 2017  

Thx Andy. That's about where Xty began and where it's at its best.

Patricia Bouma | 30 March 2017  

Thanks you, John for your praise of community and your generous tribute to Fr Kevin King. I did not mean to say that community is dead, but that a world in which tribal ties bound people to communities, as was the case earlier in the Australian Catholic Church. Strong community ties will be more not less important in future, but they will rest on voluntary ascription. The quality of local communities will also be important, as well as their linking in the universal church.

Andy Hamilton | 30 March 2017  

The good news is that community is no longer tribal, but universal. It exists in abundance, without insignia, power or property, wherever people are daily living out the one rule given us: "Love one another as I love you."

Rose Marie Crowe | 30 March 2017  

"... we could easily cavil at points where we suspect he has momentarily left the path. That might make for good conversation or bad debate". Exactly! I finished reading Windsor's book early this morning and would love to have some good conversations with others when they have read the book. I do "cavil at points" particularly towards the end but this would not stop my recommending it as a thought-provoking read whatever one's relationship with church or the Church.

Janet Morrissey | 30 March 2017  

The Catholic Church has left a legacy of understanding and living community for emerging Catholicism. The best of that was and still is being a 'community of concern.' Voluntarism is essentially people coming together in tentative and fluid communities to address concerns with generosity and compassion. And volunteers by the way aren't merely individuals who make choices. They are people who give of themselves - 'sacrifice' - in order to make caring connections. That to me sounds like Catholicism not anchored to a Church that has refused to give up on ordering people to reduce themselves to outdated (sexual) rules and roles. In a flowing world, catholics will need to flow with it in fluid communities of concern.

Jane Anderson | 30 March 2017  

Mankind was ill-equipped to assess the Reality to which God has exposed us, both at our beginning as the human race, and as each individual. Even a man as intelligent as St Augustine, in a relatively sophisticated society, took many years to realise that there was more to Reality than material things. St Thomas Aquinas highlighted the limits of human intelligence when he taught that God, the Ultimate Reality was so far beyond the scope of the human mind, that the closest we can come to a realistic concept of God is to realise that God is far beyond the power of the human mind. With evolving intelligence coupled with the availability of mounting data from great spiritual insights and scientific knowledge, various communities formed interpretations of Reality that enabled them to find paths leading to communion with God, as expressed in various Established Religions. Unfortunately many people did not, and still do not realise that each interpretation is heavily coloured by their situation and degree of development, and that while ‘our’ path is adapted to our condition, and we need it, God is not found along only one path, and that others should be respected too.

Robert Liddy | 30 March 2017  

Thanks Andy, for this review. I look forward to reading Gerard's new book with great interest. 'Poetry and religion, niche markets in the education curriculum'. I teach RE in our local State Public School - so challenging trying to communicate faith in a context where the children have small or no cultural experience of faith at either family or community levels. Yet the values evident in the classroom are admirable and there or those surprising moments to be cherished.

Denis Quinn | 30 March 2017  

Gerard Windsor, like the late Vincent Buckley, is a Catholic public intellectual speaking from inside the tent. Therein lies part of the problem. It is not normally the intellectuals who have brought about real change within the Church but intelligent men and women of real practicality. Amongst these I would place St Francis of Assisi, St Ignatius of Loyola and St Catherine of Sienna. In their time all three were thought a wee bit eccentric and on the fringe. They all met considerable resistance from within the institution. The actual administrative institution of the Church, like most historic institutions, such as the British monarchy, has its own functionaries who have a set way of doing things and can be somewhat resistant to change. I fear this will happen with any real attempt at deep, grassroots change in this country, however in keeping with Church tradition and the magisterium it is. The current hierarchy strike me more as conservative administrators who don't want to rock the boat. The recent fallout from the paedophilia scandal has made them even more loath to change.

Edward Fido | 30 March 2017  

So close to the trees - often hypnotised by the pathogens, parasites and predators - Catholics can be blind to the beauty and majesty of the forest. Jesus of Nazareth bequeathed us what no other philosophy or faith has. (1) A practical demonstration of the exact character of God's immense patience, willingness to suffer for us, and unshakeable, Holy Spirit-sealed hope. (2) An unsurpassed personal and communal guide to a virtuous life (The New Testament). (3) A divine love feast that weekly or even daily confirms our acceptance into God's eternal family (The Holy Eucharist). Why don't we all step back, so as to really value and savour what we've been gifted? Then, put away all the depressing and (sadly) even pagan and syncretistic thoughts posted by some commentators. "Without faith no one can please God!" Following last Sunday's Gospel: Let's ask ourselves what Jesus asked the man born blind: "Do I believe in the Christ of God?" Hopefully the answer is: "Yes! Above all other things!" Then, even at personal risk, let's tell everyone this uniquely Good News. Truly, there is a deeper community in this than ever dreamed of by secularizers.

Dr Marty Rice | 30 March 2017  

Knowledge of God is not limited to vague theism as Robert Liddy's comment suggests. The Christian claim is that God is given and knowable in history in the person of Jesus, and through the community he formed as living witnesses. This revelation's historical endurance alone is more than a sufficient starting point for those who seek God.

John | 30 March 2017  

Are Catholic schools transmitting Catholic culture? R. Jared Staudt’s ‘How to save the souls of our Catholic schools’, on the Crisis magazine website, shows what must be done.

Roy Chen Yee | 30 March 2017  

The master planfor futurechurch lies in a solid grasp of Church history where todays crises is a mere hiccup GKC quipped in The Everlasting Man "At least five times, therefore, with the Arian and the Albigensian, with the Humanist sceptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died. How complete was the collapse and how strange the reversal, we cars only see in detail in the case nearest to our own time. " Constantinus II becomes sole emperor of the Roman Empire. He was Arian; He ruled until 361. During his reign, Arian thought spread throughout Christianity. Jerome wrote, "the entire world woke from a deep slumber and discovered that it had become Arian." Come on Guys Holy Mother Church will revive and survive gloriously God raises up men and women outstanding in holiness.

father john george | 30 March 2017  

AO:" true worshipers will worship The Father in The Spirit and in The Truth". The Bible portrays God as creating Man in his own "image". Voltaire famously remarked "Man has retaliated". It is this projected anthropomorphic concept of God that causes most of the problems among all God's Children. A more realistic spiritual appreciation of God will enable reconciliation of all believers; Atheists, Agnostics, Deists, and Theists. Atheists are simply people who reject Our primitive concept of God. We are all Agnostics, because as St Thomas Aquinas pointed out, God is beyond the power of the human mind to comprehend. We once thought the heavens were perfect, unlike our world, but now realise the universe is made up of countless billions of systems, all made of atoms similar to ours and all obeying the same constant and universal laws. 'Miracles' are simply outcomes we do not yet understand. All Theists can be assured that God is Personal, though not in our limited understanding of personal, but as Super-personal. providing everything we could possibly need, but leaving it to each to respond personally to the rich opportunities available. We are all one.

Robert Liddy | 31 March 2017  

The verbal prolixity of Robert Liddy is somewhat confusing. I gather his point is that salvation is not just found within the Catholic Church. Most sane, tolerant Christians these days would agree with him without wishing to jettison their own faith. The thing about Christianity, real Christianity, is that it provides a map, a real map, to get you there. This is possibly best seen in works like John Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress' which are more accessible to the average person than Aquinas. Dante did it in a more 'literary' form but he had a better education. I do not share Fr. John George's simple faith that the Church will automatically self-right. I would suggest that, as with the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse and the public reaction to its findings, the higher administration of the Church in this country often has to be externally motivated to clean out its own Augean Stables. I remember how one former hierarch dealt with St Mary MacKillop. Not a good look and oft repeated. I am often reminded in situations like this of the words of the late Metropolitan Anthony Bloom that Christ came not to found an institution but to change the world.

Edward Fido | 31 March 2017  

Edward Fido: "The verbal prolixity of Robert Liddy is somewhat confusing". To give an overall picture of the whole of Creation requires many words, and must convey many points of view. As Albert Einstein said, 'An explanation should be as simple as possible; but no simpler'. Christianity is one interpretation of Reality, formed from the situation the members of early Church found themselves in. They were known as 'Followers of The Way'; and inspired millions of members for hundreds of years; embracing and being embraced by many different communities, and evolving many new traditions along the way. Their Faith, and the True Fundamentals of Faith are the Two Great Commandments, and these cannot be jettisoned; but there is little else that does not need the aggiornamento sought by Pope John XIII.

Robert Liddy | 31 March 2017  

Thanks Andrew for your review and eliciting such interesting commentary. Like much of what Edward Fido, John, Roy Chen Yee, and Fr George posted. However, can we be more honest and cease calling criminal child sexual molestation 'paedophilia', please. There is nothing whatever loving about this abomination. Robert Liddy and his 'all are one', etc. sounds like one of those freemason proselytisers we encounter these days with their lure of 'anything goes' (of course, apart from their Christ-denying heresy, they're often specially nice men & women). For many atheist colleagues, scientism assumes the mantle of 'god'. Dawkins, Hawking, et al. are their prophets, assuring them that physicality is all that exists. Few understand the vast majority of our universe is permanently inaccessible to observation, let alone experimentation. Few comprehend that it all teeters on the edge of a true quantum vacuum that, at any time can extinguish all energy/matter. Few understand H. sapiens is among the least in the tree of life (sorry Charles, sorry Pierre). Humanity's only contribution to the cosmos is either free, rational ethical-choosing and self-giving love, or nothing. We definitely need more good science/theology teaching in our schools and colleges - do you think?

Dr Marty Rice | 31 March 2017  

"God is beyond the power of the human mind to comprehend". Mr Liddy Sir your Thomas Aquinas gave us The Quinque viæ (Latin, usually translated as "Five Ways" or "Five Proofs"). They are five logical arguments regarding the existence of God summarized by the 13th-century Catholic philosopher and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas in his book Summa Theologica. They are: the unmoved mover; the first cause; the argument from contingency; the argument from degree; the teleological argument ("argument from design"). Perhaps sirb youmeantGod is incoprehensible re the full cognoscibility of His Being[in Himself], but we can know an enormous amount re God from His works[a posteriori ] and His Divine Revelation Vatican1 declared, "God, the beginning and end of all, can, by the natural light of human reason, be known with certainty from the works of creation"

father john george | 01 April 2017  

Edward Fido: “I do not share Fr. John George's simple faith that the Church will automatically self-right.” I’m sure Fr. John knows of the old saying, “Pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you.” The Church will self-right because the Spirit will find those few people willing to work urgently and tirelessly for its orthodoxy. The issue is not whether these few labourers and martyrs will be found but what excuses the greater number of Christian fellow-travellers will be using in order to avoid their duty and how they will be judged. As for whether the dominant secularist culture will allow Christianity to retain a social niche, I wouldn’t worry about it. God, in his sense of ironic humour, will make sure that the Muslims show the gumption that the Christians don’t have to demand a place for religion within society. The difference in the respective religious culture’s demand for courage is that those pious enough to wear the scapular wear it hidden from sight while those pious enough to wear a hijab brandish it for all to see.

Roy Chen Yee | 01 April 2017  

Intelligence must be a feature of a creator god. The universe isn’t a random and chaotic place. Things seem to work according to rules which, when discovered, allow predictions to be made about other things. If humans are intelligent, the god that chose to share some of its intelligence with them must ipso facto love humans, the fact of sharing being on its face evidence of benevolence. Why would a benevolent god allow the humans it loves to be divided by opposing systems of ideas of what it is? That would seem to be treating them carelessly rather than lovingly. Positing that the god wants several ways to exist of knowing it is impugning its character. To make a created being to follow a wrong religion is to waste its mortal time. Isn’t it entitled to use its brain as truthfully as possible before it dies? The Genesis story suggests it is feasible for a loving god to allow its created intelligent beings to realise by experience the consequences of their misuse of free will. The value of the correct use of free will can only be demonstrated (at the end of time) by showing the extent of the waste consequent upon misuse, one type of waste of which is the multiplicity of religions. That humans have many religions is not proof of virtue but the cost of a lost opportunity.

Roy Chen Yee | 02 April 2017  

Synopsis Eternal Life: Knowing Jesus reveals God the Father and Eternal Life. To know Jesus is to know and see the Father: Jesus said, "All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." (Matt 11:27) This 'new' relationship with God the Father (Jesus' words to the Samaritan women also imply) is 'now' for all those who believe in Christ Jesus, is more magnanimous as beatific as the sin of Adam harmful: "Just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, etc (Romans 5) "Now'' this is Eternal Life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent". (John 17:3) Robert Liddy, I believe in what Jesus said, and respect your belief and see your many points. Cheers

AO | 03 April 2017  

Suffice to recall for naysayers abundant: "Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means 'rock'), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it" Mt 16:18].

fr john george | 03 April 2017  

What a disgrace! Not one mention of the 6 million people displaced is Syria and the suffering of innocent children and civilians. In such an environment where we're all connected by technology, how can any church community be authentic while such atrocities are occurring under our watch? And our Catholic Church leaders can't see beyond the political powers plays of the gay community who are also complicit in this humanitarian scandal. Let'e hang our heads in shame. I'd rather be an atheist than belong to a church obsessed with genitalia/sexuality..

AURELIUS | 07 April 2017  

Dear Aurelius - in response to your post of 7th April. Am hoping you don't ditch your eternal soul as an atheist scandalized by the prevalence of vices and heresies in the Church. In her classic 'Showings', Juliana of Norwich heard directly from Jesus: "Sin is seemly; but all shall be well. and all manner of things shall be well." Some poet (anyone know who?) more recently wrote: "Wherever God erects a house of prayer, The devil always builds a chapel there; And 'twill be found, upon examination, The later has the largest congregation." Both observations accord with the New Testament's reports of Jesus Christ saying that these bad things must happen but just be sure they don't happen through you! (see Matthew 18:7 and Luke 17:1). This very complex matter really puzzled me whilst writing a thesis. If you want to read the outcome, maybe check the website: "Ethical Encounter Theology" Hope you don't give up but stay in and do your bit for our poor, abused Bride of Christ. Take care.

Dr Marty Rice | 10 April 2017  

Dr Rice - no I haven't given up and couldn't be an athesist even if I wanted to because my instinctive/intuitive sense of is too strong - but it's the mediocre and trivial response in what's supposed to be a "church community" and my personal lack of connection to "community" that makes my cotidional reality not unlike that of an atheist. Thanks for your link and shall ponder your thesis. And I'm reminded of the most hopeful verse in scriptures Ecclesiastes 12:6- 'Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed; then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it."

AURELIUS | 10 April 2017  

Thanks Aurelius. Like your Ecclesiastes verse. In 'Meditations': 6:36, Marcus Aurelius is in full accord with that: "Every instant of time is a pinprick of eternity. All things here are petty, easily change, vanish away." (From a second century imperial Roman, that probably came straight from the heart!) As for today's lack of community; are not times of Church alienation blessings in disguise, driving us deeper into the Family of the Holy Trinity; out of the false 'god' of ecclesiolatry, into living praise, adoration and wonderment. Let there be more of it . . . Take care, Aurelius. Ever in the grace and love of Jesus; blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 11 April 2017  

I had never heard of Gerard Windsor until I read his review in The Australian of Louise Milligan's Cardinal: the Rise and Fall of George Pell. My interest piqued, I decided to read The Tempest Tossed Church. Unlike most of the people submitting comments, I am a long-standing agnostic trying vainly to re-connect with the Church I loved as a young person. Much of Windsor's book I just could not understand or appreciate but his description of the Church in 2017 aligns with my experience. It looks and feels nothing like that which I left behind over 40 years ago. Windsor has confirmed that my attempts to come back to the Catholic faith are likely to be fraught at best.

John Brady | 28 July 2017  

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