James Catford, board chair at Renovaré and SPCK (UK’s largest Christian publisher), talks to Nathan about a wonderfully practical book with an austere title: William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.

James is facilitating the Renovaré Book Club starting in April 2021

In the episode, you’ll hear Richard Foster and Dallas Willard introducing the book at the 1999 Renovaré International Conference.

Episode Notes

[10:32] How has William Law’s book been helpful to you?

I’m interested in anyone trying to relate the two worlds of church and the market square together. There are those out there doing a regular job with a Jesus orientation – work done in secular job either to convert people or raise income to give to the church, but I think it’s a bit more than that. William Law believed that and wanted Jesus to be Lord of everything. 

[12:45] How did the intersection of work and spiritual life play out for you?

Working in a publishing company in London, young, pursuing a career, publishing some interesting people — leaders of our country like Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. It was going really well. But my spiritual world was over here and my working life was way over here. And I didn’t know how to bring the two together. Increasingly my spiritual journey was not keeping up with the complexities and challenges of a very competitive industry. Can God really handle the tough commercial world? 

[14:59] Did you find integration?

I found Divine Conspiracy. And your father said to me once, As a child I was taught that you keep these two worlds as far apart as possible, the God world and the job world, and that really spiritual people keep them as far apart as possible. You escape the world to be with God.” Then he took his two hands and brought them together and intertwined his fingers. Now I realize that the really spiritual people are the ones who can bring the two together, who can bring God into the spaces that are supposedly out there.’” I was 36 years old, and I remember thinking, This is the life I want to pursue, working out what that means.” 

[17:34] And how did William Law’s work contribute to that?

This book gives examples of people, not just an argument putting forward ideas. He’s giving insight into people he lived with or knew, and that’s rather charming. I like the pragmatism of the book. He’s talking about people in jobs, doing ordinary things. He says that we need to temper the spiritual disciplines according to your state of being, bearing in mind that your situation will change, doing different things at different stages. So be easy on yourself. He’s much more generous toward us than we are to ourselves. The spiritual classics are much more forgiving and understanding – do what you can, and don’t sweat what you are not able to do.

[20:53] In a culture that wouldn’t be drawn to the title, ironically there is grace in this.

Help people that are beginning this book. You’ve said something about approaching these kinds of books with a small spoon.

The older the book, the slower the speed.

[22:16] What are some of the considerations, culturally, that people should come at this book with?

He is very concerned about people pretending to be spiritual. It’s an English book; he’s from a small English village. Everybody knows everybody else, and it’s quite easy to present that you’re more spiritual than you actually are – you present well in church. He was interested in who you are not just on Sunday, but Tuesday, Thursday, at work. 

[24:40] He presents the idea that everything is sacred, where does beauty come in?

In the wider world, our culture is good at spotting beauty. We should join the culture in the conversation about beauty; it’s one of the best ways to start a spiritual discussion, whether around art, film, video, furniture, architecture, logo design. It’s one of the transcendentals that allows us to talk to people — beauty, truth and goodness. 

[26:36] How does Law’s view of holiness lend itself to engaging with beauty, or does it?

It does if you realize the beauty of holiness, like we hear in the hymn Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness. If you meet a holy person in character terms, there is a beauty that draws us in. We often talk about holiness in relation to God, but God as the other, removed, further away from us. But the other way to talk about it is as something that works well. Holy people are able to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done – able to respond in the right way at the right time. And there is a beauty, simplicity, and holiness about it. 

[29:15] In a sense this is a work that helps us move closer into being people who function well.

Unencumbered is the way I would put it –all those things that interrupt us becoming the best person we can be; is the person that is free from all the things that interrupt us – things that can happen at work – all the pride, ego, grasping, greed, and looking good things. But there’s not that interior beauty. That is what this book is going to help us with in practical terms.

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