In a guest blog the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd & Rt Hon Richard Chartres KCVO, contributes an extract of his speech at the dedication of the Faith Centre’s stained glass window…
At a time of some nervousness about engagement with religion in the public sphere, the LSE is to be congratulated on the wisdom of opening this new Faith Centre. Religion has not withered on the vine of modernity as many expected. On the contrary, to quote the title of the editor of the Economist’s recent book, ‘God is back’ as a force in global politics and in the dynamics of social and economic life. Yet I say that with no triumphalism, because what is also clear is that we are witnessing across the world a struggle between religion that is healthful and religion that is lethal. The wisdom of this Centre is that it is engaging with these challenges. This is not a lukewarm, wishy-washy multi-faith space seeking to find a lowest common denominator. It is not possible to exorcise the satanic by invoking a vacuum.
You have taken up, and depicted in this striking stained glass, the theme of the desert. A desert is very different from a vacuum. In Christian history the desert monastery was the place where the traditions of the Fathers were made fresh. The desert wisdom is not a flight from the world but a deeper engagement with it because you do not go to the desert to escape but to embrace what terrifies us all – hunger, fear, our own bodily weakness. Moses and Muhammad knew this too, that faith is renewed in the desert because it is where we are stripped of illusions. In this sense, the wilderness is very far from a vacuum; it is full of presence.
All of this is profoundly resonant to us today and to the life of a contemporary university. At the end of modernity we are all crossing a desert of meaning, hoping to emerge as Paul Ricoeur says into a ‘second innocence’ with spiritual and intellectual integrity, equipped with the wisdom to address the challenges that surround us. This centre that you have established here at LSE is a desert in the city in this creative sense.
So I give this centre my blessing and dedicate this desert window with this prayer:
May this window that shows to us the wilderness and the solitary place, make us glad;
May it be to us a sign of the desert that shall rejoice and blossom as the rose;
May those who pray and worship, watch and wait in its light, blossom abundantly and rejoice even with joy and singing.