If George Huntston Williams were alive today, he would be trying to turn the Radical Reformation into a single or multiplayer computer game. George drove book publishers crazy by demanding that every character be remembered, every picture be printed, every document be quoted. And pictures of the towns, please, so readers — he always believed there would be readers — could visualize these individuals walking through these streets, assembling in this buildings, fleeing into these forests.
I had the privilege — and agony — of spending two years in search of these pictures. Creaky elevators lowered me into sections of Widener Library where I’d starve to death if those escape tubes ever gave out. Huge carts of books stood outside his door, by special permission with the Librarian, with bookmarks bristling out of them like flycatchers or bottle brushes. And always there came the mail, the dreaded mail, with publishers pleading for George to set priorities, consider the expense of inserting plates, the trouble of all those copyrights.
Even at the academic level occupied by Harvard and its like, famous scholars whispered about George’s brilliant mind. Who else could command so many details, call them up so instantaneously, weave them together so extensively? Perhaps we should just say he was born into the wrong species: his mind, to the admiring, was a computer.
It took no time at all with George to see that he was no computer; this fevered man was a complicated, highly articulate mystic. And therein lies the value of turning his work into a game. His was a Reformation heart, forever stuck in these Ember Days of Advent, believing, preaching, worshiping, a God who would soon stand before us, dwell within us, work among us. What got George out of bed every morning was a passionate commitment to the truth which drove the Reformations, Radical, Ecclessial, Magisterial (well, maybe not Magisterial): I was born to open an ossified world to a God who is dying to get back into it, to liberate hearts made into wombs from which God is shouting, “Let me out! I want you to see me, hold me, receive all this love I have for you.”
In 2011 the best way to communicate God’s urgency to these long-ago people,is a computer game. What once were bursting hearts are now restless fingers, itchy to click. What once were ravenous readers, seekers, writers are now eyes widening over graphic options, scanning the toolbar for links, dropping the history bar to catch one’s breath. In this age of endless pre-trial hearings, of bails and appeals that last for years, only a computer game can replicate a culture of soldiers snatching prophets into custody without warning or warrant, moving them into quick trials and deaths, usually horrible, within days, weeks, months, seldom years.
The Reformation era sparkled with the passion that animated George ‘s soul: an insistence on God’s right to show each person directly that God has inhabited their own neighborhood, sits at their table daily, will come again, year after year, no matter that each of us dies, no matter that time erases our stories in a parade of offspring who cannot know us, and whom we cannot know.
This is the message of the Ember Days: we will die,our children will come, generation after generation, trampling most of our details into obscurity. But this is the core of our being, an essence which will not change: each new face is a new face of God, each heart a new-made messenger of God’s love.