Well, yesterday I declared a pause. But today I declare a subsequent decision, counseled by those I seek counsel from, to take a lengthier break from posting to attend to the myriad “first things first” of life. So I will resume posting October 1st.
Love the community here, am exceedingly grateful to readers here for reading, sharing wisdom and prayer, and drawing good from my work. We pray for each other. Peace and joy!
I will leave off by posting something here I have played with for a long time, but never felt was ready. It’s a brief reflection on my own call as a theologian. For what it’s worth, here’s a view of my peculiar mind…
We need men and women who devote their lives to the glory of theology, that fierce fire burning in the dark night of adoration and obedience whose abysses it illuminates – Hans Urs von Balthasar
I remember when I first sensed I was being called to be a theologian. Back in 1988, I awoke with a start in the middle of the night and felt compelled to write a poem about the Trinity. I had never before felt even the slightest desire to write poetry. As I wrote, my mind exploded with images and insights. While the poem was no literary work of art, it was the sign of something that had awakened inside of me. Something beyond me. A quest that has never for a second left me since.
Being a theologian is a vocation, a summons from God to explore, in a lifelong and disciplined manner, His self-revelation by laying claim to that most audacious claim of the Jews, “Blessed are we, O Israel; for what pleases God is known to us” (Bar. 4:4).
But above all, it is the God revealed in Christ into which the theologian is invited to “dive down deeper still.” More specifically, into Christ crucified. The cross is the apex of divine disclosure at the nadir of human depravity. This dizzying assertion has claimed the last 30 years of my life.
I love theology. I am terrified by theology. I have been irredeemably conquered by its restlessness. I’ve learned fides quaerens intellectum, “faith seeking understanding” is not some bookish enterprise, but is a wild animal. An uncaged Lion, to be very specific.
Again and again, I have been thoroughly disabused of the illusion that it is I who am cleverly seeking God. No. God relentlessly hounds me, God runs me down the ages. As in St. Paul’s twist of phrase, “Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…” (Gal. 4:9). Yes, I imagined I was successfully analyzing Him, only to find Him searching deep within me.
I love theology because He who is a crazed, mad, unchained God beyond knowing, invited me to know Him; and then to re-know everything else in light of what I discover There. St. Catherine of Siena models my inner impuse:
O eternal Father!
O fiery abyss of charity!
O eternal beauty,
O eternal wisdom,
O eternal goodness,
O eternal mercy!
O hope and refuge of sinners!
O immeasurable generosity!
O eternal, infinite Good!
O mad lover!
Why are you so mad?
Because you have fallen in love
with what you have made.
I love theology because it faces me squarely toward reality, refusing to soften the harshness, mute the shocking, sweeten the bitterness, smooth out the jagged edges. Yet, in hope. It faces me toward a God who dives straight into darkness, plunges into filth, is soiled by the grotesque, assailed by injustice — all as if the deepest exigency of God was to rescue. He simply cannot help Himself, because it is His nature, and He cannot be otherwise.
How fitting it is that the name God takes when He becomes flesh is Jesus, “God saves.” This is the Name above every other name. God is rescue. And as He did with the Hebrew Prophets, so now He drags those whom He calls to be theologians down into His rescue operation. “See! Listen! Speak!”
I love theology because the theologian is given eyes to see divine glory absolutely everywhere, sees all creation afire. But especially sees glory super-abound in those places where God has been most violently banished. There, as nowhere else, God empties out in the extreme. The graying, pallid Face of God-made-corpse, drained of watery blood, is the epiphany of divinity. Splendor splattered all over Skull Mount, surpassed only by His final act of emptying in the descent into hell. Only there, in the deepest Pit of Destruction, can the infinite-glory of the Resurrection at last be made manifest.
And so the theologian makes the words of St. Silouan her own, “keep your mind in hell and despair not.”
A longtime friend has a severely disabled son who has been her 24/7 concern for decades. Once she was asked by a relative, when things were especially hard, “Do you ever feel you’ve traded your happiness for him?” She told me she replied to him, “It wouldn’t occur to me to ask that question. I don’t see those as opposed, my happiness or him. They’re one thing, no conflict. He is my happiness.”
I at once thought of this passage from Holy Writ,
For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. — 2 Cor. 8:9
Theologians exist to provide the raw materials for saints like her, and like her son.
Yet, in spite of my love, how often I have wished to run from all this. Because I, a truly weak man, would prefer a nicely gated suburban world, a safe distance from the City of a God “whose fire is in Zion, and whose furnace is in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 31:9). But alas,
If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot. — Jer. 20:9
The last word goes to Fr. John Behr, who for me captures it best,
Forcefully stated, this means that in and through the action that expresses all the weakness, impotence, and futility of our created human nature—our subjection to death—Christ shows himself to be truly divine, voluntarily taking this upon himself.
As one tries to comprehend this, one is simply at a loss for words.
Perhaps not surprising, then, is our all-too-human response to the revelation of God in the crucified and exalted Christ, understood through the Scriptures by the power of the Spirit, is to talk about something else—to make theology into an abstract discourse.
So with Mary, Mary and John, I resolve to love theology by theologizing here alone, refusing to talk about something else. Introíbo ad altáre Dei…