Monday, July 18, 2011

Theology 101

I think I have arrived at a place in life where I need to gather my thoughts on faith. Fredrika Thomsett wrote a book some time ago that stated that all the faithful are theologians. And it is with that in mind that I attempt to bring some order into the faith and belief systems that make sense of my life and describe the relationship I have with the Holy One. I have been a student of theology since the late ’60. I have even studied systematic theology. But this ordering of my faith life will not be systematic—first of all because I am not especially ‘orderly’ in my thinking but also because systematic theology seems to drain all the awe and mystery from the realms of faith.

I have supped at the table of liberation theologies of Latin America, feminism and African-Americans. I drank deeply of process theologies, the anguish of Bonhoeffer and even some Barth, the Nieburs, and Tillich. Martin Buber and Abraham Heschel have informed me as surely as, de Chardin, Rahner and Kung. Carter Heyward instilled in me a critical way of thinking, testing what I believed with the way I lived and want to live. The hermeneutic of suspicion marks my faith as it bounces up against the Church and the popular theology that marks our age. As anyone living in the 20th and 21st centuries, my understanding of faith is a response and a reaction to the Bible Belt theology of the South were I was raised, the very political experience of faith of Washington, DC, the lived-out faith of those whom I served in small towns in NY, CA and TX and the meditative experience of live-in community in religious life as an Ursuline Sister. I have been influenced recently by Marcus Borg, Dominic Crossens, Karen Armstrong and Sr. Joan Chittister.

Theology is in many ways is the work of the leisured class. Those who must work grindingly to live do not have the time or the energy to meditate upon the various elements of faith and then write about them. But each person has an understanding of how they relate to God and Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” It resonates in all who have accepted the gift of faith. Most of those who claim faith have different ways of explaining how the ineffable experience of the Holy marks our lives. Some use the categories of previous ages to speak of this encounter; some attempt to find new avenues and vocabulary to describe the indescribable experience of that which is beyond. After almost 30 years of priesthood in the Episcopal Church, I am fairly conventional in the way I describe how I relate to God. But I also have been moved by the unconventional at times and am not ready to discard it simply because it does not fit Christian parlance.

Philosophical and psychological terms enter into the theological vocabulary these days as do the research paradigms of science and enlightenment methods inform my thinking. I apply such disciplines as archeology and linguistics to the Scripture of my faith. The history of how people have thought throughout the ages advises my faith just as surely as does that ‘still small voice after the whirlwind.’

The arts are also where I meet the Divine. I have known the experience of God while playing or singing or listening to some of the great works of Mozart and Brahms. I have experienced the in-dwelling of the Holy while chanting simple melodies as offerings. I have been moved by great art and the Divine art of Creation. The Omnipresent touches me in the sensate elements of taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing and takes me into realms of beyond their immediate existence. I also find God in the quiet of my heart, that deeply solitary place that has been cultivated only in the sorrow of loneliness. And it is these encounters that inform me how I am to be transformed by them, how I must be willing to enter into the kind of change that requires my attention, requires my compassion, that requires participation with the good to change not only my life but through me, the world.

And because I am an extrovert, I find the Holy in trying to express that reality that can never be defined. I find it in the actual working out of who God is as I write and as I share it with others so that they can inform or expand upon my experience.

As so, dear friends, I invite you to journey with me as I try to describe the God in which I live and move and have my being. I invite you who know faith to comment on this course of theology I am making.


Terri said...

I appreciate the thoughtful manner in which you have addressed some of the key concerns of our times...look forward to reading this.

Anonymous said...


Pat said...

So eloquent, Muthah!

Dorcas said...

Just wanted you to know I stopped and read. So much to admire about you, dear sister!

My own theology at the moment is a bit frightening. I hope I can come to some sort of peace with myself...and God...soon.