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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wisdom - Let us attend.

The title of this entry is taken from the Orthodox Christian liturgy, said just before the reading of the gospel. I use it because Clifton Healy, an old friend from seminary who has entered the Orthodox Church, has written something beautiful and wise which I wanted to share - I hope he doesn't find it embarrassing that I do so.

I share it partly because I find it beautiful and wise, but also because it gives voice to some of my own recent ruminations on life and faith, although he wrote this before I did and (no doubt) did so with more elegance and incisiveness than I might have. But it captures well the mystery of the searching love of God and the growing contentment with my own perplexity in being caught up in this which I have been growing in awareness of recently. (The only aspect I might add in, for my part, is the judgement of God.)

Anyway, here is an extract:

It seems as though with every day that I continue on in my journey as an Orthodox Christian, I find myself knowing less and less. The things I thought I knew are so pale and incomplete when placed in the center of the reality they claim to approximate, that I wonder if there is much use in holding on to them. God is love. The Tripersonal God is love. God the Father is love. Jesus, God the Son, is love. God the Holy Spirit is love. The Holy Trinity loves my wife, my daughters, my parents and siblings, my in-laws. Even, more mystery, even me.

The rest is inscrutable. Why is it that I am called to just this time, just this day, just this city, just this parish, to do that which I am called to do: to pray for the conversion of others? Why is it, that I am given just these pains and consolations at just this time? Why is it that I have been called to these things, and to this struggle? I do not know. I wonder whether I will ever know. I do not even know whether the pains and sufferings will be recompensed with deliverance and joy. I do not know whether the consolations will bring about further union with God, or whether I will squander them. But here I am, at this time, in this place of struggle and desolation and loss, and joy. And I must believe that God is love. And I must pray for the conversion of others.
Interestingly, this parallels in some respects what friend Maggi Dawn has recently written in the Christian Century 'Faith Matters' column:

When I was taking my first degree in theology, most of the building blocks of my faith came up for serious reexamination. I asked one of my professors how it was possible for faith to survive this kind of intense intellectual scrutiny. He thought for a while, then said, "Once upon a time I believed in a great many things. Now I believe only in a few things, but I believe in them more deeply than I ever thought possible. That God exists, that God is love, and that Jesus is the son of God—these things I believe. Everything else is up for debate."
I think I've realised in retrospect that this has been the case for me, after a fashion. Plunging more deeply into the church's tradition and the depths of contemporary theology has been humbling and formative. It's brought - what? Less certainty, more trust? That begins to get at it.

Not, that is, that I would only list the few things that Maggi's professor would. The Incarnation and the Holy Trinity are absolutely foundational for me. But they are not 'foundational' in the sense that I have them all figured out or even - as I study further - that I understand them in anything like an exhaustive sense. (Indeed, seeing how the church itself has maintained a discreet silence in some areas has been a large part of this learning.) But I believe in them, confess them, believe they are true, and that their truth is not dependent on my understanding them. It's not that they are not truths - it's that they are not my truths. They're truths of a world within which I have been given the grace to live, and the grace to spend inordinate amounts of time learning about, thinking about, and contemplating these truths.

Indeed, they make sense: not that they are entirely transparent to penetration by human reason, one wouldn't expect that of God anyway. Rather, they 'make sense' - create sense - because by them the world is rendered more sensible. Again, this is not 'more sensible' meaning 'more useful', as in a strategy to use the world for my own ends. It's something much more like seeing the world in the light of God's glory, and praying to be used for that.

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