Skip to main content

with


I am nearing the end of the my first term as a PhD student.  So far, so good.  The reading load is a bit hectic (as it is supposed to be because doctoral students are expected to have cast iron brains that can digest large quantities of any sort of printed matter).  My job as a teaching assistant in the theatre department is demanding (3 hours in-class assistance and 8 hours of grading per week), but a nice break from the heavy thinking of theology.  Plus, the theatre classroom is a friendly and invigorating environment (except on Halloween when Death sat in the 4th row and kinda freaked me out a bit). 

Thus far, I have written 2 official reading reports, composed about 30 pages of notes on various readings, presented 6 summaries of readings, and taught a masters' class.  I still have another reading report and 2 major papers to write (slightly panicking) on 1) the task of theology after modernism and 2) something about narrative theology.  These last assignments need to happen in the next few weeks which means even more reading and then sitting at my computer trying to sort all the random bits of information into coherent, brilliant, never-been-written-before thoughts. 

In the midst of all this, my connection with God has started to feel a bit thready.  Like a pulse that is there, but not quite the consistent boom ba-boom that one wants to hear.  I think part of the reason for this is that I have neglected the primacy of "with."  Having a lot of demands put on you intellectually means that you start to develop some competency and reach a certain comfort level with the various challenges and tasks tossed your way.  That's good.  As a result, I am not turning my thoughts to God as often to say "Help!" or "I need you!"  That's okay, too.  But I never want to forget that all of these projects and writing assignments take on a whole other dimension and depth when I invite God to do them "with" me.  Or perhaps more accurately, he is the one inviting me to do them "with" him. 

I often think of something one of my professors said in the first class I took when I started my graduate studies.  She noted that the story of Genesis is different from all the other creation stories that were circulating in the pagan world at the time because it speaks of a God who wants to do projects "with" his creation, not just rule over them.  And this is where I want to be more often:  in the "withness," working together "with" Someone who always enlarges my experience and my work.  He not only adds insight, but makes the journey less lonely, less overwhelming, more enjoyable, and always worthwhile.  And on numerous occasions, he also inserts the opportunity for transformation if I will stop for a bit and let it in.

Every day, let my prayer be:  God, can we do this day together?

the photo:  some of the white fluffy seedlings behind my condo that will no doubt yield something next spring.  

Comments

Anonymous said…
"In the midst of all this, my connection with God has started to feel a bit thready."

As a student of Theology, I think that you need -rather are forced to - consider that connection with God and the feeling of being connected to God are two different things. Many contemporary Theologians, like Walter Brueggemann, reveal God and His presence to be much more elusive than suggested by the contemporary Church.

The reality of this world is that we mostly can not invite God to come and do things with us, particularly if God's presence is a feeling. The authors of the Bible lament this in so many places, it is hard to pick just one - but Paul's "cloudy mirror" comes to mind first.
Anonymous said…
To re-state my comment, it seems entirely possible to me that "God's presence feeling thready" is the beginning of a transformation, and I think this type of transformation is relatively common to Christian intellectuals.
Matte Downey said…
Thanks for the comments. I agree with your nod towards transformation. I hope that as a student of theology I am always up for this. As for your first comment: indeed, God's presence can in no way be reduced to something we "feel," nevertheless, feeling must not be taken out of the equation, in my opinion. Intellectual reason is but one part of how we develop our faith.

Popular posts from this blog

the songs we sing

NOTE: I am going to make some pretty strong statements below, but understand that it is my way of taking an honest, hard look at my own worship experience and practice. My desire is not to be overly critical, but to open up dialogue by questioning things I have assumed were totally fine and appropriate. In other words, I am preaching to myself. Feel free to listen in.

---------------------

When I am in a church meeting during the singing time, I sometimes find myself silent, unable to get the words past my lips. At times I just need a moment of stillness, time to listen, but other times, the words make me pause because I don't know that I can sing them honestly or with integrity. This is a good thing. We should never mindlessly or heartlessly sing songs just because everyone else is. We should care deeply about what we say in our sung, communal worship.

At their best, songs sung by the gathered body of Christ call to life what is already in us: the hope, the truth, the longing, t…

theology from the margins: God of Hagar

Our contexts have major implications for how we live our lives and engage with our world, that much is obvious. However, we sometimes overlook how much they inform our concepts of God. For those of us occupying the central or dominant demographic in society, we often associate God with power and truth. As a result, our theology is characterized by confidence, certainty, and an expectation that others should be accommodating. For those of us living on the margins of society, our sense of belonging stranded in ambiguity, God is seen as an advocate for the powerless. Our theology leans more toward inclusivity, and we talk less about divine holiness and righteousness and more about a God who suffers. On the margins, the priority is merciful and just action, not correct beliefs. 
There are significant theological incongruences between Christians who occupy the mainstream segment of society and those who exist on the margins. The world of theology has been dominated by Western male thought…

the movement of humility

We live in a context of stratification where much of society is ordered into separate layers or castes. We are identified as upper class, middle class, or lower class. Our language reflects this up/down (superior/inferior) paradigm. We want to be at the top of the heap, climb the ladder of success, break through the glass ceiling, be king of the hill. This same kind of thinking seeps into our theology. When we talk about humility, we think mostly think in terms of lowering ourselves, willfully participating in downward mobility. This type of up/down language is certainly present in biblical texts (James 4:10 is one example), but I believe that the kind of humility we see in Jesus requires that we step outside of a strictly up/down paradigm. Instead of viewing humility as getting down low or stepping down a notch on the ladder of society, perhaps it is more helpful to think in terms of proximity and movement.

Jesuit theologian, James Keenan, notes that virtues and vices are not really…