Thursday, November 17, 2011


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.  


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.